Finding Redemption in a small Maine town

The ever capable Ben holding up the building.

John Clark sharing insights into a business many of us use regularly, but may not know much about. Do you buy beer, wine or soda? Chances are you do and after consuming the contents, it’s time to recycle the container and get your deposit back. In urban areas you usually have a number of options, but get into the country and sometimes taking them back involves a trip.

Since we moved to Hartland in 2003, we’ve seen six open and five close. Today, I’m going to have you meet Joe and Vicki Tuttle, owners of DUDOS on Pittsfield Avenue in Hartland. After the last redemption center closed, I saved my returnables until I had other reasons to go to Newport. Doing so involved driving 12 miles round trip-not exactly convenient. I noticed the new place when I was on my way to Pittsfield and decided to give it a try. I’m very glad I did. Most of the redemption centers in our area have been fairly messy and not well heated. DUDOS in both clean and warm as well as run by extremely friendly people.

Last week, I chatted with Joe and Vicki for more than an hour. Joe grew up in Athens, the next town over, so he knows the area pretty well. They bought a house up the road from where we live after deciding to locate to a place convenient to their regular jobs. Joe drives truck for Linkletter in Athens, Vicki waitresses in Newport, so a place on the Athens Road in Hartland is ideal. Ask anyone who drives big rigs and they’ll tell you that driving truck is hard on your body. With that in mind, Joe started thinking about a way to boost income and better plan for retirement. Opening a redemption center wasn’t on the radar in the beginning, but the place they looked at had been one in the past, so he and Vicki connected the dots and DUDOS was born.

Joe and Vicki hard at work.

When you walk in, you’re greeted by light and smiling people. Two large stainless steel sinks are in place so multiple customers can have returnables sorted simultaneously. Ben Bernard, who worked at the last redemption center in Hartland brought his solid work ethic, knowledge of sorting and his customer service skills with him, something both Joe and Vicki appreciate.

Vicki came up with the name DUDOS which comes from her liking to create acronyms. In this case it stands for Drink Up, Drop Off, Sober. A friend is in the process of making a large sign in the shape of a moose to go out front with the acronym explained in the middle of the sign.

I asked plenty of questions and got some interesting and insightful answers. They noted that anyone planning to start a redemption center needs to have money up front. This is needed not only for equipment and supplies, but there’s a time lag of 1-2 months between the time you start paying out to customers and when you start receiving payment from the distributors. Having consistent hours open and sticking to them is critical. This has been the downfall of several nearby redemption centers in recent years.

I was surprised to learn that licensing isn’t a big hassle. Vicki said it’s handled by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the biggest concerns they have are safe and proper drainage and a level of cleanliness that reduces the possibility of pests. You also need to have a sign posted notifying patrons that trying to redeem containers purchased out of state is punishable by a fine. DEP is also willing and able to step in if and when a vendor doesn’t pick up returnables from their products in a timely manner.

The actual process of accepting, counting and sorting returnables involves preparation. While some containers can be mixed (two or three brands handled by the same distributor, getting it right so you don’t have to re-sort too frequently means buying, assembling and labeling lots of tall cardboard boxes and then opening and inserting big plastic bags. Then when things get hectic, you need to remember which gets tossed into what box. When Joe, Vicki and Ben are firing on all cylinders, you can get dizzy just watching cans and bottles fly. At times the tossing is so furious that things collide in midair and end up in the wrong bin. Each bag when filled contains as many as 324 cans. When I asked about volume, Joe said they often sort, count and fill upwards of 70 bags a week (that comes out to over 20,000 returnables every week)

Imagine filling 70 of these a week. That adds up to over 3600 per year.

Thinking about starting your own redemption center? Here are a few suggestions from Joe. Spend some time working or volunteering at one that’s already up and running. Nothing is as good as a little hands-on experience. Make sure you have adequate storage space and decent plumbing. One comment heard over and over at DUDOS is how clean and how good the place smells. Don’t be cheap when it comes to a sorting sink. Joe suggests one that’s at a height that is kind to your back is connected to your drainage system and isn’t too deep. He got a really good deal on a second one from a restaurant that closed. Be willing and able to refuse visibly dirty or contaminated containers. Redemption centers have a legal right to do so. Not long after opening, they had a customer who brought in a big bag that had soiled disposable diapers in with the bottles. Being a people oriented person is also a huge plus.

Joe and Vicki have a real interest in Hartland. They have been involved with the annual Childrens’ Christmas Fund for kids. Customers can donate their returnable money to that fund as well as to the town fire department and the Somerset Humane Society. DUDOS encourages local bottle drives and pays an extra cent per container when what has been collected gets dropped off. The center is open Wed. & Thurs. from 10-4, Saturday 9-4 and Sunday 10-3. We’re fortunate to have DUDOS serving the Tri-town area.

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4 Responses to Finding Redemption in a small Maine town

  1. Beth Clark says:

    I like the way you find stories in unusual places, appreciate the people you meet, and take an interest in them and their activities. Makes for a good story.

  2. I agree with Beth. I also like reading how people find creative solutions to challenges, and then take it even further. Money for retirement AND a pleasant place that is clean and doesn’t smell. To quote my Yankee husband, pretty darned good.

  3. Lee says:

    I had no idea how those places worked or that the process was so complex. Now I understand why certain things (e.g., store brand containers) might be refused. Thanks for the info – it was illuminating and very interesting!

  4. John R. Clark says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments. The folks at DUDO’S are thrilled with the article.

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