From single truck to industry leader: Novak builds business with commitment to customer service

 This piece is presented by Novak Sanitary Service.

Twelve days before he turned 18, Bob Novak became a business owner.

That was in 1976, when Novak took on “the only adult job I’ve ever had,” buying Novak Sanitary Service from his parents, Dick and Ida.

Ida and Dick Novak

“My mom and dad did all the billing,” he said. “I got $200 a month to live on, and the rest went toward payment of the company. I had it paid for in four years.”

He had grown up in the business his father started in 1965. Beginning in third grade, before most people were awake, Bob’s mother would drop him on days off from school at the downtown bus depot where he would meet his father. They would eat pancakes at 7 a.m. and then work a full day.

“It was one truck with 400 customers,” Novak said.

“But when I bought the company, I knew I didn’t want to be the guy on the truck the rest of my life.”

Industry pioneer

Fast-forward more than 50 years and Novak has become the leading trash collection and recycling company in the Sioux Falls area — with more than 23,000 customers, 70 trucks and 88 employees.

The growth spurt started four years after Bob Novak bought the business, when his brother Craig graduated from high school and joined the company with a second truck. They bought two other single-truck companies that year, increasing the fleet to four.

In 1982, they bought a commercial hauler and continued to buy commercial haulers throughout the 1980s. Bob learned from several business mentors and taught himself accounting “literally locking myself in an office for two weeks.” His wife, Cathy, became involved in the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, further connecting Novak to the business community.

“When recycling got going in the late ’80s, we really got going on commercial because we were the first to offer shredding,” Novak continued. The new division, Dakota Data Shred, started in 1993.

“The state set some recycling standards, and even though nobody was doing it, we just got on board and said let’s do it.”

In the late 2000s, Novak added a partnership with Recyclebank, offering gift cards and other discounts to customers in return for their recycling volumes.

Fifty percent of Novak’s business comes from commercial customers.

“It’s relationship-building,” said sales manager Butch Hanssen, who moved back to Sioux Falls from Rapid City to join the business in 2002.

“We try to be a friend to them and figure out how to help their business recycle better and maintain costs on the trash and recycling side of the business.”

Construction waste removal also has become a significant part of the business. Novak is one of few providers that can track recycling throughout construction, allowing projects to pursue LEED certification.

“We work on our relationships with contractors to maintain our presence, and hardly anyone else does recycling on construction projects,” Hanssen said. “We work diligently recycling everything we can on those projects.”

Novak is an outstanding service provider, said Ken Bashore, CEO of Vanguard Hospitality, which owns longtime Novak client Minervas in downtown Sioux Falls.

“They’re at our stores every day. We use them for the garbage and recycling, and the nice thing is their trucks are always spotless, always painted, and the dumpsters are spotless,” Bashore said.

“They take really good care of their product. And they work around our schedules. Downtown, if they’re not out of there by 7 a.m., they’re never going to get down the alley at Minervas because of all the traffic, so they do that. They work around our schedules, and I really appreciate it.”

The best endorsement is the fact that he doesn’t ever have to think about waste-removal service, Bashore said.

“They just take care of you, from the customer service over the phone to drivers who go the extra mile. If something blows out of the truck, I’ve seen them chase it down. The crews are awesome, and it seems like they always go the extra mile just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Employer of choice

The day starts before the sun is up at 5000 W. Eighth St., as crews check in at Novak headquarters and then head out on their routes.

Bob Novak

It’s a routine Hollie Miller and others like her know well and have come to love. She has worked at Novak for 23 years. It was three blocks from her home, and she asked Novak for work because she wanted a job outdoors.

“I think I hounded him until he gave me a job,” she said. “It just seemed like a good place to work.”

More than two decades later, she still thinks that about Novak. Throughout her career there, she has worked in commercial loading, grass route and commercial cardboard. She now delivers containers and carts to residents and businesses, helps with the shredding business and takes care of Novak’s property.

“People trust you to do what you’ve got to do, and you go out and do it. I like the people. I like my boss,” Miller said. “I’ve always respected how they treat you here. It’s gotten much bigger and we’re growing, but they’re very good to us and very fair.”

The employees’ loyalty and dedication shows. Officer manager Rhonda Martinez has called in sick once in 22 years. She’s the “go-to” person in the office, working with payroll and HR and the one who organizes the annual company picnic, brings birthday treats and orders chili for the staff on especially cold days.

“It’s a fun, family-oriented company to work for started by someone local who’s been doing it all his life,” Martinez said. “There’s a lot of teamwork.”

Novak Sanitary Service continually looks toward its future. An electronic system has helped optimize routes for the past several years. The company just installed tablets in its trucks, so haulers can check their routes electronically and enter when a stop is completed.

“So our dispatchers can look and say why your trash wasn’t collected or when we’re going to be there. It’s something you couldn’t do two years ago,” Novak said.

Novak does business as far south as Centerville, west to Salem, north to Dell Rapids and east to the Minnesota and Iowa border. Much farther and the company would exceed the boundaries of the five-county regional landfill, so the commitment is to maintaining its outstanding reputation and broad base of clients.

“Really, the key for us is just keeping our name out there and providing good service,” Novak said. “And we understand the value of getting involved in the community. The Sioux Falls area has been very good to us, and we give back in as many ways as we can.”

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From single truck to industry leader: Novak builds business with commitment to customer service

Novak Sanitary Service has become the leading trash collection and recycling company in the Sioux Falls area — with more than 23,000 customers, 70 trucks and 88 employees.

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