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Utility Partners growing ‘leaps and bounds,’ plans $5M expansion


By Ashley Boncimino
ashleyb@scbiznews.com
Published July 10, 2014

When direct-mail marketing started resulting in diminishing returns for their customers, Brad Roberts and Todd Stone knew something had to change.

“Most people get a lot of garbage mail every day,” said Stone, president of Greenville-based Utility Partners of America, a utility service contractor and professional services firm. The company helps utilities with marketing, enrollment and customer engagement, as well as helping utilities install automated meters. Up until 18 months ago, it relied heavily on direct-mail marketing to serve customers.

On average, the rate of engagement for direct mail marketing was 2%, meaning out of a hundred pieces of mail, only two people actively engaged and responded, said Stone. “We thought, ‘Why are we struggling so much to get that message out?’ ”

So Roberts, Utility Partners COO, and Stone took a risk. Using only two callers, they proposed a free telemarketing pilot test using a 5,000-person contact list from one of their utility customers. The weeklong project was aimed at increasing customer engagement via direct outbound calls for marketing and opt-in services at a higher rate than direct-mail marketing.

“Three days in, we said, ‘Holy cow, this is working,’ ” said Stone.

News of the success of the pilot began spreading fast, and soon utilities were lining up to work with Utility Partners to include outbound calling in their marketing services. For customers, such as East Kentucky Power Cooperative, introducing outbound calling “resulted in more than half of our new customer participation numbers,” said the cooperative’s program manager, Stephanie Cornett, in a press release.

In 18 months, Utility Partners’ call center has expanded from six people to 120 and counting. Not only has the company’s staff become too large for its current building, but also the firm plans to double its current employee base by 2015.

With such high growth and plans for more, Stone began working with the Greenville Area Development Corp. to help with employment, job fairs and certain types of grants to further promote their growth.

While they could fit more callers into the building, the limiting factor is parking, even after the company leased out the neighboring lot, said Roberts. The next step would include leasing a lot down the street and physically bussing their employees to their location at 7600 Pelham Road.

Instead, Stone hopes to find a new building for the company in the next nine months to accommodate the call center’s growth. The new building should be between 30,000 and 40,000 square feet, have at least 600 parking spaces, be within five miles of the airport, have a sewer and have access to the fiber-optic network, which is necessary for the call center, said Stone.

Stone hopes to find something for under $5 million.

“We’re growing leaps and bounds,” said Stone.

Reach Ashley Boncimino at 864-235-5677, ext. 103 or @ashleyboncimino.

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