It has been said that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. For AL Lowder, Inc. in Albemarle, he was able to build a successful family business with this adage at the forefront.
The company, located at 435 Willow St., is probably best known for its extensive on-site metal recycling facility, where it processes all kinds of scrap metal before shipping it to processors across the country.
“If you have the imagination, you can take a lot of things that aren’t good for someone else and it can be priceless for other people,” said Lane Lowder, whose father Jim runs the ‘company.
In addition to metal recycling, AL Lowder offers a variety of other services, including septic tank fabrication, portable toilet rentals, roll-off container rentals, and commercial property rentals.
After decades of serving the community, the company recently reached a major milestone: it has been in business for 50 years. An anniversary celebration featuring longtime employees and customers was held September 24 at Market Station.
A raffle was held during the event, in honor of Marilyn, wife of Jim Lowder. A total of $2,000 was raised which will be used to help the Christian ministry in the Stanly community.
“(The staff) really worked to put everything together,” Lowder said at the event. “We are thrilled to be able to (celebrate 50 years).”
For Lane, success comes from “actually doing what you say you are going to do. You do the job and do it right. This is how AL Lowder was able to maintain (success).”
“It’s like a family”
Ever since he was a young boy, Jim Lowder has been more comfortable working with his hands. When he was 14, he bought an electric welder and a cutting torch and started processing the scrap metal people gave him. He hauled the metal to a scrap yard in downtown Charlotte, at the current site of Bank of America Stadium.
“It’s a little unsightly, but it’s still usable material once you take it to the junkyard,” Lowder said.
Lowder also started pouring concrete with his father, Arnold Lee Lowder, when he was in school. According to a company brochure, many of the county’s sidewalks and curbs that people walk and pass on every day were built by Lowder and his father.
After a brief stint at Collins & Aikman after high school, Lowder returned to work with his father in the concrete construction business.
In 1970 the family purchased the Willow Street property, which was a former septic tank, and two years later the business was incorporated, with the name derived from Lowder’s father’s initials. His brother Arnold Jr. also worked in the company.
As AL Lowder expanded over the years and hired additional employees, the business grew beyond pouring concrete and selling septic tanks. The company began buying commercial properties throughout the county in the 1980s (currently has about 15), began renting portable toilets to construction crews and anyone else who needed them in the early 1980s. 1990 and bought its first roll container a few years later. .
As a child, Lane, who is the middle child, helped his father and grandfather pour concrete, but once he finished high school he started working full-time in the business, focusing mainly on metal recycling.
“I felt like the recycling business was a good avenue to grow and it wasn’t as difficult as pouring concrete,” he said. ” It’s very nice. You never know what you are going to get.
Lowder’s youngest child, Paige Emerson, joined the company around 2004. Her primary focus is overseeing commercial properties. Carla Weyrick, the eldest child, is a realtor in Charlotte.
Marilyn Lowder, Jim’s wife, had been an integral part of the business since its inception before retiring around 2015 due to health issues.
The company currently has 20 employees, including Lowder and the two children.
“We have some of the best employees,” Lowder said. “You can’t hold up a mirror to them; they will break a mirror, they are so good. They are faithful; they are there every day. If you tell them to be there at 4 am, they will be there. You don’t have to worry about their presence.
One such employee is Danny Riedel, who has been with the company for 15 years.
“It’s like a family,” he says. “It’s hard work, but everyone is pretty tight-knit. There are good and bad days like in any family.
Riedel, who has known Lane for nearly 40 years, appreciates the example the Lowder family continues to set for its employees.
“The Lowders have a good work ethic,” he said. “They never ask you to do anything more than they do. They all work better than all of us.
Turning discarded waste into valuable products
When you first enter the junkyard, which spans around four acres, the first thing you probably notice are the mounds of scrap metal piled up all around. It looks disorganized, but there is a method to the seeming madness.
“It looks like a mess, but it’s a controlled mess,” Lane said.
And it’s a waste of crucial importance, because the scrap metal that the company recycles represents around 60% of its annual turnover.
Whenever companies or individuals recycle their scrap, the parts are weighed and then, if various components are entangled, employees cut and separate the metals.
AL Lowder generally receives more scrap each day due to “peddler traffic”, but the company receives a greater volume of product from its industrial customers.
The company accepts items such as steel, copper, brass, aluminum, cars, trucks and buses, household appliances, bicycles, lead acid batteries.
Each material having a different monetary value, each is sorted, separated and then processed.
Romex copper wires, for example, are fed through the “copper chopper”, which removes insulation and impurities and transforms it into bare shine – the most valuable copper for scrap metal workers.
The piles of aluminum are placed in a compactor, which reduces the volume, before entering the baler, which turns the recyclables into condensed packaging for easier storage.
The majority of processed scrap is sent to steel mills in Darlington, South Carolina, although other material is shipped to Florida, Alabama, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. Scrap metal is transported by truck and train.
So-called inferior items, including electric motors, brass and copper, are often exported to countries such as India, Pakistan and Turkey.
Much of what the company sells and when it sells depends on factors such as the stock market.
“When prices are good, you try to sell everything you can,” Lane said. “When the prices aren’t as good, you try to stockpile some and when the prices get better, you throw it away.”
The man and his hat
Having worked in the community for five decades, Jim Lowder became known for one distinct feature: his white hard hat, which he wears everywhere.
“Everyone knows him as the guy with the helmet,” Emerson said. “He leaves the house with it and it doesn’t come off until he gets home.”
About 20 years ago, at a birthday party for one of his friends, Lowder remembers him not wearing his hat. Although he was only a few feet away, several people present feared that Lowder had disappeared.
“I was within sight of them, but they didn’t know,” he laughed.
The hat, which has become so intertwined with Lowder’s identity that he says he feels naked without it, is much more than a stylish accessory; as someone who regularly comes into contact with heavy machinery, the hat is a source of protection.
While working on plumbing issues under one of his properties many years ago, Lowder recalls not noticing a jagged piece of cast iron pipe until it was too late.
“If I hadn’t put on my helmet, I’m not sure I would be alive today,” he said.
No plans to slow down
At 78, Lowder still enjoys coming to work every day and has no plans to slow down. When asked if he had ever thought about retiring, he gave a terse one-word answer: “Never.” His father worked in the business until he was 80 years old.
“I see no reason to quit,” he said. “It’s so much fun compared to years ago.”
Being able to work alongside his family over the years, which Lowder called a “blessing,” has been key in maintaining his longevity.
Whenever the time is right for him to step away, the plan is for Lowder’s kids to take over. With all he has accomplished, it’s a responsibility they don’t take lightly.
“He has retained a reputation that we hold dear,” Emerson said. “He honors and respects his father and it means so much to us to maintain that through the generations.”
Charles Curcio contributed to the story.