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October 26, 2015 Shop Talk

Q&A with Katherine Fairbanks, President & CEO, DirtyGirl Disposal

Matt Volpini Katherine Fairbanks, president and CEO, DirtyGirl Disposal

Katherine Fairbanks knows a thing or two about branding – and business survival. A lifelong Millbury native, she has 20 years of experience in rubbish disposal through the family business, Millbury Rubbish Removal (MRR). In 2006, a difficult divorce put MRR’s future in question, not to mention the future of Fairbanks and her three children. In March 2007, Fairbanks’ brother and staunchest business ally died in an auto accident 10 days before the divorce decree was revealed in her favor. Fairbanks launched DirtyGirl in 2009, with a mission to empower women by helping them obtain commercial drivers’ licenses. This year, Fairbanks said, sales will just about reach six figures.

What was the first building block of this new company?

Once I did my research, and trademarked DirtyGirl Disposal, I reconditioned an MRR truck that my brother had helped me keep from being repossessed. I put the DirtyGirl logo on, took out a bank loan and bought 13 containers in the color purple that I had trademarked as the DGD color. In 2009-2010, I had a truck and 13 containers, but I had no idea how to get customers.

Also, I was the only truck driver back then, working for MRR and truck driving for DirtyGirl. I was trying to build a company, do networking, marketing and branding, and I didn’t know how to get customers. So [early on] we kind of wallowed in nothingness. I think we had $5,000 in sales for the [first] year.

What changed the company’s prospects?

In the spring of 2011, we set up a booth at the Worcester Home Show at the DCU Center. We were the only trash company there. People would walk by our booth but wouldn’t stop. We would have to really reach out. I would go out and get someone and say, ‘I see you peeking…’ So it was just telling the story. Shortly afterward, the telephone started ringing. The idea was really well received, and DirtyGirl started working. We went from $5,000 in sales in 2009 to $15,000 in 2010, to $30,000 in 2011, and it was great.

How did you handle the growth?

I started recruiting girls to get their commercial driver’s license (CDL). We didn’t have the workbase yet, and there were no women to drive. I thought, if I do suddenly take off by chance, there’s no one to sit in the driver’s seat but me.

So I put together a class of six women and four of them got their CDL. I designed the curriculum; they got their permits and developed their driving skills. Girls started out seeing that they could do this, and we’ve gotten lots of media attention.

Has the customer base come around?

I still haven’t transformed the whole customer base. When I or one of the girls pull into a job site, contractors will stop and they’ll watch, as if to say, “I wonder if she can really do this.” Talk about pressure. You know you have to do it right because you know they’re watching, and you have to represent every other woman who’s going to drive by doing a good job.

What’s in the future?

I hope to go national with Dirty Girl. I have a couple of leads right now. I want to sell licensing, so that other women can see what a great model this is.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 5.4 percent of commercial truck drivers are women. There’s a problem there. We’ve had pushback from men who say the women-driver-only concept is discrimination.

I know the laws. In Massachusetts, I can have up to six employees without being affected by the EEOC of 1962. Before reaching that threshold, I intend to go before the federal court and apply for a declaratory judgment which would enable me to hire just women for drivers of DirtyGirl. I may hire men for other roles. But DirtyGirl was created to provide an opportunity for women, and commercial truck driving is one of those opportunities in which women are not being represented adequately, and that’s why DirtyGirl was created.

This interview was formatted for Q and A, conducted and edited for length by Christina P. O'Neill, special to the Worcester Business Journal.


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