Fresh Perspective

Recycling industry professionals share their perspectives on the industry.

Walter Salvati

Owner of Scrap Gators

Walter Salvati comes from a long line of scrap industry workers.

“My great-great-grandfather used to pick up [scrap] in Brooklyn, [New York], with a carriage,” Salvati says, adding that his great-great-grandfather eventually started a scrap yard in the area that stayed in the family until the mid-1990s.

Although his family sold its Brooklyn-area scrap business, Salvati's father stayed in the industry and went to work for a scrap yard in Kissimmee, Florida.

Early in adulthood, Salvati says he went to rehabilitation for drug and alcohol use. Afterward, his father hired him to work for the Florida yard he was managing. That is where Salvati says he realized he wanted to pursue a career in scrap.

“Whether it’s genetic and hereditary, [scrap is] always something that made sense to me,” he says. “I enjoy the hustle of it.”

In 2018, Salvati worked at a salvage yard in Vero Beach, Florida, but says he didn’t enjoy working for someone else. He decided to develop a business plan to start his own scrap yard with a business partner. That year, Salvati and his partner, who has since left the scrap industry, started Scrap Gators in Fort Pierce, Florida, with a focus on handling nonferrous scrap.

“We started the business small with a box truck and a storage unit,” he says. “It was tough. It was grinding it out. It was making mistakes, losing money, learning from it [and] developing relationships with our customers and suppliers. … It was a struggle in the beginning. And then, luckily, we developed a couple of relationships that allowed us to really start to grow.”

In the following interview, Salvati offers some takeaways he learned from starting Scrap Gators.

Recycling Today (RT): Why did you focus on providing competitive nonferrous scrap recycling when you started Scrap Gators?

Walter Salvati (WS): There weren’t a whole lot of nonferrous options in our area. When we opened originally, we were dealing with the public, and it was a smaller operation in the beginning. We were more competitive on red metals. … When I say competitive, it’s [with] pricing, then it developed into a service aspect. Our service has led us into a lot of different industries—high-temperature alloy recycling and some of the minor metals and refractory metals. We’ve really found quite a few niches. ... [That] along with the processing have kind of differentiated us.

RT: What lessons did you learn from starting Scrap Gators? Would you have done anything differently when starting the business?

WS: I wouldn’t do anything differently. Every mistake we made, we needed to make and we needed to learn from it. Some lessons in the beginning for any business, and especially in scrap, is turn material over quickly, especially in the beginning stages until you build up enough capital to start to go direct on certain items, which we’ve done. … You can’t be short-sighted. It’s always [a] long-term play, which we tell our guys, especially on the commercial aspect. You need to have relationships in order to operate. If your customer needs something—maybe they need a truckload of pallets—well, maybe you drop that off, no charge.

RT: What tips would you offer someone starting a business in the scrap industry?

WS: Do your research. The most important thing is marketing—knock on doors and pay for digital marketing. We have a strong online presence, and we continue to increase the areas that we’re buying [from] and continue to expand by knocking on doors.

January 2023
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