Firm grows into Superior

More than 100 additional people will be working downtown by mid-2007 as a Twin Cities firm expands its receivables management network to Superior. Edina-based Financial Recovery Services already employs 40 people in its new office at 1230 Tower Ave.

More than 100 additional people will be working downtown by mid-2007 as a Twin Cities firm expands its receivables management network to Superior.

Edina-based Financial Recovery Services already employs 40 people in its new office at 1230 Tower Ave. The building has housed Superior Water, Light and Power Co., and Advanced Data Comm in the past. Another 16 are in training and will be working by the end of December, filling the main floor, said Brian Bowers, president of the privately-held company.

Meanwhile, contractors are remodeling the second level to accommodate a similar number of new employees within six months.

"The quality of people we're seeing so far is very good," he said of Superior's labor pool. "We're very impressed with employees in this area. They're very, very eager."

That's a very important skill in the company's business -- collecting debt that has escaped the grasp of primary creditors. Financial Recovery Services works as a third-party collection agency for a mix of debt buyers and credit issuers -- such as Dell Financial, JP Morgan Chase, Citi Financial and HSBC.


"In recent years, our industry has changed. A lot of this debt used to be collected internally by the issuers. But they determined they'd be better off outsourcing that work. It allows them to focus on their strengths, which is building the (credit) business," Bowers said.

It's a niche that has allowed FRS to expand from two people in 1996 to approximately 240 today. In additional to Edina and Superior, FRS also has an office in Brooklyn Center, Minn.

The Twin Ports became a logical expansion site when another firm with a similar specialty closed its local office. Last summer, British banking giant HSBC shuttered its West Duluth customer service and collections call center, which previously was owned by Metris Cos., a credit card issuer. Metris opened the Duluth call center after Fingerhut left Duluth in 2001. About 50 of the 149 HSBC employees transferred to other company sites when their office closed late in July.

Those who elected to stay provided FRS with a trained group of people eager to find new employment. Twenty-four accepted job offers, said Kenneth Falk, a former HSBC Duluth employee who was hired to manage the new Superior office.

"We started off with a good core group of people," Falk said. "It's nice to work for a business with a capability of growth in the area."

Founded by Bowers and Wade Davis, FRS has recently been recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing privately-held companies. It also was included in Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal's "Growth 50" and was featured on the MSNBC "Winners Circle" show hosted by Terry Bradshaw. Last year, it serviced one million accounts with $1.4 billion in receivables.

That success can be attributed to philosophy. FRS doesn't treat debtors as deadbeats.

"A lot of times, people think of a collections agency as someone that creates some type of a problem for somebody. That's about the furthest thing from what we do. We're not in business to create problems; we're in business to solve problems," said Mark Pearson, vice president of business development and marketing.


"People find themselves in tough situations, sometimes by their own doing through irresponsible actions and sometimes through situations that they really had no control over whatsoever -- they had an illness, a death in the family, layoffs or anything else that happens in life that puts you in a financial tail spin," Bowers said. "We help people recognize that they still have this issue to resolve and figure out a way to resolve it -- and by doing so, they can put this bad experience behind them, and we can help them do so."

FRS seeks workers who can be "respectful, sympathetic and firm at the same time," Bowers said.

"Anyone can generate a hang-up, but that's not what we're in the business to do," Pearson added.

He said FRS offers employees much higher earning potential than is available from telemarketers. Employees are paid an hourly rate plus commission. The company also offers bonuses. Workers take home from $30,000 to $40,000 a year, and managers earn even more.

"It's not an in-between job. It's a career," Pearson said.

Lora Moilan has been in the business for six years.

"If you like talking to people, it's a good job," she said in a Monday interview at the Superior office. "Most of the people we talk to are going through a tough time. If we can help them get through their financial problems and live a normal life, that's rewarding."

Downtown Superior also has much to gain, said Development Association Director Andy Lisak.


"This occupies a building that has been looking for a tenant for the last few years, and it puts a lot more people downtown who will shop in stores and restaurants," he said. "As we move into the next phase of development, with downtown being home to both businesses and residences, there will be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to provide new services."

FRS has signed a three-year space lease with building owner John Mahan. Bowers said the company will pursue a slow-growth strategy and play an active role in the community. It matches employees' charity gifts up to $500 and provides them paid time off to help projects sponsored by community groups.

"Community service is part of our business plan," Pearson said.

Ron Brochu is executive editor. E-mail or call (715) 394-4411, ext 133.

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