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Constant Evolution: The Eco-Systems Family of Businesses

This St. Louis legacy business continues to grow with second and third-generation leadership. Now, they’ve purchased a new headquarters with help from Patrick McKay of Hilliker Corporation.

A Drive toward Progress

Eco-Systems is a multi-faceted St. Louis company that grew out of AABCO, a welding shop founded by William Buel Meredith in 1958. He had a small two-story building built to house the business in 1967 at 3120 Big Bend Blvd in Maplewood.

In 1974, his son Jerry Meredith and son-in-law Ken Hohlt, Sr., purchased the business to form a new company to build waste containers and other related products. Now, Eco-Systems represents a suite of companies that have grown and changed together to meet the needs of our city’s industries and municipalities.

First, Eco-Systems is a distributor for refuse and municipal equipment:

  • Roll-off trucks
  • Roll-off containers
  • Large industrial compactors
  • Material handling

Most of Eco-Systems clients are manufacturers or large construction contractors. When they began to take street sweepers in on trade—and storing them on their property—they started to rent them out with a driver.

The new business became Crowns and Curbs, which provides contract sweeping for municipal, industrial, and construction settings. They sweep transfer stations, municipalities, and large-scale construction sites. They also added water trucks for high-pressure street cleaning.

As they purchased trucks to move the water for high-pressure cleaning, they began transporting non-potable water for dust control, compaction, and site cleanup; for masonry contractors; and to fill pools.

However, Crowns and Curbs didn’t have a roll-off truck to move large tanks. The family began buying them and formed another company, Matchbox Hauling. They deliver open-top containers with rubber-wheels to haul construction and industrial waste.

They did all of that at the same property that once held Buel Meredith’s welding business. Though the property had been a blessing, they found themselves landlocked. For the first time in the company’s history, they began to consider a move seriously.

Growing Pains

3120 Big Bend Blvd in Maplewood is 7200 square feet and sits on less than a half-acre. It housed offices for the three companies, warehouse space, and their fenced-in lot.

Hohlt’s son, Ken Hohlt III., saw the writing on the wall. “At this point, we owned four water trucks, four street sweepers, seven roll-off trucks, and all the support vehicles to go with them. We only had one door to take work in and out of the shop.”Patrick T. McKay

The lack of space showed itself in several workflow issues. For example, if one of their roll-off containers were to break, there wasn’t a place to store it on the side for workers to fix it when there was room in their schedule—as “fill work.”

Ken said, “We had no efficiencies. I was tripping over things, and I had to play traffic cop every afternoon to get all the trucks back onto our property at the end of the day.”

The office space wasn’t working either. A two-story building with a set of stairs that ran through the middle of the downstairs area, the different office units weren’t able to work as cohesively as they liked. Though the company had found ways to work around these issues, they began to feel hobbled by them.

That’s when Ken and his father, Ken Hohlt, Sr., started looking for a new property. One of the buildings they looked at initially had a Hilliker “big red H” sign out front. They called the number and spoke with broker Patrick McKay.          

Light Industrial Real Estate and a 1031 Exchange

As the Hohlts spoke with McKay, they all realized that the first property wouldn’t work for them. But as McKay got to know what Eco-Systems needed, he started looking for something better.

First, the company needed more room for their workers—at least 9000 square feet, and more if possible. They hoped to find a warehouse and workspace that had multiple bays. They also needed office space that provided the opportunity for them to design a layout more conducive to their workflow.

Additionally, they needed a fenced-in lot on an acre or more. It had to be zoned for M1 industrial with three-phase power.

There was little available immediately, but the Merediths and Hohlts needed to sell their current building first. Luckily, it had one asset that Eco-Systems had no real use for: High visibility in a high-traffic area.

McKay found a buyer that would benefit from the high-volume traffic. Called Crossface, they’re a Crossfit gym building their client list. Represented by Greg Yawitz of Keat Properties, Crossface purchased the building for $510,000.

The Meredith and Hohlt families were able to roll the purchase of the property through a 1031 exchange, allowing them to buy a new property with tax-deferred money.

During that period, McKay found a great option: 1411 Warson Road. At 20,000 square feet and sitting on 1.75 acres, it would provide ample space for them to operate with greater efficiency.

A New Real Estate Investment

Hohlt said, “We have more than enough work to keep our plate full. But with the new property, the nuisances have gone away. It’s freed up our minds and allowed us to start looking at things from a different perspective—to get more creative for our clients. Plus, our workers, especially our drivers, are happier.”

The location works well for them as well. It keeps their businesses within a comfortable distance of their two anchor clients: MSD and Anheuser-Busch.

Hohlt continued, “I enjoyed working with Patrick. We had a lot of parameters for him—probably more than most—and we’re very happy with what we ended up with.”

Finding Your Next Property with Hilliker Corporation

Success in business means growth and expansion. It’s what every entrepreneur wants—to find a need and fill it with excellence, then to offer that service to more and more people.

But when your business outgrows your property, it becomes harder to do great work. Without realizing it, you incorporate workarounds that cause more stress than necessary for you and your staff.

If you’re ready to release the pressure a too-small space can create, consider a conversation with Hilliker Corporation. We can help you find a property that makes sense, not just for who you are now, but for who you’re going to be.

If you’re ready to find commercial real estate to set your organization up for success in the future, call Patrick McKay at Hilliker Corporation.

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