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Salvage Operation

Think there's no money to be made from refuse? With a little ingenuity, you may be surprised.

When brainstorming new ways to collect old money, it never hurts to consider one of the classic clich├ęs: One man's trash is another man's treasure.

It's a philosophy that will put Gord Black in the black by the end of the year. The 49-year-old CEO of Logs End Inc. formed his Ottawa-based company in 1998, vowing it would only harvest dead trees.

In the beginning, his competitors likely laughed. Even a friend suggested he had been hit in the head by a hockey puck one too many times. But Black, whose privately owned company doesn't divulge revenues, says the business is going to make its first profit this year, and he has 10 full-time employees on his company roster.

Black's success does not come from rotting land-rooted trees; he's pulling his product from the bottom of the 310-mile-plus Ottawa River, which is full of lost lumber from the 19th cen-tury. Each year, Logs End brings up an average of 15,000 to 20,000 logs in pristine condition, protected by the cold water.

From there, the trees are cut, dried, milled, finished and turned into unfinished and pre-finished flooring. "And that's where the profit finally comes in," says Black, conceding it's not an easy way to make a buck.

In Scottsboro, Alabama, Bryan Owens, 44, is CEO of Unclaimed Baggage, a store started in 1970 by his retired father, Doyle. It may be one store, but what they sell brings in more than 1 million customers per year. Unclaimed Baggage is just what it suggests: a store selling airport luggage that has gone unclaimed. There is so much of it, the retail outlet has expanded over a city block and now attracts visitors from around the world.

Owens, who bought the company from his father in 1996 and watched it grow 400 percent, says Unclaimed Baggage has exclusive long-term contracts with airlines around America, Asia and Europe, ensuring his store is the only one of its kind. It's also proof that the word "trash" should be used with wide latitude. The lumber slumbering in the Ottawa River is hardly garbage, and before Unclaimed Baggage began, unclaimed baggage was often auctioned off to excited airline employees. Rather, the key is making something out of what others believe is nothing. "Sometimes entrepreneurs want to make a huge splash and go slay Goliath," says Owens, "but there's a tremendous power in finding a niche and dominating it."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the November 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Salvage Operation.

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