Working Hard in the Big Easy

“People laugh when I tell them that shredding is therapeutic. But it is!”

  When speaking with Sharen Martin, co-owner of Gulf Coast Shred in Mandeville, Louisiana, one hour north of New Orleans, it doesn’t take long to appreciate the unusual nature of this shredding service. First, it is woman-owned, somewhat of a rarity in our industry. Second, Sharen and her business partner, Rosemary Lyons, worked as paralegals with a large insurance company—Sharen for 15 years, Rosemary for 20. Sharen is now full-time with Gulf Coast Shred, and will be joined by Rosemary shortly. They have a third partner, also a woman, who has been as a registered nurse for nearly two decades.

 “With over fifty years collective experience in the legal and health care fields,” Sharen says, “we’re used to handling extensive amounts of highly sensitive documents. This gives us an appreciation for the companies we serve. We have an understanding of what they’re lacking, and that allows us to help them establish a secure destruction process. It’s new to many of our customers, and we feel that we can educate and help in this way. Having been on the other side of the fence certainly helps.”

 While working at the insurance company, they were swamped by the incredible volume of paper they handled regularly—and realized that something had to be done to assure complete document security. A friend of Rosemary’s family was involved in a shredding service in Illinois and was doing very well. This spurred Sharen and Rosemary to investigate the shredding industry in their area.

 “The more we examined the business, the more we liked the opportunity,” says Sharen. “There were only two companies in our region. Also, we knew that HIPAA regulations were coming into force. We geared the opening of our business so we could be in the Yellow Pages at just the right time. We actually opened before we had our equipment, so I was out selling a dream for three months.”

 Their equipment, an Allegheny 25 Hp shredder and a baler, was installed in September 2002. The company’s first contract was to shred for the second largest HMO in the state. It had been a clinic for 50 years but had been forced to close down. The clinic and its storage facility held over 160,000 patient records. “In all, we shredded about fifty tons of paper,” Sharen recalls. “It let us get our feet wet and helped people hear about us.”

 Also, this job helped the new company establish the logistics of handling large jobs. Sharen’s son, Jason, assisted with the clean out and now works part-time for the company. Rosemary helped, as did Sharen’s husband and four temporary employees. They accomplished the entire clinic clean out in just 15 hours. Since then, Sharen has used temporary employees when requiring extra help, usually with jobs of several thousand pounds and more. The temporary workers are bonded and insured, and their workman’s compensation is taken care of by the agency.

 “Allegheny was also very helpful during that first big job,” Sharen says. “We must have driven them crazy. When the receptionist began to recognize my voice on the phone, I thought maybe I’d called too many times. But they were always gracious and eager to answer questions from their level of experience.

 Gulf Coast Shred has since contracted with a number of significant customers, including a large university, an international oil company, and several government offices. The company services New Orleans and Baton Rouge as well as the booming Mississippi Gulf Coast.

  When asked if she feels there’s a disadvantage to being a woman-owned business in an industry traditionally dominated by men, Sharen responds by saying that her company’s professionalism and level of security for customers will inevitably help her gain business. “We feel confident that our service can outshine the national companies. Our competition might not like that we’re women once we’re certified, because they won’t be able to compete with us in certain areas. But we feel that our customers will gain in the process because of our service.”

 While deciding which type of equipment to purchase for their new company, Sharen and Rosemary attended the NAID conference in April 2002. “Allegheny had opened their arms and minds to us,” Sharen says. “They told us they would help us and that has proven to be the case. But it was a conversation with John Wagner during the conference that really convinced us. He was walking by our table at dinner and I said to him, ‘Tell us why we should buy your shredder instead of someone else’s.’ That was all it took. John proceeded to tell me why, and we were convinced! He’s very proud of his product and of his personnel. And it’s impressive that his children are with the company. I feel that they’ll be there for a long time. That also was important to us.”

 Sharen laughed when recalling another encounter with John Wagner during the company’s start-up phase. “We had found a facility that was the perfect size—6,000 square feet. But it had no truck well. John asked us how we could sell paper without a truck well, and I told him that we were in a rural area and couldn’t find a facility that offered one.

 “We tried to get a ramp, and John tried to get one for us. When we couldn’t locate anything in the area, he decided to build a ramp for us. It was delivered with the shredder, and everyone marvels at it. When John builds something, as everyone who has ever worked with him knows, he builds it to last. The drawer where we clean out the daily shred is made of steel and must weigh forty pounds. I said to him, ‘Couldn’t you have made it out of plastic?’ But he never would resort to that just to cut corners. The drawer will be around when I’m gone. We appreciate the quality of the workmanship.”

 When speaking of Allegheny employees, Sharen made special note of Jeff Robas, who assisted with the installation. “He was such a gracious man,” Sharen says. “He was everywhere. I couldn’t get him to stop working. I’d tell him to go eat lunch, but he’d say, ‘No, I just want to finish this first.’ He worked as though it was his own business. I can’t thank him enough.

  “Evelyn Jefferson was also helpful in every respect. She’s a wonderful lady. I sometime call her just to talk and share war stories. For me, shredding has its own type of satisfaction. When you’re a little tired, you just run paper into the shredder and you can see the results immediately. People laugh when I tell them that shredding is therapeutic. But it is!”

Sharen Martin, Co-owner
Gulf Coast Shred, New Orleans, Louisiana