5 Things Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Bottle Collectors

Bottle Collecting Shopping Cart

You might not think of the guy you see every Saturday morning with his shopping cart full of pop cans and beer bottles as an entrepreneur. But that’s exactly what he is.

And while I haven’t seen any bottle collectors on the cover of Business 2.0 lately, that’s mostly due to a big lack of start-up capital. And a big lack of glamour in attracting talent. I’m completely serious. There are likely a few bottle collectors that, with some capital and some talent on board, could very easily grow their know-how into a million dollar waste-management company.

Some are very diligent and proud of their little businesses. And there are some smart things that they practice that every entrepreneur could benefit from understanding.

5 Business Savvy Things That Bottle Collecting Can Teach You

  1. The early bird gets the worm. Bottle collectors have to be up before the garbage truck comes by. They’re working when everyone else is sleeping. In any business, when you’re the first on the scene when somebody needs something, you get the sale. And a part time entrepreneurial venture is very rare if it’s your primary source of income. To be successful requires long hours.
  2. Stake your territory. I’ve seen a few arguments about who “owns” a particular dumpster when new competition comes along. Every business has competitors. And a lot of times, bringing in a sale means you’re taking that business away from you’re competition because the customer isn’t happy. Then, to keep that customer yourself, you have to keep them happy. And you have to pay special attention to them when a competitor swoops in to wine and dine them.
  3. Find a way through the fence. There are very few fences, or other obstacles for that matter, that stand between a bottle collector and the bottles. You’re going to come up against roadblocks in your business; regulations, supply issues, hyper-competitive pricing, and a million other things. You have to find a way around or through them all.
  4. There’s a lot of garbage between you and the gold. Literally, for a bottle collector. Figuratively for you. There are sales that are not worth getting because the profit is too small and the task of even getting paid is too large. You’ll have to put up with competitors with sub-standard offerings that get the contract simply because they’re cheaper. And you’ll constantly be torn between offering quality and producing something cheaper. And faster.
  5. Expand your horizons. There’s the odd bottle collector that salvages a lot more than just returnable bottles and cans. Old TVs, metal, furniture, whatever they might be able to sell to someone else, take to the scrap-metal yard, or take into the local pawn shop for a few bucks. And so, while you need to have absolute focus on what you’re business is all about, you also need to have an eye on lateral opportunites. Maybe there’s an area of growth you need to explore. Or a direction that you and your company would do much better travelling in than the one you’re going in now.

There are many different people travelling many different roads. In the most unlikely places, you’ll find that some of them are entrepreneurs.

And they have much to teach.

8 thoughts on “5 Things Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From Bottle Collectors”

  1. Shane,

    Some of the analogies you come up with are awesome. Who could not understand that? It’s not natural to think of a bottle collector as an entrepreneur, however you’re exactly right…….excellent.

  2. Thanks Anthony,

    Some of these people are just trying to survive and they live a really tough life. But there are some who are true entrepreneurs. They’re motivated, and they use whatever little they’ve got to live by their own rules.

  3. It’s kind of funny you made a post about this. My brother goes to UCSB and lives in Isla Vista…There’s tons of can collectors…they make thousands every year recycling the beer cans!!


  4. I haven’t met many bottle collectors but the one or two I have were friendly and very approachable. Almost charismatic, in a certain way. There must be something in that also?

  5. Hi John, and welcome to Zoomstart.

    I know some people that have had trouble with the “rookie” bottle collectors because they dig in the trash and leave a big stinking mess behind. It only makes sense then that the more seasoned pros are pretty good at talking to people and PR.

    Plus, I know some of them put together little networks with the people they meet who then purposely put their bittles aside to help these guys out.

    A little charisma goes a long way!

  6. It is very true these days with no “real jobs” anymore. The price you receive for bottle collecting is 5 cents per bottle. Actually, it is more than the banks are willing to pay you to hold your money in their bank.

    It is harder to make a dollar, like the old days; of 20 bottles per dollar but it is generally consistent. It also teaches you how to add in your head without using a calculator.

    Great article.

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