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Q and A with Cindy Martin

by: JIM CLARK, A gloved Cindy Martin counts incoming diapers at Tidee Didee’s Southeast Portland facility.

Cindy Martin may be president of her company, but she'd be the first to tell you hers is a hands-on job. Unfortunately for her.

Martin is president of Tidee Didee Diaper Service, an answer to the prayers of thousands of new parents. Martin estimates that her firm picks up, washes and delivers about 60,000 Portland-area diapers a week.

Martin's father started the Tidee Didee business 53 years ago in Sacramento, Calif. Not coincidentally, that was the year Martin was born. Dad, she says, discovered quickly that there wasn't a diaper service in Sacramento.

Portland Tribune: So you grew up with Tidee Didee?

Cindy Martin: In grade school they used to try and pick my sister and me up in the Tidee Didee van. There was a little baby doll on top of it with a gold crown, and we used to run the other way. We were embarrassed.

Tribune: And yet, even with the embarrassment, you ended up taking over?

Martin: I did. I escaped to Alaska for 15 years and came back in 1993. We moved here, and I've been running Tidee Didee ever since. I can't seem to escape from it.

Tribune: Any good poopy diaper stories?

Martin: I'll pull something out of my hat.

Tribune: Geez, I hope not. Let's try some word association instead. Pampers.

Martin: They're bad for the environment. If you leave them on too long the little gels (inside the plastic lining) pop up … and they take forever to disintegrate.

Tribune: So is the pendulum swinging back toward cloth diapers?

Martin: We've seen a trend with all this green stuff going on.

Tribune: You've got green stuff?

Martin: Green power, the green movement.

Tribune: Did you say green movement?

Martin: The environmental aspect of things. Everybody's concerned about the environment these days.

Tribune: Oh, right. But isn't the problem here that disposable diapers are so much easier?

Martin: Not necessarily. There's Velcro diaper covers you can use now. And kids potty train at least a year sooner because they feel that wetness if you use cloth and they want the diaper off. With a disposable, the chemicals absorb the urine and the disposable stays dry so the child doesn't care.

Tribune: Do you have kids?

Martin: Yes. They're 21 and 23.

Tribune: What did you use?

Martin: We lived in Alaska. I used mostly cloth and I had to wash my own, but I did use some throwaways at night and when I didn't have any clean diapers. It was my backup.

Tribune: Isn't that a bad word to use in the diaper business?

Martin: It could be.

Tribune: You must have some frustrated customers. Any come to mind?

Martin: There was a customer whose husband was responsible for putting the dirty diapers out every week and he had not put them out quite a few times. His wife got pretty upset with him. One week, he forgot to put them out again, and he didn't want to get in trouble, so he hid them in the garage and they were never found.

Six months later when they quit we charged them for the missing diapers and they swore they did not have them. They moved a month later and the wife found them behind the hot water heater in the garage. And they were in pretty bad shape. He brought them in.

And there's a woman who called us and said her clean diapers had poop in them. So we investigated. Some kids had apparently taken the clean bag off the front porch, put some dog poop in the bag, and put it back on her porch.

Tribune: What did you do?

Martin: Now we deliver to the side of her house.

Tribune: So that baby picture that's in your ads and on your trucks. Who's the model?

Martin: I'm thinking it's me. It's the original baby picture they've used for years.

Tribune: And how do you feel having your baby picture seen all over the city?

Martin: Like a celebrity. A celebrity without a top on, not getting paid.

Tribune: So what would you be doing if you hadn't taken over the family business?

Martin: I'd be in Alaska. I was a janitor in a coal mine there making real good money.

Tribune: Is there something that naturally attracts you to dirty work?

Martin: Just the thought of cleaning it all up.

- Peter Korn