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Best of the Small Business Web: Total Recall

Business Response, a first-of-its-kind service, assumes the burden for companies that are plagued by product-safety problems.
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Company: Business Response Inc.
Revenues: $19 million
Web address: www.regcen.com
Site launch cost: $10,000
Current technology profile: Apple PowerBase 200, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, MetaCreations Painter Classic
Why we love it: A first-of-its-kind service assumes the burden for companies that are plagued by product-safety problems
Categories of success: Utility & Innovation

A product is recalled. The courts settle a class-action suit in the plaintiffs' favor. These are the times that try CEOs' souls.

Donald Kornblet can't save his customers from such unpleasantness, but he is using the Web to prevent the associated administrative headaches from turning into migraines. Kornblet founded Business Response Inc., a St. Louis­based customer-support, telemarketing, and business-services company, in 1986. Those innocuous-sounding "business services" are, in fact, critically important: Kornblet helps his customers notify their customers about product recalls, legal settlements, and corporate acquisitions.

"If the Food and Drug Administration or the Consumer Products Safety Commission determines that you have a product that is going to be recalled, you have to put together a notice program," explains Kornblet. Such programs, designed to alert affected consumers and let them register for recompense, generally include direct mail, point-of-sale announcements, and ads in traditional media. More recently, "government agencies have seen the value of expanding notice efforts to the Web," says Kornblet.

But processing claims for thousands of consumers who register on-line can be a labyrinthine task. Administrators must solve the nontrivial problem of moving customer-registration information into appropriate databases and other back-office systems. Then there's the whole poisoning-your-well factor: no company wants bad news living cheek-by-jowl with its marketing material. "They want to be able to separate their product-safety message from the product information that is the core of their site," Kornblet says.

So in February, BRI added the first-of-its-kind Internet Consumer Registration Center to its portfolio of claims-administration services. Consumers who are due to receive a settlement or who own a product under recall access their program information by typing in www.regcen.com followed by the name of the remediating company and then register for their program on-line. BRI processes the data and fulfills their claims by sending them checks or replacement products. More than 30 of Kornblet's customers -- large and midsize corporations in a variety of industries -- are using the service, which includes design of the on-line notification announcements. Customers pay BRI a setup fee of $1,500 to $2,000, plus between $5 and $10 for each consumer who registers through the site. (As of September, approximately 1,000 people had done so.) "We would hope that the Consumer Registration Center will generate annual billings of $750,000 to $1 million within two years," says Kornblet.

In addition to plumping up BRI's bottom line, the Internet Consumer Registration Center burnishes the company's star among the Washington lawyers who typically advise corporations embroiled in safety-related travails. "These lawyers are very sensitive to what government agencies want in respect to notice, and they see this type of offering as a plus," says Kornblet. "It speaks to our expertise in the field, and as a result the lawyers may be more likely to recommend us to their clients."

Last updated: Nov 15, 1999

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor at Large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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