BLADEC's Rent-A-Board is the newsest 'shiny thing' for Range
Shawn Sundquist spends much of his day searching for what he calls “the next new shiny thing.”
It could be new technology. It could be a new service channel. It could be a new staff position. The bottom line is that the new shiny thing needs to help Brainerd-based Range better serve its customers and maintain steady growth as a national printing, marketing and fulfillment company.
Last fall, a new shiny thing unexpectedly presented itself in a dramatically different form: free strategic guidance from a group of retired business leaders.
Range teamed up with the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. (BLAEDC) to be the first test case for BLAEDC’s new Rent-A-Board program. The concept is pretty simple. BLAEDC provides a small group of local retired business experts that meet with Range’s management team to address strategic issues and help guide the company’s growth. For all practical purposes, it’s a board of directors but it serves a different function and has a much shorter shelf life.
The retired business experts are part of BLAEDC’s Executive Initiative, which taps into a wealth of retired or relocated business executives (called “EXECs”) who live in the Brainerd lakes area. EXECs volunteer their time and energy to serve as mentors and counselors for the local business community. They also participate on BLAEDC committees to address specific economic development challenges and share their knowledge through public forums. Now, EXECs serve as Rent-A-Board members.
“Rent-A-Board is intended for mid-sized to large companies in the Brainerd lakes area that are looking for outside input to expand their business and create new jobs and opportunities,” said Chris Robinson, BLAEDC economic development officer. “These companies do not have an existing board of directors but may be primed for that after trying this out. Rent-A-Board isn’t a permanent solution; we see it being used during a 12- to 18-month transition period, after which the business may want to adopt its own advisory group or more formal board of directors.”
Range has met twice with its new four-member board and is already declaring it a successful new shiny thing. “It’s not a typical board of directors that is more concerned with accountability and oversight,” Range CEO Paul Niccum said. “We use them as a sounding board for our business strategies.”
The four board members have different areas of expertise and bring a wide variety of viewpoints to the table. One of the advantages of Rent-A-Board, Niccum said, is that it’s a short-term program, so the EXECs can be candid without having to worry about long-term relationships with the company’s management or the other board members.
Niccum and Sundquist have received a heavy dose of candidness in the first two meetings but they appreciate and encourage it, and have already implemented several ideas that came out of those meetings.
An example of the topics that Range has addressed with its Rent-a-Board involved hiring a new human resources director and re-structuring the position to make it one that drives the corporate culture while also serving as a disciplinarian. The position was recently filled, and Range is already happy with the process and the results.
The way Range uses its board is exactly what BLAEDC envisioned for the program, Robinson said. “There’s no set topics or agendas or number of EXECs. (The company) determines how often to meet, how to lead the discussions and how to fit the board into their business.”
Range is the first company to host a Rent-A-Board, Robinson said. The development corporation hopes to have three or four boards in place by the end of 2014.
Meanwhile, Range’s board will be busy this year as Niccum and Sundquist continue to lead the company through a period of growth that has seen Range double its revenue since 2010 and increase the number of employees from 40 to 100.
Range’s local operation is now split between its 32,000-square-foot facility in Brainerd’s Industrial Park and a 40,000-square-foot facility at the Northern Pacific Center. The printing operations and administration are at the Industrial Park location while marketing and creative staff work at the Pacific Center, which also houses Range’s warehouse and mailing and fulfillment services. Most of Range’s technology is located in its Phoenix office and sales staff work from offices in Chicago and Minneapolis.
Sundquist’s grandfather started Range in 1968 as a small printing company in Deerwood. In 1991, it expanded to include a regional focus. And then in 2010, Range hired Niccum, who helped the company start positioning itself nationally as a printing company with marketing services such as print and digital advertising, email and social media campaigns, mobile applications, custom apparel and extensive printing capabilities. It produces millions of pieces of mail monthly and can process and fulfill online product orders through its distribution services.
With Niccum’s connections, Range landed LPL Financial, the largest independent financial broker in the country, shortly after he arrived. Since then, other major brands have followed suit: Berkshire Hathaway, Irvine Company, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, ReMax, Morning Star and Culver Company.
“Our niche is brand consistency and compliance,” Niccum said, adding that the financial and healthcare industries are Range’s main focus. With the new Rent-A-Board in place, Niccum and Sundquist are expecting big things for the company’s future — some may even be new and shiny.