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Duplicating success Featured

7:45am EDT September 29, 2005
Ask Steve Shriber what the best thing about running Ditto Document Solutions is, and he’d probably say having his brother as a partner. He and brother, Ken, say their partnership functions about as smoothly as any partnership could, sibling or otherwise.

The two principals act, in essence, as co-CEOs of an 82-employee company that has grown and changed rapidly as the demand for new service offerings has mushroomed, going from almost exclusively document copying to more complex imaging, storage and printing processes. Not surprisingly, the increased sophistication of the technology required to perform ever-more involved projects — the company’s latest acquisition is a $550,000 digital production press — means the technical expertise of its employees has had to grow commensurately. And with the bar rising every year, the employee selection process has become more picky and retention strategies more sticky.

Steve Shriber spoke with Smart Business about finding and holding onto the right employees in a fast-changing, fast-growing business.

What’s the biggest challenge Ditto Document has faced?

One of the most difficult challenges that we’ve faced over the years is finding and retaining qualified employees. That’s always been a challenge for us, especially when you’re in a business like ours, where you run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Customer service — I don’t care what business you’re in — customer service is absolutely, in my mind, that has to take place in business to be successful. When we started, we were doing just legal reprographics, large volume, highly complicated photocopying projects. That was probably 100 percent of our business.

Now, that’s only 30 percent or 40 percent of our business.

How else has the business changed?

The industry has evolved into more of a technology-oriented business, where instead of receiving boxes of documents — and we still do — in most cases we receive hard drives or CDs or DVDs filled with data that needs to be either duplicated or converted. And, we do a lot of document imaging.

On top of that, we are in a service industry. We’re also a manufacturer. We have a production floor, we have 82 employees, we have shifts, we have equipment, we have materials we have to purchase to manufacture a product, so it’s a combination of being in a service industry and being in a manufacturing environment.

It’s an interesting combination and a tough job to find the right people. And once you find the right people, that’s great ... but even more challenging for me is to make sure that you retain them and give them a developmental and growth track to progress and advance within the company.

How do you attract the kind of workers that you need?

I always tell everybody when they come in ... a common question is, ‘What kind of advancement opportunities are there for me at Ditto?’ The answer I always give them is, ‘I can’t tell you when and what it’s going to be, but I can tell you that over the years, we’ve grown ... and as long as we continue to grow, there are going to be opportunities with our business because we’re going to have greater needs, whether it’s on the sales side, the marketing side, the customer service side ... the operations side.’ As we grow, we’re going to need more people to continue to meet the needs of our clients.

How have you dealt with employee retention issue?

One of the benefits my brother and I have is that we worked for large companies and, in many cases — not all large companies are like this — however, you sometimes feel like you’re a number within an organization. If you don’t like what’s going on and you leave, good luck, there’s 10 other people in line waiting that we’re gong to hire.

The philosophy that we take is ... you’re not a number, you’re a person, and we’re going to treat you with respect. We’re going to give you competitive wages, we’re going to give you a nice work environment, good benefits, room for advancement.

If they find out today that the only time that the cable guy can come is tomorrow between one and four and they’ve been trying to get their cable hooked up for the last two weeks ... no problem, take care of what you need to take care of.

On the flip side, we do have goals and high expectations of our employees, and we do expect them to perform for our customers at a high level at all times. As long as they’re performing above and beyond the call of duty, we’re going to be very flexible.

How do you keep your employees current with new technology?

We rely on the companies that we purchase the equipment from, as part of the deal, to ensure that our people are trained and that the support is there for us and that we’re kept up-to-speed with all the software updates and any training required.

There are various training classes and Web seminars that our software vendors provide, our equipment vendors provide, where we would have our employees that utilize that equipment and software attend so that they are kept up to speed with all of the technology and equipment. We build it into the contract.

How to reach: Ditto Document, http://www.dittodocument.com