Summarized by Kent Larsen
LDS Businessman's Venture Requires Golden Rule (Bringing Back Those
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
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
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