Rapelje girls turning garbage into gold

Thursday, July 2, 2020
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Courtesy photo

Abby Schladweiler (left) and Carlee Blodgett pose in front of their work truck.

Opportunities for high school summer jobs are often few and far between in Rapelje.

It’s not uncommon for students to get creative when it comes to accumulating summer cash. However, not all ventures result in national recognition.

Carlee Blodgett, 18, and Abby Schladweiler, 17, received the “Best Existing Business” award from the national ‘Big Ideas’ virtual pitch competition hosted by Youth Entrepreneurs.

More than 100 entries poured in from all over the county last March, and Blodgett and Schladweiler’s garbage collection business fell within the top 25 submissions.

The idea originated in spring 2019 when Blodgett was brainstorming a way to make a summer wage.  After sitting down with her finance teacher, Jacki Keating, the two were able to target a local need: garbage collection.

The residents of Rapelje do not have a garbage service, meaning everyone must haul their own refuse bins and bags to the county dump. Blodgett and Schladweiler signed up for the job, but for a price.

They decided to charge $2 for a single bag, $7 for a medium bin and $10 for a large bin.

With a pickup and gas provided by their parents, and no permits required, the business is expense free, and all profits go to the girls.

Next on the list was building the customer base. This was the most challenging step for Blodgett and Schladweiler.

They posted flyers and knocked on nearly every door in Rapelje only to receive a handful of yeses, tons of maybes and quite a few noes.

“It was discouraging,” Blodgett said.

But together they developed a new tactic. They began approaching all the new folks in town, new teachers, the new superintendant, new neighbors, anyone who wasn’t used to hauling their own trash.

Eventually the business grew.

Blodgett couldn’t believe how much money their new business brought in, and she was able to save a most of it.

“It was the foundation for my college funding,” Blodgett said. “And it was really cool that it came from the people in my town.”

They entered the Youth Entrepreneurs “Big Ideas” state competition and won.

Afterwards, Govoner Steve Bullock  reached out over a Zoom meeting to commend them on their hard work and ingenuity.

Then it was time for the big guns.

In March, they entered the national Youth Entrepreneur virtual pitch competition for new products, services and businesses where they won the “Best Existing Business” award.

They were awarded $250 each and received hand written notes from Senator Steve Daines and U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte, congratulating them on their success.

Now, the service stops by 11 to 12 households each Sunday to collect their garbage.

 

From the experience, Schladweiler has developed a greater understanding of how valuable trust is between a businesswoman and  her clients - a golden rule of sales.

She found that going door to door is one of the best ways to cultivate that trust.

“We built better connections, people know you better and you build trust face to face,” Schladweiler said.  “It comes back to trust.”

Blodgett has bequeathed the business to Schladweiler for the time being.  But when Schladweiler graduates in Spring 2021, Blodgett has arragned for her brothers to take over the business.

Schladweiler will begin her senior year in the fall and has considered studying business once she reaches college.

Blodgett has found her passion elsewhere. She will be attending Sioux Falls Technical Institute to study diagnostic medical sonography. However, if things don’t work out, she has considered pursuing a business degree.

Though she will be 13 hours away in Sioux Falls, S.D., Rapelje will always be home to her.

“I feel very lucky to have grown up in Rapelje,” Blodgett said. “Everyone is very supportive, and that’s really why the business was successful.”