Even though Karen Coley’s previous event-planning company accomplished such requests as arranging for a client to rent the Sistine Chapel, she understands that bigger isn’t always better. Coley brings that latter perspective to her latest company, SBC Waste Solutions in Chicago.

Karen Coley SBC Waste Management

Karen Coley SBC Waste Management

The small, family-owned company believes in personal service. Their call centers are local, based in the Chicago area, staffed by people who live there. Shawn Flood, of SBC Waste Solutions, says that most of the major corporate waste companies have call centers in Arizona or elsewhere around the country. 

“We have a more personal touch, like our customers can call us at 10 o’clock at night and we’ll answer the phone, where the big guys won’t,” Flood says. “Our service levels are above and beyond our competitors’, and a lot of that is because customers can call one of the owners of this company on their personal cell phone, and other companies don’t offer that.”

People tend to take their garbage personally. It’s smelly. It’s never pleasant. And what do you do with it if someone doesn’t come by and pick it up for you? And Chicago waste collection services are a competitive business, so companies need an edge in order to succeed and flourish.

“The consumer craves a more personalized service in our industry,” Flood says. “People want their garbage picked up, and they want it picked up now. It becomes a panic attack sometimes, right?” 

The garbage business and SBC Waste Solutions, surprisingly, was Coley’s idea in the first place. Years ago, she worked for a boss who didn’t respect her qualifications and expertise and wasn’t paying fairly for the job market at that time. 

“Karen was making a little under $60,000 a year,” Flood says. “I told her, ‘You’ve got so much talent, you’ve got so much grace, you’re so smart. Go start your own company. And she did!”

Coley’s event planning business took off and expanded. She had 10 employees, and she provided such locations for clients as the Sistine Chapel in Rome, which at the time was $150,000 for one hour. But COVID ended all that, so Coley had to find another business, and that’s when she turned to garbage.

“It was Karen’s idea: ‘Hey. Let’s start a garbage company.’ And I said, Okay, do it.’ She had the funds,” Flood says with a chuckle.

Another personal touch Coley introduced to SBC Waste Solutions was the addition of cameras on the company’s garbage and recycling trucks. Since the trucks are driving around in alleys and other often unsafe places, the footage can help solve crimes. This is actually a big deal in waste management innovations, but so far is rare. Camera footage is turned over to police on request and has solved crimes, like stolen cars (especially by joy-riding teenagers).

SBC Waste Solutions got its Women's Business Enterprise National Council certification, thanks to other influential women in Chicago, who were excited and proud of a woman moving into such a male-dominated market.

Coley is still working on hiring more women, but Flood points out an issue unique to the business of residential waste collection that’s slowing down this goal. 

“You know, for being on a garbage truck, we don’t get a lot of women applying for those jobs, but our office is filled with women.”

Still, Coley is not one to accept defeat, so she hasn’t given up on the hiring process. Some day. After all, the waste management collection service pays pretty well.