When it comes to protecting the privacy of others, Willie Geiser s company, Allshred Services Inc., is on the cutting edge of things. Literally.
Each day at the firm s Maumee headquarters and factory, two large industrial shredding machines slice through 56,000 pounds of confidential documents and other sensitive materials, turning them into unreadable spaghetti-like strands.
Nothing comes in here without being shredded, Mr. Geiser said while gazing at a huge mound of documents and rows of padlocked containers filled with materials collected from more than 2,000 companies and institutions.
The company s fleet of 16 trucks brings in materials to be destroyed from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The prime users of destruction services are government agencies, financial institutions, and the health-care industry, Mr. Geiser said.
But every company, from large corporations to mom-and-pop businesses, is starting to see the importance of maintaining privacy through document shredding, he added.
There s been enough criminals doing Dumpster-diving to generate real concern. The courts have declared that when something is thrown away, it becomes part of the public domain, Mr. Geiser explained. And identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America.
Allshred, celebrating 20 years in business this year, has grown from almost an afterthought operation into what may be the largest privately owned secure document-destruction company in the United States, according to Mr. Geiser.
Bob Johnson, executive director of the National Association for Information Destruction, an industry trade group that sets standards for document destruction, said Allshred is unusual in that many companies its size have been gobbled up by four very large publicly traded firms.
Kevin Corson cleans up at Allshred. Users of document-destruction services include government agencies, financial institutions, and the health-care industry.
Allshred is one of probably six or seven large regional players left in the industry, Mr. Johnson said. They do stand apart with their size and scope, and they ve managed to hold onto a pretty good market.
The company doesn t release its financial figures, but Inc. magazine said Allshred s 2007 revenues were $4 million. It listed Allshred as one of the nation s 5,000 fastest-growing companies.
The suburban Toledo company is also on Inc. magazine s 2009 list.
Mr. Geiser, 54, also received a Central Great Lakes Region Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2005 from Ernst & Young.
Prior to 2000, document shredding was a fairly sleepy industry with only about 50 firms nationwide. But two significant developments resulted in the industry s rapid growth to 500 firms while boosting Allshred s fortunes.
In late 2001, energy company Enron Corp. collapsed, and its abrupt document destruction raised questions about what it was trying to hide. And in 2002, the first deadline occurred for health providers to ensure privacy for medical records under a federal law.
The first event led companies to establish plans for destroying documents to get rid of private material without raising suspicions about the motivation. The second event prompted hospitals and others to implement plans to more carefully and regularly shred patient records.
The growth was so explosive that, in 2005, Allshred sought and received a $1.3 million loan from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority to buy its 47,000-square-foot headquarters and document-shredding operation at 3940 Technology Drive in Maumee. It had been in a small, 15,000-square-foot operation at 715 Spencer St. in Toledo since it was founded in 1989.
Mr. Geiser said he expected that the new facility would provide plenty of space for expansion for a long time to come. But we grew into all of it rather quickly, he added.
As business has grown and more clients have been added, Allshred bought a small 5,500-square-foot shredding facility in Akron to cut its transportation costs.
One of the company s oldest large clients is Mercy Health Partners, which has been sending Allshred documents and other items designated for destruction for more than 10 years.
Dave Krueger, a purchaser for Mercy Health Partners, said the health-care provider was pressed for ways to deal with its overflow of sensitive data when federal law mandated more confidentiality.
It made good business sense to have them start doing our work. They are local and that s a big plus, Mr. Krueger said.
There was not anybody that could really handle what we needed them to do because of our size. And we didn t want somebody dragging our stuff across the country.
Allshred, which started with one employee and now has 92, began as two separate businesses.
Allshred was founded in 1989 by Toledoan Michael Lucht, and Mr. Geiser started Recycling Service Inc. in 1992, doing Styrofoam recycling.
Requests from customers led Mr. Geiser in 1993 to add document destruction. A year later, he purchased Allshred and kept its name. In retrospect, it was a good move to get into document destruction because recycling kind of died out in the 90s, he said.
The suburban Toledo company still does recycling and sends its shredded bales to paper mills.
The local firm earned the prestigious certification from the National Association of Information Destruction in 2002, which is a measure of the company s employment policies, facility security, financial stability, and destruction processes. It has been awarded the certification every year since.
Our reputation is based on security and service, said Mr. Geiser, who was president of the trade group a few years ago.
All our trucks are GPS-tracked, all our containers are locked, trucks can t leave our center without their cargo doors locked, and we have security cameras watching the whole facility.