Guiding Principles

Features - Cover Story

Trisha Rooney Alden and the staff of Chicago’s R4 Services strive for reliability, resourcefulness, responsiveness and reasonability.

July 15, 2014

What’s in a name? For records and information management (RIM) company R4 Services of Chicago, its name represents the basic principles the company strives to achieve daily: reliability, resourcefulness, responsiveness and reasonability.

The company’s service area is centered in Chicago, though it extends throughout Illinois and into northern Indiana and southern Wisconsin. Its membership in National Records Centers also gives R4 Services the ability to service national and international accounts, says Trisha Rooney Alden, who founded the records management company in 1993.
 

Eager entrepreneur

Rooney Alden was a mere 23 years old when she started R4 Services. After graduating from Denison University in Ohio, she worked for a Chicago public relations firm on a number of grassroots campaigns, including Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.

“I had to set the stage and build the whole project,” she says of the public relations campaigns that she worked on at the time. “It was kind of like building a company from the ground up.”

Rooney Alden says the job required her to put in long hours, prompting her parents to comment that if she was going to work so hard she should probably work for herself, which was a dream of hers. Rooney Alden says her father helped her to brainstorm business opportunities.

She soon encountered a real estate investment that she felt had the potential to become a successful business with solid growth potential. With her purchase of this warehouse in the Chicago’s South Loop came R4 Services’ first customer: a Chicago law firm that had been renting space to store its legal files, retrieving them as needed.

Rooney Alden says she offered to expand the services the law firm received beyond storage, proposing to pull the required files and have them ready for the firm when its staff arrived at her facility. Providing delivery services for requested files was the next step for her young company, which she named R4 Services to reflect her business philosophy that is represented by those four simple words: reliable, resourceful, responsive and reasonable.

She says her “simple” business philosophy involves listening to her clients and their needs and communicating clearly until the job is done. In addition, she and the staff of R4 Services focus on providing excellent customer service, going above and beyond client expectations, staying current with technology and creating an environment where employees are happy to be at work each day.
 

Client oriented

Public relations and records management are customer service oriented industries, Rooney Alden says. Therefore, she was able to parlay her PR agency experience into her new career as a RIM company owner by applying the basic principles that guided her public relations career: understanding her clients’ needs and building relationships with them.

Rooney Alden says she discovered that this approach was her competitive differentiator and it is what has helped R4 Services to grow.

In the 21 years that have since passed, R4 Services has grown to employ 35 people across three records centers in Chicago that are proximal to the Chicago Central Business District and offer easy access to all major expressways. R4 Services has 800 clients with more than 1 million boxes in storage across these three facilities, which are equipped with 24-hour fire detection and/or an intrusion signaling system, including infrared motion detectors and door contacts and communication links to nearby police and fire departments as well as to R4’s employees.

According to the company, it averages more than 125 same-day deliveries per day, with many “rush” deliveries due within two hours. “A team of dedicated drivers, all of whom have been a part of the R4 team for six years or more, are in constant communication with our dispatch center, which monitors fleet availability electronically,” Rooney Alden adds.

In addition to increasing the number of facilities it owns and manages, R4 Services also has expanded beyond records storage to include certified destruction, scanning and data protection services.

“Our staff and services are directed at creating a seamless work environment for our customers to utilize our services as an extension of their business office,” Rooney Alden says.

 

A wider footprint

Chicago-based R4 Services has been able to expand its service area by taking advantage of its membership in National Records Centers (NRC), a network of independently owned local businesses operating under a single quality umbrella. The NRC says it provides “the premier-quality service level expected at a local level and the geographic reach and oversight required of national and international service providers.”

The company also is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), and partners with First National Bank of LaGrange to host shred days for clients at the bank.

Trisha Rooney Alden, owner, president and CEO of R4 Services, has been involved with the NRC since 1995, just two years after establishing her business. “I was one of the early shareholders with Lee Miller of Andrews (Records Management in Cleveland).”

She adds, “It is a great way for us to compete with the nationals when we have to.”

While she says national accounts make up a small percentage of R4 Services’ business, “it is nice to have [the NRC] in this competitive market.”

NRC members buy shares in the company and must attend shareholder meetings and have voting rights. Affiliate memberships also are available, Rooney Alden says, that represent a smaller investment and do not include voting rights.

In addition to providing leads from clients looking for national or international services, the NRC can provide assistance with sales and marketing materials.

“It’s like having a large international records management company,” she says of her company’s involvement with the NRC.


 

Responsive service

The growing roster of services R4 offers developed in response to client needs and requests, Rooney Alden says.

In 2005, Sean Rooney, Trisha’s brother, joined R4 Services to manage the company’s foray into destruction services, which it previously offered through a subcontractor. In 2013, R4 shredded almost 2 million pounds of confidential material for its clients using its plant-based shredder.

Rooney Alden says that while she anticipates R4 Services will add a shred truck in the near future, she feels plant-based shredding offers more control and is more cost efficient than on-site destruction.

She adds that clients who initially express concern about off-site shredding come around once they visit the company’s operation a few times. In addition to welcoming her clients that are reticent to commit to off-site destruction services to view the company’s destruction operations, she poses the following question to them: “If you trust us to take the information that we are storing, why not trust us to destroy them off site?”

To further increase customer confidence, the company is currently working toward National Association for Information Destruction (NAID) certification as well as Privacy+ certification, which is offered by PRISM International.

R4 continues to increase its focus on document imaging, scan on demand, indexing and electronic magnetic media, Rooney Alden says, noting that half of the company’s business revenue arises from its records storage services while the remaining 50 percent is monthly services, including deliveries, pickup, retrievals, destruction and scanning.

The company’s desire to be an extension of its customers’ offices has led it to add scanning as well as indexing services. “Scanning services help to dramatically streamline customer office management, particularly for those in the medical and legal professions,” Rooney Alden says. “Indexing allows us to be able to do many more projects for our customers.”

R4 Services has responded to customer requests for secured, climate-controlled storage of their backup tapes and magnetic media with expanded vault capacity and specialized software to manage and house slotted tapes. The company’s climate-controlled media center is kept within 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit and within a relative humidity of 30 to 35 percent, Rooney Alden says.

The company also offers customized software solutions to help its clients manage their information. Rooney Alden says R4’s software provider, Andrews Software Inc. (ASI), Cleveland, works with the company to address these specific client needs.

The custom solutions R4 has facilitated include the addition of a triple verification feature for the City of Chicago in which three authorized city employees have to sign off on records requests. Rooney Alden says R4 is now able to extend this feature to all customers, such as Pace.

“It is so nice to give our clients that kind of control,” she says of working with ASI to provide these custom solutions.

Regarding R4’s business relationship with ASI, Rooney Alden adds, “We are always looking at the newest things on the market, but that relationship is hard to replace.”

 

Well-rooted

For a company that prioritizes its client and vendor relationships, it likely comes as no surprise that Chicago-based R4 Services also values supporting the community in which it is based.

Trisha Rooney Alden, owner, president and CEO of R4, says she realized that a key to R4’s success would be becoming involved in and helping to foster the company’s neighborhood, and has she has grown in her role as a Chicago civic and cultural leader and fund raiser, R4’s business has grown as well.

Rooney Alden serves as a member of the board of directors of the DePaul University Theatre School and is a founding member of A Better Chicago, a venture philanthropy fund. She also is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago.

“A lot of my civic engagement is driven by our clients,” she says. “It is a nice way to say thank you to a client who has been good to you and a way to really help them.”

In addition to this community involvement, Rooney Alden chairs the Midwest Advisory Council at her alma mater Denison University.

Rooney Alden says her volunteerism is a nice way for people to get to know her and learn more about her company.

The staff at R4 Services often contributes to these charitable efforts as well. For instance, the company stored and delivered books for the Chicago Public Library fundraiser as well as items for the Mercy Hospital charity auction.

She adds, “My personal volunteering at times will include the involvement of my staff.” She describes a book party she organized for an R4 Services client, Hollye Jacobs, whose husband was the president of HARPO Productions. Jacobs, a breast cancer survivor, had written a book, The Silver Lining, and the R4 Services staff helped to plan the party and check in guests. The proceeds from the event were donated to breast cancer patients in the area.


 

Growing reputation

The company will continue to let client needs guide its business in the future, Rooney Alden says. “We will continue to provide state-of-the-art technology and services while keeping the current strong team in place and working together to provide the highest level of service.”

She says R4 is always looking forward to new business opportunities, adding that future plans may include opening a fourth records center and acquiring a local mobile document destruction firm.

While Rooney Alden clearly has a lot to be proud of about the company that she has built, she says she is most proud of the “exceptional staff” at R4 Services. “Having the best team in the industry (with little to no turnover) has allowed us to do what we say and grow in a steady and smart fashion.”

She adds, “We’ve enjoyed many loyal customers and referring clients. It’s easy to call on potential clients when you have an outstanding reputation.”

 


The author is editor of Storage & Destruction Business and can be contacted by email at dtoto@gie.net.