News Column

Add Staff Stays On the Job With Customer Loyalty, Repeat Business

May 7, 2012

Wayne Heilman

A business founded 28 years ago in Colorado Springs by Cari Shaffer to fill temporary administrative and accounting staffing needs has shown it has staying power.

Add Staff has helped more than 41,000 people in the Pikes Peak region find temporary and permanent jobs since 1984. In the process, it has grown from a one-employee operation to the largest locally-owned staffing company, generating more than $13 million in revenue last year.

"We've survived three business cycles and been able to finance our own growth without either borrowing or selling our accounts receivable at a discount," Shaffer said. "My goal when we started was to create loyalty by understanding what our customers need. By doing that, we were able to create repeat business. We knew what was important to our customers and we knew their culture, which made us better at picking the right staff members for them. That has made us a better consultant and brings more value to them."

Shaffer will receive the Lifetime Entrepreneurship Award on Friday from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs College of Business during a luncheon that will raise funds to support scholarships for the school. She will be the fourth person to receive the award after former Current executive Gary Loo in 2009, longtime Colorado Springs developer Bruce Shepard in 2010 and Woodford Manufacturing Chairman Joe Woodford last year. A committee of business school officials, alumni and local business and civic leaders selects the winners.

"We are proud to honor Cari Shaffer with this award because she models the traits we want our students to emulate," said Venkat Reddy, the business school's dean. "Through hard work, determination, self-discipline and a priority to help people, she has show us all how we build our own successful futures."

Shaffer is an optimist who likes to use humor during twice-a-month staff meetings to spur creativity. She calls herself a hands-on manager but said she encourages her employees to share their ideas with her and each other, be leaders and trust their own judgment.

"It's important not to hire a bunch of people who are like you because you won't get diverse ideas hiring people who think just like you," Shaffer said. "I try to hire people who are smarter than me and get out of the way. I'm not always successful in getting out of the way, but I try to do that."

Shaffer met her husband, Larry, while she was a student at University of Nevada in her hometown of Reno. She married and followed the young Air Force officer to assignments in Newfoundland, Canada; Oregon, upstate New York, Colorado Springs and the Washington, D.C., area. She got her start in the staffing business first working as a temporary administrative assistant through a staffing service and later as a volunteer, organizing other volunteers for the library at her son's Washington area elementary school.

The volunteer position turned into a paid part-time job, but she had to turn it down because the Air Force transferred her husband to Iceland. Unable to follow him to Iceland, Shaffer and her son moved back to Reno and she continued a college education until he was transferred to the Springs a year later. She worked for two staffing agencies in the Springs for four years before starting Add Staff, growing by acquiring a technical staffing firm and another competitor and buying the building that housed her company.

"Add Staff was taking off, so I was never able to finish my degree, but I believe so much in education that I have funded a scholarship fund and I was part of a group that lobbied for in-state tuition for military personnel and their families," Shaffer said. "While scholastic knowledge of accounting, economics and management all are important in business, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are just as important because you need them to deal with unexpected challenges that keep coming at you and interrupting your business."

The company grew in part because it attracts quality employees by offering them holiday and vacation pay plus a 401(k) retirement plan that matches employee contributions 100 percent up to 4 percent of their wages, prompting many to come back to Add Staff for multiple assignments, Shaffer said. Add Staff tries to make sure that the employees it recruits are a good match with its clients by having its recruiters meet with each supervisor and department head to determine their staffing needs, she said.

Deb Ridlen, a human resources representative with aerospace contractor Arinc in Colorado Springs, said Add Staff has never disappointed her when placing administrative, technical or manufacturing staff, including more than 20 people who later were hired permanently by the company.

"They've never sent us a bad employee," said Ridlen, who began her career at Arinc as a temporary worker placed by Add Staff. "Their staff is very professional and knew what I needed. They follow up very well and they keep up with changes in the work force and technology."

George Martin, senior vice president of Hub International, an employee benefits and business insurance agency in Colorado Springs, said the agency and its predecessors have used Add Staff for more than 20 years to fill both temporary and permanent positions.

"They work hard to find the right person for you. They are constantly communicating with us what they are doing to fill the position," Martin said. "While you can't always hit home runs, they follow up on how the hire is doing, and over the time they know the kind of person you want."

Barb Winter, executive vice president of organizational resources for Ent Federal Credit Union, said Shaffer and Add Staff are successful because of the focus she and company put on customer service and treating her employees well, which leads to repeat business from both clients and employees.

Shaffer hopes to eventually hand off the business to her son, Kelly, in five years or so, but she says she is not ready to let go of the business yet. Kelly Shaffer has been with Add Staff since 1994, starting in its technical staffing unit and eventually becoming a key part of the company's management team.

Cari Shaffer has won numerous awards throughout her business career, including the Sam Walton Business Leader Award from the Wal-Mart Foundation and Business Citizen of the Year, the Athena Award and Small Business Person of the Year, all from the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. She also served as the chamber's chair and a member of the group's board as well as a board member of the Penrose-St. Francis Foundation, the Colorado Springs Police Foundation and the YMCA Foundation. She also served on the nominating commission for the Colorado Supreme Court.

Source: (c)2012 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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