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JRI Industries makes Inc.'s fastest-growing firms list

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

Jack Rogers took a vacation to Hawaii that resulted in him leading one of the nation's fastest-growing companies.

A veteran executive of Springfield ReManufacturing Corp., Executive Coach Builders and Aaron's Automotive, Rogers took stock while visiting the Pacific island, "realized I was an entrepreneur," returned home and began the process of starting his own company.

"He's always had that burning desire," said Jack Stack, CEO of SRC, regarding Rogers. "Some guys just have their eye on the prize, and he's one of them."

The trajectory Rogers, president and CEO, describes for JRI Industries LLC's first five years in business has now been ratified by Inc. Magazine in its list of the nation's 500 fastest growing firms.

"We really started off riding a rocket," Rogers said. The company's 48 full-time employees make equipment washers, for automotive parts for example, that do not use solvents.

"It's like a big industrial dishwasher that uses water and biodegradable soaps," Rogers said.

The company makes products for other companies, including Landa, Gray Mills and Ingersoll-Rand, that then sell the washers under their own labels. JRI also distributes its own products, with various lines that range from $2,000 to $250,000.

JRI ranked No. 423 on Inc.'s recent compilation of the country's fastest-growing companies. In 1993, JRI's first year of operation, the company had $360,000 in revenue. Five years later, its 1997 revenues were $3.03 million, a 700 percent increase for the period and good enough to qualify them for the list. Rogers said revenues for 1998 are expected to be $4.6 million.

Rogers was recruited by Stack to join SRC as executive vice president of sales and marketing in the late 1980s. From there he moved on to Executive Coach Builders and was executive vice president for Aaron's Automotive before beginning JRI.

Rogers began the company with Butch McCord, plant manager and minority shareholder, and Ivan Matthews, who has since left the company.

Starting up was made possible with financing from the then Boatmen's Bank. In another story in the same issue of Inc., the magazine said bank financing of startups is a rarity. Only 21 companies of the 500 ranked firms got funding from commercial banks.

"I was struck by his leadership and management ability from the first time I met him," said Brian Fogle, Rogers' banker at JRI's inception and relationship manager of NationsBank's community investment group. "Manufacturing startups are oftentimes difficult; there are so many variables there. ... But (Rogers) had a very well-thought-out business plan and he convinced me he could overcome (those variables) with experience and knowledge."

Even with the business plan, the financing required more than 40 percent participation from Rogers, money he came up with in part by putting up his home and car as collateral. Rogers also signed on to personally guaranty the note.

JRI took off quickly, paying off its bank debt within two years.

"Those are the fun ones," Fogle said. "His performance exceeded even his own expectations."

Rogers credits the team of assembled employees from engineers to welders in the plant with creating an efficient, ever-improving operation.

Rogers said that growth is being driven by federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations that limit the use of solvents in some parts of the country, and it will grow in coming years.

In addition, JRI is building on its own network of distributors to sell its own branded products. Rogers said about 75 percent of the country is now within its distribution network.

New product markets and continuing improvement will be required to stay ahead in an increasingly competitive market segment.

Part of that improvement will result from JRI's use of open-book management policies and including weekly open meetings of all employees. Rogers took theories learned from Stack and added JRI details. He said more than $100,000 in cash bonuses has been distributed during the last two years throughout the operation.

The Inc. 500 is based on the percentage of revenue growth for the most recent five-year period among privately held companies with at least $200,000 in 1993 sales. Rogers said the magazine contacted him last year and indicated they thought JRI would qualify for the list. The company then submitted an application with tax forms and financial statements.

Because the company took off quickly after its beginning, maintaining the statistical pace required to remain on the list, when figures from the company's second year of revenues will be the measuring stick of growth, will prove difficult.

Rogers said he expects revenue to double in the next five years.

"The next five years are really critical on who's going to control this market," he said. "We're taking this to some new levels."

PHOTO CAPTION:

Jack Rogers' JRI has received national recognition.[[In-content Ad]]

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