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VOL. 124 | NO. 175 | Monday, September 7, 2009

Drug-Testing Business Expands Despite Economy

By Tom Wilemon

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PRIVATE SPACE: Kelly Dobbins, the owner of Mid-South Drug Testing, has added 31 new companies as clients and expanded her office space since last winter. Instead of hunkering down during a recession, she decided to go after new clients. – PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

Kelly Dobbins knew she had to change the way she did business last winter when customers of Mid-South Drug Testing Services began scaling back. But that didn’t mean she developed a hunker-down mentality.

“While everybody else is spending less money on advertising and everybody else is hiding under a rock, I decided to go out and network myself as much as I could and start cold calling,” she said.

No time to stop trying

Since that time, Mid-South Drug Testing has added 31 new companies as clients – eight of them in the past month – and expanded its office space. For the first time, Dobbins has a spacious private office at the business she founded in 2004.

“I’m not going to stop because the TV says we’re in a recession,” she said. “What I had to do is learn how to sell myself differently, which is why I need quiet time behind closed doors. I’m used to people calling me if they have a problem or if they don’t have a drug-testing program.”

Dobbins also relied on a well-spoken friend with a gift for gab to help with the cold calls.

“She was getting me in places I had never been able to get into and they already had drug testers,” she said.

But it was up to Dobbins to close the sale.

“Why should they use me?” Dobbins asked. “I had never had anybody ask me that before because usually customers were calling me because they didn’t know what they were doing or they had a problem. I had to rethink my selling strategy.”

Mid-South Drug Testing had not been losing customers, but it had been losing business. Existing customers held back on hiring temporary help or new employees. Others began to lengthen the times between random drug tests. Dobbins said she knew the standard of service was what kept her customers coming back so she went with that message.

“My company is all about service,” she said. “That’s what we do. We service our customers. We service them 24-7. I’m an expert witness. I’m an educator.”

Dobbins made sure she took time to listen and to learn everything she could about the potential customers’ operations.

“I want to know what their problems are because the type of drug testing they are doing might not really fit what they need or maybe they’re doing too much,” she said. “You’re not there to try to sell them something they don’t need. You’re there to listen to find out what their problems are and try to solve their problems.”

Variety of choices

Mid-South Drug Testing, which has offices in Memphis and Paragould, Ark., offers urine tests, saliva tests, hair tests, DNA tests, background checks and even pregnancy tests.

“Pregnancy tests came up just because people kept asking for it,” Dobbins said.

The company performed about 11,000 drug tests last year, which accounts for about 90 percent of its business. Background checks account for about 7 percent and DNA tests about 3 percent. Individuals seek DNA testing to check for paternity, establish hereditary profiles or even find out if a spouse is cheating.

“Background checks and DNA have doubled for us in the last couple of years, but I’m not where I want to be with DNA,” Dobbins said.

She had worked in the drug testing business for 16 years for a company whose clients were primarily involved in the criminal justice system when she decided to go out on her own. Dobbins said she realized private companies and corporations would want instant drug testing services for new hires and workplace accidents.

The tests have changed through the years and are quickly evolving.

“When I first started looking into hair testing 10 years ago, it was $700 or $800,” she said. “It has really come down in price. Our hair tests here are $125. If hair testing continues to go down, I’ll lower my price.”

PROPERTY SALES 56 56 9,658
MORTGAGES 49 49 10,665
BUILDING PERMITS 212 212 21,170
BANKRUPTCIES 49 49 6,157