Seeking With Purpose
RCF Group’s client-first approach results in new opportunities
Firmly believing that actions speak louder than words, RCF Group President Carl Satterwhite and Chairman Scott Robertson have quietly been serving clients, helping local communities and building one of the area’s most successful minority owned businesses. Launched in 2003 with a seven-year business plan, River City Furniture, now known as RCF Group, exceeded those milestones before year three. Over the past nine years, they have expanded RCF Group’s scope and launched two significant initiatives that are impacting both businesses and local communities in ways beyond anyone’s expectations.
Growth and Focus
RCF Group’s approach has always been to quietly go about its business, focus on its niche and take care of clients, trusting that those efforts would lead to new opportunities. And it has worked. Success, however, recently presented a new challenge brought to light by clients with needs outside this region, necessitating a brand refresh. It gets your attention when clients tell you that you need to deliver “who you are” to more than company executives. Their recent brand change was an exercise in defining themselves. RCF Group does much more in the marketplace beyond furniture, and the word “group” was added to RCF’s name to better define who RCF Group has become. This change provides RCF Group’s employees an opening to talk about millwork, flooring, landscaping, asset management, space planning and other offerings. In essence, the new messaging enables RCF Group to showcase the versatility of their services, while also providing avenues to differentiate and distance themselves from competitors.
Long before their branding exercise, RCF Group understood its unique place in the market – there aren’t any competitors who do what they do as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE). RCF Group’s MBE status provides access to opportunities but they are quick to recognize that while supplier diversity provides an opening, being Best in Class is how they win and retain clients. RCF Group is focused on large corporate America and those businesses are looking to find the highest and best value. The RCF Group team works hard to create and demonstrate cost savings and value every day. The success of the current project determines if RCF Group will get the next project and the one after that, and RCF Group is incredibly proud of the fact that they have several 20, 30 and 40-year clients.
RCF Group’s objective of building those long-term business relationships is centered around their solid foundation and their stability moving forward, which provides a level of comfort for clients. Toward that goal, RCF Group is certified at the highest possible level by the National Minority Supplier Development Council and is one of less than 100 Corporate Plus® members (a NMSDC membership program for minority businesses with proven capability for national contracts). Financial health and the NMSDC Corporate Plus® provides a “seal of approval” for large corporations looking for MBE suppliers, and RCF Group takes pride in serving as a shining example of a successful MBE.
RCF Group’s ongoing success could not have occurred without a corporate structure and strategic vision that, from day one, Robertson and Satterwhite believed could develop into something substantial. However, they caution that minority/majority overlays are tricky and while the MBE status provides access to opportunities, it does not earn higher margins or make more money. Before forming the company, Satterwhite and Robertson looked at other MBEs and were surprised to find that a significant number of minority/majority overlays are established through massive and complex agreements. George Vincent and Calvin Buford at Dinsmore were instrumental and actually invaluable throughout the formation of RCF, scrutinizing opportunities, analyzing key decisions and generally pointing out issues of which Robertson and Satterwhite weren’t aware. In fact, Robertson and Satterwhite credit the grilling they received before forming RCF Group as an experience that prepared them for their success today. Ultimately, because of their prior working relationship and the trust they had in one another, they ended up with a very simple, seven-page agreement. Attributing the success of their relationship to that trust, it has continued to grow over time. Any business, particularly an MBE with a minority/majority overlay, is like a marriage; Robertson and Satterwhite have a “date breakfast” every week to ensure their relationship continues to remain strong.
Embracing what is important to the minority community is important to RCF Group. That mindset coupled with client needs has led to two business decisions that are impacting local communities in remarkable and lasting ways.
RCF Group has been entrusted to become part of the facilities department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC). They handle everything from furniture needs to internal moves and maintenance. At one point in the relationship, RCF Group was asked to look at CCHMC’s landscaping needs. RCF Group didn’t have a landscaping business, so they spent a year developing one. What they found was not a lack of capacity; it was a lack of sophistication in the marketplace. As they were developing the business, RCF Group talked with CCHMC about joining with local residents. Because CCHMC is located in Avondale, RCF Group approached and ultimately partnered with the Urban League to create a skill development program to train local residents to become landscapers. More than 50 people have been employed through the program from 2010-2011 and there has been a net impact of over $1 million in earnable wages to the community. The effort has since been incorporated into Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and is now the first state approved landscaping apprenticeship in Ohio. Helping people to develop a transferrable skill has not only helped the local community but it has also resulted in building a robust landscaping group at RCF Group, adding a service needed by their clients and one that brings additional value. The Urban League program was a 100% volunteer effort, from the teachers and equipment to the materials and demonstrations. Making a difference in the local community is an important part of the program and success was defined when several graduates recently worked on the Washington Park renovation in Over-the-Rhine at prevailing wage rates. From a bigger picture perspective, this program is introducing inner-city U.S. citizens to work opportunities in an area traditionally occupied by guest workers.
Another effort impacting local communities is the Urban Timber program, a cooperative effort between RCF Group, Cincinnati Public Schools, the Cincinnati Parks Department and GBBN Architects. The initiative involves harvesting waste timber – diseased wood, naturally fallen trees, wood infested with the emerald ash borer – milling it and turning it into furniture. This is a sustainability initiative, repurposing wood that was previously thought to have no value. Urban Timber furniture is used in Cincinnati Public Schools, an
RCF Group client, in conjunction with an educational effort focused on the life cycle of timber. Collectively, program participants have helped to produce printed literature, wood samples and educational videos as part of a comprehensive program exposing inner-city youths to new aspects of nature. The program is run “at cost” so it’s not a money-maker but it is important to RCF Group, their clients and the community. It also serves as a good example of how people can make a difference.
The Road Ahead
Greater diversity of thought reveals more paths forward. There are many additional products and services inside a building that RCF Group can assist with and clients are looking to them as a true partner. Today, RCF Group is working in all 50 states across the U.S. and in 37 countries around the world. Several clients have retained RCF Group on North American contracts and as a result, they’re doing more work in Canada. RCF Group employs a rigorous process with respect to taking on new projects. The RCF Group team is very thoughtful about taking on new clients because they refuse to compromise on service delivery. Their deliberate and dedicated approach to client service has paid dividends in recent years, as they’ve begun working with several high-profile clients, including Toyota, Key Bank and US Bank. Additionally, RCF Group sees more opportunities to expand work within their existing client base.
Asked about the best part of their jobs, Robertson and Satterwhite say they are fortunate to be surrounded by great people, including their team at RCF Group and their diverse client base. Inclusion in RCF Group’s workforce is a core piece of their model. Seeking the right people and opportunities with purpose is ingrained in the DNA of RCF Group. They enjoy the opportunity to grow and develop individuals at RCF Group, finding it incredibly rewarding helping someone else to be successful.
Together, we have accomplished a great deal, including:
Built to Last
Dinsmore helps to provide RCF Group with a strong foundation
Protecting the Process
RCF Group turns to Dinsmore for help with supplier/customer agreements
Delivering on the Details
Dinsmore provides advice on benefit plan compliance