Sweating The Small Things

Features - Cover Story

Richards & Richards finds success in offering a diverse range of quality RIM services.

  • October 4, 2010
  • DeAnne Toto

It’s a philosophy that has been embraced by a number of service companies with varying success: offering a diverse array of related services at a discounted price, commonly known as a bundle. Vendors generally reason that the more services a client obtains from one company, the more difficult it is for that client to leave. In exchange, the client gets the convenience of having a number of its business needs met by a single vendor, usually at a better price than the company would realize if purchasing these same services from a number of vendors.

Lessons In Adversity

Nashville, Tenn.-based Richards & Richards was affected by a fire in 1998 when a cooking fire started by a vagrant in a neighboring building grew out of control. Company owner Steve Richards describes the fire as “small but devastating to me and to my clients.”

Approximately 4,000 boxes were lost to the fire, while 16,500 boxes were water damaged and another 89,500 boxes were smoke damaged.

While the experience was devastating, Richards says, “The knowledge we gained and the processes we changed as a result means we’re a much better company now.”

Among the knowledge the staff at Richards & Richards acquired was in the area of document restoration, which the company has been putting to use recently following flooding in the Nashville area this spring.

Richards & Richards recently was awarded a contract with a large Nashville company seeking to outsource its records management. The company in question had operated an in-house records center that was overwhelmed in the flood. Nearly 100,000 boxes needed to be moved to Richards & Richards’ facility. Richards & Richards has assisted in the stabilization and restoration of the effected documents, calling on its contacts in the restoration industry as well as its own experience in the process.

Steve Richards of Nashville, Tenn.-based Richards & Richards has embraced this idea, taking cues from his clients as to the services the company should consider adding. “Most of the things we’ve done have been the result of client requests,” Richards says of the services his company has added during its 24 years. “We are not going to turn down an opportunity.”

If the suggestion fits within the company’s core competency of records and information management (RIM) and offers recurring revenue, Richards & Richards will pursue it, he adds.

Among the services Richards & Richards offers to its Nashville clients are records storage, shredding, data vaulting, e-vaulting, legal copying, document scanning and consulting. Richards says records storage accounts for roughly 50 percent of the company’s business, while data protection and destruction each comprise 20 percent of the business.

Richards says he likes to think of all these services as tendrils that bind his company to his clients, as tendrils of ivy cling to a building. “I want to have all these services that I offer so that if a client thinks they need to drop us, they realize that another company doesn’t offer all the same services,” he says.

In terms of the company’s success, offering consistency is just as important as offering a diverse range of services. Richards says he is fond of the Latin proverb, “Greatness is nothing but many small littles,” adding, “A great company does so many small things well. It does them consistently.”

This striving for consistency has led Richards & Richards to set up procedures that all of its employees must adhere to. But that doesn’t mean Richards isn’t interested in listening when an employee thinks she has a better solution, and he says he encourages his employees to come forward with suggestions. “I like to have fresh eyes looking at things,” he says. To facilitate that process, Richards & Richards holds a company-wide meeting every Tuesday. Richards says he begins each meeting by saying, “I intend for Richards & Richards to be the best records center in Tennessee and the best place to work in Tennessee. Everything we discuss is to center around these two ideas. Now, where do we begin?”

Among the steps Richards & Richards has taken to this end include implementing bar coding in the late 1980s, ranking it among the first records storage companies in the country to do so. Richards says the company also is expanding delivery options for its downtown clients.

In the area of employee benefits, Richards & Richards has implemented a four-day workweek so employees have more time to spend with their families or pursuing interests outside of work, Richards says. The company also offers a rich benefits package to its employees that includes fully company-paid hospitalization, dental and eye care as well as short- and long-term disability and long-term care.

All of the company’s efforts, even in the area of employee benefits, serve the ultimate goal of customer service.
Richards says when employees are concerned about obligations outside of work, they can find it difficult to focus on their jobs. Therefore, Richards & Richards seeks to give its employees the flexibility they need to perform all of their varied roles, not just their job functions.

At A Glance:
Owners: Steve (pictured, left), Jane and Jerre Richards

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Employees: Roughly 50

Equipment: Records management software from O’Neil, a 125-horsepower Ameri-Shred shredder, a combination of vehicles that includes 18-foot trucks, 10 vans and a Ford Escort for downtown delivers and various small shredders, including a SEM disintegrator and an Ameri-Shred hard-drive shredder

Services Provided: Records storage; off-site information destruction of paper, media and computer hard drives; data vaulting; e-vaulting; legal copying; document scanning; and consulting

While Richards & Richards counts 85 percent of Nashville’s legal community among its clients, Richards says it was not an intentional move on his part. “I didn’t go after law firms specifically,” he explains, “but it so happened that the one I went after is the one everyone looks to. When they came to us from another vendor, it was an easy thing to get other legal clients.”

In addition to the legal community, Richards & Richards serves a range of locally owned companies in the Nashville area, leaving the national companies to the likes of Iron Mountain and Recall, Richards says. “That is their business typically,” he adds. “We don’t pursue those businesses.”

For local firms, Richards says, “There are many advantages to being with an organization where the ownership is local.” Not only is Richards a phone call away, but he says Richards & Richards can offer a higher level of service. He compares his national competitors with Walmart and his own company with Nordstrom. “You can’t sell Walmart items in Nordstrom and vice versa.”

By adopting this strategy, Richards & Richards has been able to realize considerable growth in its 24 years. The company currently has 1,600 clients and more than 1 million boxes in storage at its Nashville facility, which measures 251,000 square feet, or 6 acres, under roof, Richards says. However, he adds that he recognizes a number of factors that will challenge the company and the RIM industry as a whole in the coming years.

“The industry is definitely going to change,” Richards says, adding that fewer boxes of records have been entering his facility in recent years, though paper records continue to persist.

Because Richards & Richards has targeted small, locally owned firms with no records manager on staff, consulting services are a growing area of interest. “We inform our clients as to things coming up that are important and that they need to consider. Many of our clients are not well-read on records management privacy law,” Richards says. “We fill the gap for them.”

Richards & Richards sometimes calls on Dr. Mike Pemberton, CRM, FAI, formerly of the University of Tennessee to help educate clients as to their responsibilities and liabilities.

The company also has seen a dramatic increase in the area of e-vaulting, Richards says, and expects to see significant growth in scanning in the immediate future, particularly in the areas of medical records and accounts payable.

With the predicted growth in scanning and data vaulting, Richards & Richards is enlarging these areas at its Nashville warehouse, Richards says.

Richards predicts that the company’s destruction business will continue to be the most volatile of its service segments in light of fluctuating end markets for shredded material and competition from small firms.

Whatever Richards & Richards future holds, Richards says the company will continue to be a family passion.

Richards became acquainted with the records management industry while he was working in Atlanta, where he and his brother were partners in a large moving company. After one difficult day at the office, Richards decided to stop at a records storage facility that he had noticed on his daily commute. He started asking about the business, he says. “I knew that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”

Richards told his wife, Jane, about the industry, and she shared his excitement. Within a year, the couple had moved back to Nashville and had started Richards & Richards in 1986 with a minority partner, who has since been bought out. The couple’s eldest son, Bowman, was 2-and-a-half-years old at the time. Today, he is full-time employee, having joined the company nearly three years ago. Richards says his two younger children also have expressed an interest in joining the company.

The Richards children were given an introduction to the business at an early age. “All of my kids grew up in this business,” Richards says. “The kids went to work with us every day.” Bowman must have learned something in those early days, because in less than a year as a full-time employee with Richards & Richards, he generated more sales in four months than the company’s sales staff had in the previous 12 months, Richards says.

Regarding his own career in records management, Richards says, “I believe I’m called on to do this—no different than my pastor is called to preach. How often in your life do you have something that your whole family can come together to do?”

Together, the Richards family plans to continue to sweat the small things for decades to come.

The author is editor of Storage & Destruction Business magazine and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.



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