Going the Extra Degree
Trailblazing USA Iron and Metal and RJ Smith Materials expand services to safeguard the environment
Monique Smith leads with the philosophy of going above industry standards to help people and the environment. She currently owns and operates two recycling businesses, RJ Smith Materials and USA Iron and Metal, both headquartered in Richmond, Virginia.
Her first environmentally friendly venture was RJ Smith Materials, a concrete, asphalt and brick recycling company she formed in 2005. While she was the managing director of finance and administration at RJ Smith Construction, Monique saw an opportunity. “As we expanded our demolition operations, I started noticing a lot of landfill invoices for disposal, and I questioned what products were being discarded. When I realized the waste, I decided we could keep it out of the landfill by recycling or finding a new market for it. Recycling supports our community and our planet, and that was important to me,” she says.
As that business grew, it seemed natural to create a recycling service for metal. So in November 2018, she started USA Iron and Metal, which recycles ferrous and non-ferrous metals, including copper, steel, aluminum, brass and iron from commercial and residential customers.
Both companies help repurpose the materials into products, keeping millions of pounds of waste out of landfills each year. According to Monique, her companies recycle approximately 22,000 tons of concrete and 2,700 tons of ferrous and non-ferrous metals per month.
Together, Monique and her husband, Richard, have grown businesses located in Richmond that serve clients in Virginia and across the Mid-Atlantic states. They include RJ Smith Construction, RJ Smith Demolition, RJ Smith General Contracting, RJ Smith Materials, and USA Iron and Metal. In addition to recycling, the companies perform a variety of services, including general contracting and construction, demolition, erosion and sediment control, asbestos removal, site work, infrastructure work, and real estate development for residential and commercial properties.
“We believe diversity is our strength. Many of our businesses were created from solving our clients’ problems,” Richard says. “Also, our construction company uses a lot of products manufactured from our recycled materials.”
All of their companies uphold the Smiths’ commitment to going “an extra degree,” a concept gleaned from a book called “212 The Extra Degree: Extraordinary Results Begin with One Small Change,” by Sam Parker and Mac Anderson. “The idea is that at 211 degrees, water is just hot. At 212 degrees, it boils, and with boiling water comes steam, and with steam, you can power a locomotive. The difference is only 1 degree.
So we always give that extra degree to everything we do,” Monique says.
Blend of High Tech and Human Touch
USA Iron and Metal carries on the RJ Smith Companies’ 212 culture of providing the best for its customers and staff. “We make it easy for people to trade trash for cash. In addition, we deliver high-quality, friendly service and we embrace new technology to support our staff and customers. Our investment in technology, whether it’s GPS on our cans, electronic scales or software, have created tremendous efficiencies for us and our clients, which ultimately benefits everyone’s bottom line,” Monique says.
USA Iron and Metal is a woman-owned company and many of the staff members are female, including the truck drivers. “Women are very detailed and most of them are moms, so they know how to prioritize and multitask. We’re also flexible with schedules. Since we have multiple companies, we can easily match work times for our staff with their family needs,” Monique says.
Making a Difference
Monique and Richard’s resourcefulness transfers to creative ways in which they support their community. The most visible representation is a 212-foot flagpole with a 40-by-76-foot U.S. flag on their USA Iron and Metal property. The flag is seen from the busy intersection of Interstate 95 and Virginia State Route 288, major Richmond transportation arteries.
“We wanted to make a statement that was large enough so people would think about the freedoms and privileges we have as a country and be proud of it,” Richard says. “We felt it was our civic duty to get rid of negativity and focus on the positive. We get dozens of emails and texts each day about how positive and impactful this is.”
The concept started in May 2017 when Richard and Monique were discussing the metal recycling business. “We like to give back, and the location we had at USA Iron and Metal just fit our idea. Richard and I, with the help of our creative concrete subcontractor, designed every detail of the layout. It was important for the pole to be 212 feet tall to fit our company philosophy. It’s a testament of how just a little bit more can change a community,” Monique says.
The property was dedicated in November 2018 with a flag-raising ceremony that included state and local community leaders, first responders, active military and veterans. Each element of the monument has significance. The 212-foot flagpole honoring the company’s philosophy is the tallest flagpole in Virginia. The circular sidewalk around the flag measures 1,776 square feet to honor the founding year of our country. Also in the ground is a small concrete half circle at the base of the flagpole designed to resemble an angel watching over the flag, and a cross near the pathway to the flagpole that symbolizes God watching over the angel.
The Smiths and USA Iron and Metal financed and managed the entire project that took just under three months to construct. Many subcontractors, vendors and suppliers were involved to make this engineering feat a reality.
Expanding the Message
The site will also have an educational aspect funded by the Smiths, their staff and others in the community who choose to donate to the 501(c)(3) organization formed for that purpose.
“This nonprofit is funding construction of a massive education center focused on making good use of natural resources. The modern facility will follow green building standards that include solar and wind power and the use of recycled materials. It’s meant to inspire the youth in our community to recycle and use natural resources,” Monique says.
She adds, “Inside the building, we will display educational materials about the history of the U.S. flag and information about the tools and materials used to create the pole and flag on our property. Historical flags will also be on display. We will have an interactive showcase for our visitors to learn the history of our American heritage. Our goal is to educate and influence future generations.”
They plan for completion of the education center in 2020.
Sharing and Caring
The Smiths have always contributed to the community. “When we saw a need for a reading program at Bellwood Elementary School, we remodeled the library. We also repaired the school’s playground that was in terrible condition,” Monique says. “Through the years we have also donated a great deal of construction services to school athletic programs as well as hundreds of bicycles to children in need within the community.”
They also support regional and national charities, including the American Heart Association, Camp Baker, Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond, Children’s Hospital Foundation in Richmond, and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Monique and Richard also encourage their three daughters to follow in their philanthropic footsteps. The girls led the Pledge of Allegiance alongside Lee Greenwood at the flag-raising ceremony while one of their friends was a part of the flag-raising team.
“We support our community because we believe a strong community builds a strong country. If we can influence our youth, then Monique and I really will have been able to contribute to the future of our community,” Richard says.
As for their business success, Richard and Monique believe they have learned from their experiences and failures. “We like to say we’ve failed our way to success. In business, we wake up every morning, walk to the edge of the cliff and jump, building our wings before we hit the ground,” Monique says.