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November 2008
Efficiency Experts
By Janet Kropinak

     In the beginning, the world was without form and all space was void. Then came stuff. After that, it got confusing. Files, supplies, receipts, records, books, folders, equipment, inventory—whatever it may be, it takes up space and gets disorganized. That’s where Patterson Pope comes in. They take space and materials and make them simple, organized, elegant and efficient.

     Specializing in records and materials management, their secret is not a kind of shelf or an intricate process; it’s that they take the time to listen and then use what they learn to make their clients’ lives simple. Smart design, flawless execution and great service are how Patterson Pope makes space and stuff simple.


The Business of Stuff

     Denny Hammack came to Charlotte after graduating college in 1984 to be an assistant branch manager with First Union National Bank. Not long after starting, Hammack happened to be introduced to Bob Patterson of Patterson Business Systems, a provider of record storage and information-management systems in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh. It was a happenstance that would shape Hammack’s future.

     A short time later Hammack was approached by Patterson with a job offer. The only catch was, it was a 100 percent sales commission position. Hammack, reluctant to leave his bank job, came to the conclusion that banking wasn’t in his blood and decided to try his hand at sales.

     So at 23, Hammack joined Patterson Business Systems, where his job was selling filing systems to medical offices. Showing great promise, he was appointed to a management position within the company.

     In 1994, Patterson died unexpectedly, leaving the fate of the business uncertain. Later that year, Hammack, along with a group of three other salespeople, bought ownership of the company. Knowing they needed more than a powerful sales team to succeed, Hammack invited Will Patterson (no relation) to come aboard as chief financial officer.

     Initial focus wasn’t on expansion but rather honing what they were currently doing and finding new ways to do it better.

     “We wanted to create an environment where our sales team could succeed,” remembers Hammack. “When that was in place, we knew the business could grow.”

     By 1996, technology was reshaping the industry and Hammack realized they needed to adapt their business plan to meet the growing demands of the digital age.

     “A lot of companies were looking to go paperless and we were able to help them make this transition,” says Hammack. “We had to evolve right along with the industry in order to survive.”

     Patterson Business Systems began offering expanded services including imaging software, off-site records storage and outsourcing file room management.

     In 2004, the company acquired J.E. Pope Co., which sold a competitive line of storage and filing products manufactured by the industry leader Spacesaver, creating Patterson Pope, Inc. The acquisition allowed Patterson Pope to sell and operate in both Carolinas and Virginia. It also brought additional salespeople and $6 million in revenue to combine with Patterson’s $8 million.

     In addition to opening many doors, Hammack says the merger also brought with it certain hurdles. “Combining the sales staffs of two firms who had been competing with each other the past 20 years was challenging at first,” he says. With time and patience, however, the company was able to surpass these challenges and position themselves as a full-service provider to the marketplace.


Space Made Simple

     Now that Patterson Pope was offering both records management and storage solutions, they found potential customers were often confused about the company’s offerings and unaware of their breadth of services. It became apparent to Hammack that they needed to rebrand the company to reflect their combined services.

     After many brainstorming sessions, Patterson Pope branded themselves with the tagline, Space Made Simple. They reinforced this idea with a brand positioning statement: “We keep things simple. We tell the truth, we keep our word, we do the right thing—because it’s simpler that way. People like us, trust us and buy from us because we are free from guile. We work hard, we have fun, we go home to our families. We keep things simple.”

     While this statement helped them build their brand, the question still remained, “What exactly does Patterson Pope do?” The simple answer or the “elevator speech” as Hammack calls it states: “We make space and materials simple. If it’s in your organization and you can touch it, we help you store it, track it and retrieve it using less space and time than you ever thought possible.”

     Patterson Pope’s business model is divided into traditional product sales and document management services.

     The product side involves much more than just the sale of shelving units and filing cabinets. Before any product is suggested, the Patterson Pope team surveys the job and verifies their client’s objectives, then works to design storage systems that offer optimum space utilization.

     Patterson Pope’s design team sizes up existing space (or drawings of future space), by creating CAD drawings, floor layouts, and 3D renderings which help customers visualize all the possibilities. They factor in issues such as safety, weight-load, security, ergonomics and access. They manage the project, install the products and provide follow-up services.

     Frank Toliver, director of finance and facilities at Charlotte School of Law, attests: “Patterson Pope developed a partnership with the school as well as with the designer, contractor and project manager that formed our team. The input they provided was a key part of the success of the build-out and move of our library and project as a whole.”

     In an effort to keep things simple, Patterson Pope divides their industry solutions into sectors: business and manufacturing, health care, library and education, public safety, museums and art galleries, government and military.

     With “stuff” taking so many forms, finding the right product to suit a client’s needs can be confusing, but Patterson Pope specializes in everything from shelving to modular casework, mailroom equipment, automated retrieval systems, and specialty storage, which includes lockers, weapon racks and museum cabinets.

     “High density storage allows you to put your stuff in half the space,” Hammack states. “And with the high cost per square foot of commercial real estate, it’s easy to see how space saved is as good as money in the bank.”

     Sgt. Don Anthony of the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office comments on the company’s installation of Spacesaver high density storage systems, echoing these sentiments, “I can’t even place a value on the effect the new equipment has had on us. All the equipment Patterson Pope provided has saved us time and space. Their work was above reproach. They listened to our input early on in the process and it showed in the final results.”

     Patterson Pope’s document management group offers more tailored services (currently only offered in Charlotte and Roanoke, Va.). Again, by using creative problem solving tactics, the team assesses a company’s needs and finds ways to decrease their amount of paper while at the same time increasing their efficiency and customer service.

     “The less time you spend running around the office looking for a piece of information is more time you have to be listening to your customers,” affirms Hammack.

     Some of these services include integrated document management software, off-site records storage, secure shredding, active file room management, and document scanning, which saves time, money and space by converting paper documents to digital files.

     Other popular services are file moves and conversions. “People don’t realize it, but simply converting to a better file system can often result in as much as a 40 percent time savings,” explains Hammack. “And your files stay secure and available at every point in the process.”

     The services offered by Patterson Pope are as varied as their clientele list. “We see clients from all industries—from banking to medicine, law enforcement to academia, NASCAR to the FBI—and we work with them to create a system that is both cost effective and practical,” Hammack says. “Some clients may be looking for increased speed and reduced costs, others may wish to convert to a paperless environment—we work with all of them on an individual basis to find the right solution.”

     For example, the company designed a weapons storage and retrieval system at Camp    Lejeune Marine Base for use by the anti-terrorism battalion unit. The system allowed personnel to complete tasks 10 times faster than by traditional methods.

     Another client, Cato, needed a way to centrally process resumes and job applications at its headquarters. Patterson Pope developed a software system to streamline the process, reduce costs and provide instantaneous company-wide access to all files.


Wise Choices, Smart Growth

     Today, Patterson Pope’s revenues exceed $28 million with business split 70/30 between storage product sales and document management, and Hammack is optimistic that both are poised for further growth.

     “Our organization is growing from providing clients with reliable and economical document storage to developing complete solutions for new business challenges such as identity theft, disaster recovery and increased governmental compliance requirements,” states Hammack.

     Helping accommodate this growth is the company’s 92,000-square-foot headquarters, located on 18.5 acres near uptown. The facility offers 10,000 square feet of office and product showroom space, 62,000 square feet of off-site records storage space, and 20,000 square feet of secure, climate-controlled active file room management space, accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

     “If we are going to continue to be successful, we have to be smart and make wise choices,” says Hammack. One smart decision Hammack made was the acquisition of United Business Systems, a Florida-based Spacesaver distributor in June 2007.

     “They had a good name and a strong reputation,” Hammack states. “It was a natural fit for us as we continue to expand in the southeastern region of the United States. The overall culture had to be changed dramatically to fit with our brand but the opportunity in a state as large as Florida is very exciting.”

     With an eye on the future, Hammack remains committed to being a customer-driven company.

     “This is a relational business, and we have to work first and foremost to keep our customers happy,” states Hammack.

     Hammack estimates that in three years the product side of the business will grow to as much as $45 to $50 million, with a little added geography. He hopes the document management side follows its lead.

     Moving forward, technology continues to keep the Patterson Pope team on its toes; as they look for new and innovative ways to offer accessibility and efficiency to their customers.

     “We are fortunate that we are always going to be relevant,” says Hammack. “We are also benefited by the fact that a lot of the industries we work with are ‘almost’ recession-proof—like health care, universities and prisons/jails.”

     Using space and efficiency as the cornerstone of their sales approach, Hammack is confident they can add value to any business.



Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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