Waste Management (NYSE:WM) stock has been in the dumps lately: After a big slump in mid-2011, the company has trailed the S&P 500 by 20 percentage points. Since then, however, the nation's largest garbage hauler has taken steps to position itself for future success, leveraging its dense collection network and reorienting itself toward greener, more environmentally friendly waste solutions. Most recently, the company has announced an ambitious restructuring plan to create a flatter, more responsive, and more effective management structure.

To help investors decide whether Waste Management is trash or treasure, The Motley Fool has compiled a premium research report on the company. Today, you can enjoy a free sneak peek of the report. Read on to learn more about one crucial advantage Waste Management has over its competitors.

Turning competitors into customers
Even though Waste Management is the biggest trash collector in the country, the industry itself remains highly fragmented on a local and regional level. After Waste Management, with annual revenue of over $13 billion, the competition starts to look very small, very fast. Runner-up Republic Services (NYSE:RSG) grosses around $8 billion annually. Rounding out the top four are the relative pip-squeaks Waste Connections (NYSE:WCN), bringing in around $1.5 billion annually, and Casella Waste Services (NASDAQ:CWST), with only around $500 million a year. The rest of the U.S. waste market, estimated to be worth $85 billion in annual revenue, is fragmented among 18,000 small companies.

What do smaller trash haulers who lack Waste Management's vertically integrated collection and disposal network do? Why, they pay Waste Management hefty fees to use its landfills, transfer sites, and recycling facilities of course. These "tipping fees" accounted for about 20% of revenue in 2011, meaning that Waste Management's would-be "competitors" are actually some of the company's best customers.

In 2011, Waste Management made a move to consolidate its position as the trash haulers' trash hauler by purchasing waste service brokerage firm Oakleaf. Oakleaf doesn't own any collection or disposal assets itself; instead, large national clients pay Oakleaf a fee to contract with third-party waste service providers, finding the best solution for clients at the best price. Acquiring Oakleaf not only nets Waste Management over 800 high-margin national accounts immediately, but it also gives granular insight into hundreds of local markets.

Waste Management plans to add value by gradually funneling third-party collection trucks into tipping at Waste Management's landfills and recycling centers. Long term, Waste Management can use Oakleaf's dedicated understanding of customer demands to offer the best value to clients, bringing more and more volume away from small competitors and into Waste Management's own collection streams. Typically, the largest company in a given industry doesn't have many opportunities to grow market share, but with the Oakleaf acquisition, Waste Management has positioned itself to do exactly that.

Besides the preceding sample, our premium research report digs deep into discerning more opportunities that Waste Management is looking to exploit, as well as what risks the company faces. You'll also find reasons to buy or sell, be offered a look at the company's management team, and get the Foolish bottom line on Waste Management. Best of all, the report keeps investors informed with a full year of analyst updates. To keep reading, just click here to get your copy today.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.