Memphis woman’s drug-testing business helps keep workplaces clean and sober

October 21, 2008

 

YOU MAY NOT KNOW Kelly Dobbins, but if you’ve ever worked in local government, a transportation industry or attended a trade school, then chances are she knows something about you.

 

Dobbins, 43, of Memphis, is the owner of Mid-South Drug Testing LLC, which provides pre - employment and random drug testing for numerous companies and government entities in West Tennessee and Arkansas.

 

In one year, she and her staff will test as many as 11,000 samples of urine, saliva and hair for illegal substances. Next year she’s hoping for even more.

Dobbins’ specialty is “alternative specimens,” meaning drug-testing tools that can provide instant results in the field. These tools are similar to overthe - counter pregnancy tests in that urine or saliva moves laterally across a membrane, which reveals the presence or absence of drugs.

 

“It’s not rocket science,” Dobbins said. “What makes me different is that some customers are going to call me and say, ‘I need you tomorrow.’ And, sure, I’d like for everything to be scheduled, but that’s not going to happen, it’s not reality. I like to tell people yes.”

 

Dobbins designed her business on the premise that convenience is a selling point, as it was for the City of Millington, which uses Dobbins for 25 random drug tests per quarter.

 

“(Dobbins’ employees) have even been out to our police department at the midnight shift before,” said Millington’s director of human resources, Cindy Donaldson.

 

Donaldson said before contracting with Dobbins two years ago, city department managers would have to round up employees for random drug tests, drive them to a minor medical clinic, wait for hours while the tests were performed, and receive the results later by e -mail.

 

“Our service niche is going to the customer, so we want to do volume random testing,” said Dobbins. “We pack a bag and go. We’re not just sitting here in the office.”

 

Donaldson said she was also impressed by Dobbins’ willingness to educate city administrators on her methods.

 

“From the very first time I met Kelly Dobbins, I had never been exposed to the tools that they use,” said Donaldson. “She brought her kit to our conference room, and she explained every type of test methodology that they use and why they would use each one.”

 

Dobbins got Millington’s business after connecting with Millington’s fire chief at an event. She now tests for the Memphis Police Department and a list of large Mid-South companies including the Tennessee Technology Center, Comtran, Concorde Career College, Herbi-Systems, branches of Thomas & Betts, Ingram Micro, American Railcar Industries, Turner Dairy and Kraft Foods.

 

Originally, Dobbins struggled to keep her business afloat after splitting with a private probation company in 2004, where she gained most of her business experience.

 

“Don’t ever open up two offices in one year, and don’t open a business with no capital,” she laughed, noting the haste with which she first opened her Memphis office on Poplar in February 2004, and her Paragould, Ark., office in September 2004.

 

Dobbins had invested $50,000 of her own savings, including part of her 401K, plus a large amount of stock dividends loaned by her mother. But a year later her investments had been eaten away by expenses.

 

“So basically I took my business plan and threw it out the window,” Dobbins said. “I joined every organization and attended every meeting that I could. I networked, networked, networked.”

 

In 2006 her revenues doubled, and continued to grow, though she doesn’t actively seek new companies at present. Still, she has picked up 33 new companies this year, and grosses an average of $35,000 per month.

 

Looking back, Dobbins said she was always fascinated by the science behind criminal justice, but the fight to save and expand her business has made her line of work a personal calling.

 

“One thing I believe is that there is always a job that’s yours,” she said. “You don’t know why it’s yours, you don’t know when it became yours, but it’s always been your job. I’ve always been a drug tester.

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