The company president and owner got her start there as a bookkeeper and salesperson.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
SALEM -- Secrets are safe at Industrial Paper Shredders Inc.
A manufacturer of shredding machines for paper and other materials for more than 50 years, the Salem business has seen its profits climb with the growing consumer interest in privacy and confidentiality.
Dee Dee Thomas, owner and president of the South Ellsworth Avenue company, said sales have doubled every year since she bought Industrial Paper Shredders and its sister company, Docu-Shred, in 1999.
Industrial Paper Shredders manufactures 20 models of shredding machines for commercial use and markets a line of smaller shredders made by Dahle, a German company.
Shredders made locally are produced by hand, she said, and it takes four to six weeks to complete a machine.
Scope of business: The company's shredder line ranges from the largest, a 25-horsepower model that shreds up to 6,000 pounds per hour and sells for $32,000, to small Dahle shredders that sell for under $100.
Thomas said Docu Shred was established in 1994 to serve business owners who aren't interested in shredding and recycling their own waste paper.
Docu Shred delivers 55-gallon, locked barrels to its business customers. Waste paper is deposited in the barrels, Docu-Shred picks up the full barrels on a regular schedule, shreds the paper at its plant, packs it in bales and ships it off to a recycling company.
"Everybody has become so conscientious about confidentiality," she said. "They don't want phone numbers or other information on anything they throw away."
Docu-Shred and Industrial Paper Shredders share the same headquarters and staff. Thomas said she has four employees besides herself, three full time and one part time.
Government contracts make up a large percentage of her business. The fact that hers is a female-owned business gives the companies a leg up over some competitors, she said, noting that federal agencies must allocate a percentage of their purchases to female-owned, veteran-owned and minority-owned businesses.
Customers: Industrial Paper Shredders sends out 15,000 direct-mail advertisements to federal government offices every year, and the effort brings in orders from around the country.
Thomas said she's sold more than 100 shredders to Department of Immigration and Naturalization offices, and the U.S. Department of Defense bought her largest shredder for its Columbus office.
She's also shipped some shredders overseas -- a company in Saudi Arabia recently ordered 38 units.
But paper shredding is only one aspect of Thomas' business. She said the company has engineered shredders to customer specifications to shred foil, film, plastic, Styrofoam, fiberglass insulation and cardboard.
For example, a California company contracted with the Salem manufacturer to produce a shredder for cotton T-shirts. The customer will shred the shirts, spray them with a fire retarding material and use them in building insulation.
Another company bought a machine to shred fiberglass wall insulation, she said, with plans to reprocess the shredded material into ceiling tiles.
Although small shredders are readily available at discount and warehouse stores, Thomas said her company offers some added benefits. She's contracted with a company that provides parts and service for its customers anywhere in the United States and she gives customers a 10-day trial so they can be sure the machine they buy meets their needs.
Thomas was 38, a recent widow and the mother of two young children when she took a job at Industrial Paper Shredders Inc. in 1993. Starting out as a bookkeeper and sales representative, she quickly learned the workings of the business and assumed more and more responsibility.
When owner Richard Owsley decided to sell the company that had been in his family for 50 years, Thomas began to consider taking on a new role. "I figured I had to be here every day anyway, so I decided I might as well buy it," she said with a grin.
Thomas said she still concentrates much of her time on sales and bookkeeping.
History: The company headquarters, a longtime landmark in an industrial section of this small city, started out as the Silver Manufacturing Co. in the 1890s. Workers manufactured feed cutters, fodder shredders and woodworking machinery. The Owsley family bought it and adopted the present company name in 1955.
Thomas gives Owsley much of the credit for starting sales initiatives that are helping her companies to grow, including an online catalog, its listings in manufacturing directories and recycling magazines and its direct mail sales strategy.
Owning a business is something new for the Leetonia native. "I think the scariest part is knowing that I have some people working for me who are dependent upon me for their livelihood," she said.
She said both companies are continuing to expand their customer bases and she expects sales to continue to rise. The growth doesn't come easy, though.
"Selling shredders isn't like selling groceries," she said. "You're always searching for a new customer who needs one."