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Hairdresser brings her own style to recycling industry

Keywords: Tags  Michelle Coffino, Queen City Metal Recycling & Salvage, Lisa Gordon, Full of Scrap

Shrinking scrap margins and increased competition have been enough to make many recyclers wish that they were out of the business. But one newcomer isn’t fazed: hairdresser Michelle Coffino, who has added a metal shear to her array of tools.

No, Coffino doesn’t believe that if you can cut hair you can cut anything, but she does believe that business is business. “The market is very challenging and changes daily, but walking out of one business into another, as long as you have good accounting, is possible,” she said.

After spending years building up a large clientele at her successful salon in Charlotte, N.C., the mother of triplets had saved up some money and was ready to try something new.

One of her clients was Steve Gilbert, the owner of Gilbert Iron & Steel, which had closed its doors, and through their conversations she became interested in the world of metals. Long story short: Coffino bought the 4.5-acre property, a shear, baler and two cranes, and opened in July as Queen City Metal Recycling & Salvage, employing 39 workers and purchasing scrap from 200 to 400 customers daily.

“Learning how to run a business, build relationships and network has enabled me to facilitate a different path,” Coffino said. Acknowledging that she is new to the world of scrap, she is overseeing the financial part of the business and delegating other duties.

Coffino has retained Gilbert, whose thorough knowledge of metals has been invaluable in yard operations. “I realized right away that you’d better know your metals and how to price them, and Steve is amazing at this. Plus, he is a hands-on guy who can problem solve issues like repairing equipment,” she said. While Gilbert formerly owned the same yard, he is much more formidable when working directly with the metals and customers as opposed to being tucked away in an office.

Hair styling and metal recycling have some common ground: both require networking skills and are cash intensive. “A lot of people misconstrue hairdressers as being creative artists, but it is a cash business and at the end of the day you are counting money,” Coffino said. She also understands balancing a budget, and made the cuts and changes that were needed to be successful.

Once Coffino decided to buy the assets, she hired a forensics accountant to do an analysis and make sure that everything had a clean start. She then relied on advice from her father, whose career spanned the manufacturing sector. Compliance is one area he cautioned her on, but CoffinoÑwho has delegated one employee to oversee all compliance effortsÑis quick to point out that the beauty industry and its shops are regulated as well. “With any business there is always compliance. At the salon we operate lasers and you can blind someone with a laser,” she said.

People skills are important, too. “When someone sat in my chair, I had about 11 seconds to assess them and their expectations. I have hair customers ranging from (chief executive officers) to laborers,” she said. “And never get so big that you forget to offer personalized service.”

Her success at this is illustrated by the fact she used scissors and people skills to grow her business and save up enough to buy the scrapyard. Taking time to listen to customers and always being punctual can translate into success anywhere, she said.

Years ago, when Coffino found herself divorced and with triplet toddlers, she was determined to succeed financially. “I didn’t come from money but I have an incredible work ethic,” she said.

Coffino said that she also is planning ahead. “I am obviously looking to grow the company and I am already spinning on how to achieve this. I am a tactician playing chess who is always seven moves ahead. I am assessing other companies that I would like to do business with and am researching potential industrial sources,” she said.

Coffino’s son is now employed as a laborer at the scrapyard, but he should not expect his mother to hand the business over to him carte blanche. “You have to work for what you get in life to appreciate it, and that would not be doing him a service,” she said.

Mother Nature has been the biggest headache Coffino has faced since opening. “The weather has been the biggest hurdle for us. We were clobbered with rain just about every day in July and into August,” she said.

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