Local service provides public record dataPosted On: September 2011
For entrepreneur Jeffrey A. Metcalf, slow, consistent and what one might call "Record-setting" growth is the goal of his business.
"I've always believed in hitting singles as opposed to trying to hit home runs all the time," he said. "There are too many companies who try to hit home runs, and they end up going out of business because they just can't handle the growth. They grow too fast, then they come down like a rocket."
This philosophy seems to be working. His company, Record Information Services, Inc. in Elburn, has seen dramatic growth since it was founded in 1993.
What started as a weekly mailed news-letter listing the incorporations, business licenses, judgments, tax liens, bankruptcies, building permits, mechanic liens, mortgages, foreclosures and real estate transactions in DuPage County has grown into a state-of-the-art electronic warehouse of public record data for northeastern Illinois.
"We basically started working out of my house, and we started off with our weekly newsletters," Metcalf said. "Those were the very first products we ever had, because that was before the Web and everything else, so those were our first mainstays. And then from there, we just sort of evolved into the databases and the online access and so forth."
Record Information Services now provides a wide range of data from new homeowners and tax sales for property to criminal misdemeanors and DUI arrests for Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties. It also offers a variety of delivery methods for its data, including Web sites, e-mail, discs or hard copy.
From these public record databases, the company has developed a number of other revenue streams. It offers marketing support by allowing customers to define their search criteria, such as Zip code or price or even ethnic origin. Customers can then create mailing labels or do a mail merge to aid their direct mail efforts.
"We consider ourselves to be a full-blown marketing data provider, that is, we take the information and we enhance it," Metcalf said. "Whether we use pending census tract information, latitude/ longitude or phone numbers, we try to enhance it and then make it available through our Web site for people to download and do all kinds of different custom-type searches and stuff."
Record Information Services also provides data to newspapers for use in their publications. It will even do custom research for a publication or company by analyzing its data for demographics and trends.
The company has also developed Web sites catering to specific needs. Its new political site breaks down data by state house district, state senate district and precinct, allowing politicians to target their constituents. It also has a Web site for public libraries that patrons can use for research.
"We have 75 libraries who subscribe," he said. "It really took off. I just had no idea it was going to do what it did. It's a very affordable product, and it opens up a consumer market that we really haven't had before."
Metcalf attributes his company's success to his dedicated staff of 30 employees, many of whom work outside the office, traveling to county record offices to input information from various documents.
"I think we do a good job," he said. "We're on time; we're current. I have a great staff here, just terrific people, and I couldn't do it without them, obviously. Most of them have been working for me for a long time. I'm proud to say that I have very little turnover.
"I have a chief technology officer, Mr. Wiseman," Metcalf added. "He's been with me pretty much since the company started, and he is an incredibly brilliant network guy. He has single-handedly helped us get where we are."
Although Record Information Services continues to expand its coverage area, Metcalf has no plans to become a national data provider.
"I get questions all the time from our existing customers, as well as people calling in, wondering why we're not a national data provider," he said. "The way I look at it is that at my age right now, I'm making a good living, and I'm having a lot of fun. Do I want to start gallivanting around the country, trying to create something as big and as expensive as that would be to do? The answer is no. I've done that, I've been there.
"I think extending on what we do in other counties in Illinois is going to be our future," Metcalf said. "In other words, I think I can take the same formula that we do here with newspapers and the library Web site and the political site and simply replicate it to other counties downstate. I think there's an enormous amount of market potential for what we do in other parts of the state of Illinois."
By Trisha Rafacz
Posted On: September 2011
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