A Resilient, Latina-owned Waste Management Company Adjusts to COVID-19 Changes
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve created an interview series to feature inspiring Latinx entrepreneurs whose stories of determination represent our community’s unwavering drive to seguir adelante.
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Published: May 8, 2020
Based in Michigan, Maria Marin owns and operates Unlimited Recycling, a waste management company that specializes in waste and recycling for commercial, industrial, governmental, and institutional facilities. Since its founding in 1999, Maria and her team have developed an ability to help others create, manage, and promote industry-leading corporate recycling programs throughout the USA.
Although I first met Maria professionally in 2017, she has since then become a close friend and mentor. During some of my most memorable moments in life, like heading to Puerto Rico to do relief work or tearing my ACL, Maria was a constant source of support.
When COVID-19 happened, I immediately ran to the phone to touch base with her. As one of the few women-owned waste management companies in the nation, Maria had been the epitome of strength and resilience, and I knew that this would not be an exception.
Interview: April 5, 2020
Melody: “How are you? How is business?”
Maria: “Things have been rough but nothing that we weren’t already preparing for. We had quite a few customers who suspended service, such as restaurants and others who have changed pick up frequency of our services.
However, we continue to service the Air Force and Army and have applied to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
We have also been blessed enough to not let anyone go, but we have had to go completely remote. I communicated clearly to my employees that I don’t want them to worry about their pay nor do I want to lose them. I also thought that now is the time to do all the projects we have been talking about.”
Melody: “How have your sales been affected?”
Maria: “We won’t know until month’s end, but we started to see sales going down mid-March. However, business is still coming in from the Army base — otherwise, I would have had to have my employees collect unemployment.”
Melody: “Oh wow! You mention that you had to go completely remote, has the transition been seamless?”
Maria: “Yes, the transition was easy as we had been preparing for this for a long time. We already had moved some of our infrastructure software to cloud, and all we needed to do was use Zoom.”
Melody: “Can you elaborate more on how you were able to anticipate moving to remote work? Was this a move you were going to make pre-COVID or were you keeping up with reports when this was happening internationally?”
Maria: “I have always said to my employees, ‘If we are not online, we are not selling.’ We have been preparing for a few years to move our software and systems to the cloud. I want my administrative team and myself to be able to work from anywhere in the world, as long as our support team is in the field performing the daily job. Technology has facilitated our ability to work remotely, and I think it is the way of the future.”
Melody: “That’s really great intuition. During this pandemic, are there any resources you have relied on?”
Maria: “Yes, SBA [via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act]. Monika Mantilla [Partner at Small Business Community Capital] has been helpful as well. Lastly, I have been following the State of Michigan newsletter.”
Melody: “Those are great resources. What additional help do you need?”
Maria: “We need emergency response protective equipment, funding to keep my employees working, and finally, personal protective equipment (PPE).”
Melody: “What have been the obstacles in receiving this equipment? How have your employees responded to the lack of protective equipment?”
Maria: “At first, my drivers were hesitant to work due to the fact we pickup containers of trash and recyclables, but I provided them with the PPE they needed.
Although I had a supply of hand sanitizer, I ended up making my own, along with homemade masks. We did have a supply of N-95 masks, but they are almost gone. We do need PPE suits, and I am in the process of connecting with a supplier that may have some available.”
Melody: “It sounds like you are doing everything possible to keep your employees safe and business operating. The situation might have been different had it not been for the government contracts you have. How does that change your approach in customer acquisition and/or contracting moving forward?”
Maria: “Well, I plan on acquiring more government contracts that are essential during a crisis. In addition, we have added disinfecting services to our portfolio, so this will increase our sales and help our customers with their environmental needs.”
For many business owners, this time is testing how innovative and creative they can be to ensure their businesses can survive, remain profitable and continue to serve their customers and communities. Clearly, Maria is rising to the challenge.
In fact, Maria was recently featured in the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce social media pages due to Unlimited Recycling's offering of disinfecting services.
Learn more about Maria and her essential enterprise by visiting her website. If you are able to offer support or would like to contribute to the success of her business, feel free to ping me, and I can make an intro.
If you’d like to support Maria and more exceptional entrepreneurs like her during this crisis, spread the word about this series and share this article with family and friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Email.
We want to hear what you think about this article or refer any entrepreneurs for this series. Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by: Jessica Salinas