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October 2001
Talking Trash
By Casey Jacobus

 

When Carole McLeod started New South Waste, Inc. four years ago, the timing was perfect. Charlotte's economy was hot, construction was booming, and the banks were lending. But starting a small waste hauling company meant going up against the big boys who owned their own landfills. For McLeod, though, success came from building successful relationships with her customers.

      "It's a two-way street with customers," says McLeod. "They do their thing, we do ours, and it works." The company offers construction and demolition waste hauling in addition to commercial waste hauling; currently seventy percent of McLeod's business comes from commercial and residential construction contractors. Inventory includes 14 trucks and more than 1,000 containers. Among New South Waste's customers are Centex Homes, Saussy Burbank, Rodgers Builders and J.B. Waddell. New South Waste also has the contract for the expansion work on SouthPark Mall. McLeod says good service and quick turnaround have been the building blocks for New South Waste's rapid growth.

      "Builders were used to waiting for days for service from the big waste haulers," says McLeod. "We'd show up in three hours."

 

Shining Star

      This past June, the Charlotte Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), representing 42,000 women-owned businesses in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area, selected McLeod as its "Rising Star of the Year." The award is given annually to a woman who has owned her business for less than five years and has evidenced significant and successful growth. McLeod was recognized for growing her business from one truck and one driver to 15 trucks and 20 employees in just four years. As a matter of fact, she tripled her business plan during the second year of operation.

      "I really underestimated the market," she says. "Instead of $1 million, we did $3 million of business."

      While hauling waste may seem to be an unusual business for a woman, McLeod says it has actually proven to be a benefit. Minority ownership has opened some doors for her and for New South Waste. Central Carolina Bank was more willing to loan the fledgling company start-up money because it was owned by a woman. Some organizations, such as Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, have programs in place to encourage doing business with minority-owned companies.

      "There are no guarantees, however," says McLeod. "You still have to provide good service."

 

Garbage is in the Blood

      McLeod had first hand knowledge of how to run a small business long before she started her own company. She grew up in Greensboro where her father was a highway patrol officer for twenty years. He saw so many automobile accidents that, when he retired, he bought a small wrecker company. And, after several years of dealing with wrecked cars that nobody wanted, he also bought a salvage yard.

     "Garbage is in my blood," laughs McLeod, who says she got her astute business sense from her father. "I inherited his common sense. I learned to see an opportunity and grab it."

     After graduating from Appalachian State University in Boone with a business degree, McLeod went into sales. "I knew what I liked and what I was good at," she says. She sold everything from accounting systems to postage meters. Then, after eight years with a major solid waste removal company, and a brief stint at a chemical company, McLeod partnered with her former operations manager, Dave Weller, to start New South Waste in 1997.

      "You knock on doors," Weller told her. "I'll drive."

      The two worked out of their homes - Weller in Blacksburg, S.C. and McLeod in Weddington. They rented a place to park the truck and containers on South Graham Street in Charlotte.

      "We'd meet in the parking lot and sign checks on the back of my Camry," says McLeod.

      On Panther weekends, they had to move their equipment off the parking lot so game goers could park there. Four months after going into business, they got a contract for 60 containers from Saussy Burbank and had to buy a second truck. They also moved into a trailer on Rozzells Ferry Road where they spent the next two years. Today, they're buying the building they occupy on Craighead Road.

      "Our two original locations had a role to play in our success," says McLeod. "We were downtown and right on top of all the construction that was going on. We were real quick with our service and competitive with our prices."

      One builder ordered three containers for his construction site at Myers Park. Weller delivered them, but asked why he needed three. The answer was that it usually took three days for the waste hauler to show up. New South Waste picked up every day, on time, and eliminated the need for two of the dumpsters.

      "Dave is really emphatic about quick service," McLeod says.

      Weller, secretary/treasurer of New South Waste, and McLeod, president, work well together. He handles operations and service and she is responsible for sales and financing.

      "We don't step on each other's toes," says McLeod. "We each take ownership of our own area. But all the big decisions are joint ones. We bring different perspectives to decisions."

      McLeod's husband Mans works in the First Union Trust Department. They have two children, Anna, 14 and Will, 11. Juggling family needs and business demands is not always easy, but McLeod says she has the complete support of her husband and children.

      "My husband and I are both very flexible," she says, "and it has gotten easier as the children get older. Basically, you do what you have to do."

      The same principal applies to running a business. McLeod tells a story to illustrate her point.

      "While we were still in the trailer, a yard dog adopted us." says McLeod. "That was fine until she had a litter of 11 puppies. The employees loved them, but nobody wanted to take responsibility for them. By the time they were four weeks old, they were providing a lot of distraction. They were also in danger from the trucks coming in and out."

      To remove the distraction, McLeod took the puppies home with her. Project Halo helped her find adoptive homes for most of them, but the McLeod family still has one.

      "I never dreamed I'd have to deal with puppies," says McLeod. "You just do whatever you have to do to make your company run smoothly."  

      The economy has taken a downturn and construction has slowed some since New South Waste began in 1997. There are also about ten more competitors in the business now than four years ago. Still, sales in 2001 have already grown 20 percent and McLeod expects New South Waste to continue to grow.

      "We just have to work harder to get the business and to keep what we have," she says. "Our motto is to work smart, not hard, but so far we're still doing both."

 

Looking to the Future

      New South Waste currently operates throughout Mecklenburg and all of its adjoining counties. Over the next five years, McLeod says the company will expand into new markets. That expansion is most likely to be in Greensboro and Greenville, S. C. These are places where some Charlotte customers have additional locations and would like New South Waste's service. Within two years, McLeod hopes to hire someone to manage the company's operations.

      "If there's another dog that has puppies, I'm not dealing with it," says McLeod. "I'd like to play the owner role versus the day-to-day manager."

      Hiring a manager would also smooth the anticipated geographic expansion. Dispatching could still be done out of the Charlotte office. All that would be necessary elsewhere would be drivers and a place to park the trucks and containers.

      New South Waste's rapid growth has not gone unnoticed. McLeod says every major waste hauler in Charlotte has talked to her.

      "We'll listen to anybody," she says, "but we're not for sale."

      Indeed, McLeod says she has found what she wants to do for the rest of her life. She is always marketing the company, whatever else she may be doing. She puts her business card in every construction trailer or builder's van she sees. Sometimes she wishes she had taken more psychology courses in college to help with the challenges of managing a company and selling its service, she says. But, for the most part she enjoys those challenges.

      "It's crazy when you own a small business," she says. "You have to expect the unexpected. You get surprised every day."

      Those unexpected surprises give her a story to tell around the dining table every evening. And, while McLeod has a strong support system that includes her partner, an accountant, banker and attorney, the company is ultimately hers and the sense of ownership she feels carries with it a deep satisfaction.

      "I don't go around telling people I own a dumpster company," she says, "but I get a feeling of pride whenever I pass one of our trucks on the road."

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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