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For week ended December 19, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Businessman's Venture Requires Golden Rule (Bringing Back Those Books)
Wall Street Journal, pB1 14Dec99 P2
By Sarah Lueck: Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
This Collection Agency Does Fine Work -- Rounding Up Recalcitrant Library Users

JEFFERSONVILLE, INDIANA -- LDS Church member Lyle Stucki has hit on a venture that requires tact and care, and he has found that using the Golden Rule does the job. He and his partner, Charlie Gary, are debt collectors -- for libraries. Unique Management Services Inc., their company, is, they claim, the only collection agency in the country to focus on collecting overdue library books and fines.

With book prices rising and library budgets getting squeezed by tight municipal budgets, the company is booming as libraries see collection as a way to relieve their budgets. "If you're losing 10% of your collection, you could be talking $1 million. You can't just let that go walking away," says Cedar Rapids, Iowa public librarian Tamara Filbert. She is one of 250 librarians to use Unique's services to collect overdue fines.

Stuki and Gary were running a general collection agency in the early 1990s when a library in Bedford, Indiana asked them to collect overdue books and fines. By 1994 they had decided to focus on libraries. They discovered that Libraries were worried that they would alienate patrons. "The circulation staff is so fearful that these people are going to run into the library and yell at them or come in with a gun or something," says Stucki. Unique developed what it calls the "gentle nudge" approach. "Our philosophy is to treat people the way we like to be treated, all the time, no matter what," says Stucki to a prospective client.

So far, Unique has worked more than 500,000 accounts, sending out about 75,000 letters and making 32,000 phone calls a month. Unique gets about $5 an account from the Libraries, giving the company revenues of $2 million last year and leading to collections of $10 million in money and materials for the libraries. About 60% of the accounts return the books and pay fines.

To make sure that its staffers are careful and tactful, the company recruits many of its collectors from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Louisville, Kentucky. Stucki and Gary think that future ministers are more likely to turn the cheek when patrons provoke them.


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