Sometimes it seems like just yesterday I was licking stamps and stuffing envelopes with collection notices in my family’s firm as a kid. I would work at a corner desk of our small office, barely able to see across the room as collectors blew large puffs of smoke between collection calls. Sometimes their cigarettes would burn to the filter if they were on an extended call and fall off the ashtray and place burn marks on the old wooden desks. There was the steady cadence of rotary phones as they dialed consumer phone numbers during a time when people actually answered their phones. Client service representatives would flip through their large Rolodexes to find the contact numbers of clients when their fingers weren’t depressing manual typewriter keys in a click, click, click rhythm. When staff members were away from their desks, or out of the office, pink phone message slips would accumulate on a stack waiting to be reviewed. Those were the days.
One day you are looking toward the future with great anticipation of what you might develop your firm into and the next day you are looking back from where you have come over 35 years and all in the blink of an eye. I’ve defined myself as a collection agency owner for my entire life, but in 14 days, 4 hours and 30 minutes that title will change for me. We will orchestrate our last month-end close out, clean off the desks, empty the trash one last time, turn off the lights and in a “Cheers”-like finale, I’ll close the door and turn the key as I start a new chapter of my life in this industry. It will be bittersweet. It will be exciting. Several months ago, I did the unimaginable and signed a contract to sell my firm to a good friend in the industry. By the time our readers see this column I’ll be the Corporate Vanguard for Eastern Revenue Inc, in Wayne, Pennsylvania. I will transfer from ownership to strategic development and I couldn’t be happier!
There has been a pretty dramatic condensing of our industry over the past five to seven years. Many owners of family firms are reaching retirement age and deciding to either sell or simply close their doors due to the increasing challenges in our market. Selling an organization offers new opportunities to both seller and buyer. No matter how small your operation, there is a value to your client base. If you have a unique niche within the market, the value increases as buyers look to participate in new verticals. Moving forward I plan to continue my speaking, consulting and writing and will focus on assisting the small to medium sized firms in the collection space with strategic thinking and sales strategies. I look forward to continuing the Benchmark Advisor column and sharing my ideas with our readers for years to come.
No matter what challenges your organization might experiencing, keeping abreast of regulatory, compliance and general industry changes is very important to the continued life of any company. Continue to read publications like Collection Advisor, attend webinars and seminars offered by trade organizations like ACA International, the Receivables Management Association and InsideARM. Re-engage with local/regional associations that are industry specific or state units of ACA International.
Despite the frustrations of our industry in recent years, there will be a need for the varied services of the debt collection industry perpetually. Those who will survive, succeed and remain profitable are those who are willing to change. That change might entail rethinking what you do or possibly merging with a stronger organization possessing enhanced resources.
It was Socrates that said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” As I engage on building this new chapter of my professional life I look forward to meeting many of our readers at industry events and together we can forge into the future of this ever changing and dynamic industry!
We encourage our readers to submit a “best practice” idea for inclusion in this column. Until next time, I’m in a collection office near you!
Harry A. Strausser III is president of Remit Corporation/ Interact Training & Development. Contact him at harry@ remitcorp.com.