Interviews | May 18, 2020
TAB Thrives With Can-Do Spirit
The television show “Mad Men” ran on AMC for seven seasons, transporting viewers back to the chaotic advertising industry of the 1960s. The show’s sustained success, awards and high viewership numbers clearly demonstrated that the TV-watching public enjoyed being transported back in time for an hour once a week.
Office organization and management in the 1960s consisted of physical record-keeping, with pertinent papers, forms and memos filed away for future reference. But as technological innovations kept coming, organization and management shifted to a digital format. While many companies once had vast physical archives of files, records and forms, they now have vast digital databases to house the information, supplemented still by smaller physical files.
As companies in certain industries embraced digital, many records management companies struggled to keep up. They intensified their focus on industries that once used their services, but as demand fell, companies began dropping out of profitability, and some ended up closing for good.
TAB could easily have been one of those companies — if not for its resilience and crafty solutions. Tony Ruffin, TAB’s director of dealer channel sales, says the company was started in the mid-1950s by a couple of former IBM salespeople who identified a need for more efficient organizational practices in the workplace. TAB pioneered color-coded filing systems in a wide variety of industries, ranging from health care to education and more.
One of TAB’s early successes was a contract to help New Jersey’s nascent gaming commission keep organized and detailed records. Corruption fears ran rampant in New Jersey as the state embraced legal gaming. In particular, state officials emphasized the need to take care during the hiring process and conduct thorough background checks to reduce the risk of corrupt individuals finding themselves in positions of power or influence in the gaming industry.
“We developed their records system for their personnel files, their vendor files,” Ruffin says. TAB also “[sped] up their referencing and help[ed] keep everything organized from their perspective.”
TAB’s success with the New Jersey gaming commission was striking, but it was not the only records management firm to enjoy early successes. The true mark of its strength came as it navigated tough stretches by making informed decisions, thereby bringing the company into the 21st century and thriving.
One way TAB has successfully pulled through tough times is by showing its distributors that while demand for physical record-keeping materials has waned in some areas, it is stronger than ever elsewhere.
“In the past, our distributors — and most distributors — were so tied up in medical and court systems that they didn’t place much of a focus on the general business sector and some of the other areas where you can utilize paper,” Ruffin says.
During the crucial moments when some industries went digital, either by mandate or by choice, TAB showed its distributors that demand still existed in other segments. According to Ruffin, the general business sector and smaller workplace environments have not been mandated to go digital, “nor is it a good ROI to go electronic.” TAB’s goal, Ruffin says, was to show that “there’s an opportunity out there for distributors to really capitalize on demand in places where they haven’t already looked.”
And when that was not enough to keep the company going, TAB streamlined its internal processes, adapting to stay with the times. In reducing costs for its manufacturing lines, production centers and distribution facilities, TAB has done the hard work to remain competitive.
TAB’s success has steered the company through tough times, and it is now thriving just like it did in the “Mad Men” era. The company’s services can be boiled down to two solutions: saving space and saving time. TAB presently offers products ranging from custom and stock file folders to color-coded labels and indexing products. Ruffin says the stock and custom file folders, as well as other filing accessories, are “far and away” the most popular products the company offers.
Meanwhile, TAB has stackable shelving and other “high-density mobile storage solutions,” says Ruffin. The company also helps facilitate offsite storage for companies, in addition to assisting companies transition from paper to electronic records.
In Ruffin’s estimation, part of what makes TAB so unique in its field is its high level of expertise in records management. While some of its competitors simply get specifications from their customers and complete projects based on those requests, TAB plays an active role throughout the entire process.
“We get involved with the customers and the end users to identify solutions for them,” Ruffin says. So instead of getting specifications from a customer, TAB might ask the customer what its goal is. TAB then uses that information to make recommendations, using the goals to create its own specifications rather than relying on the customer or end user.
“Our customers don’t have to be experts. They can tell us what their customers will be looking to do, and we can put together a system for them,” Ruffin says.
TAB has even been able to acquire some of its former rivals, as well. “Many of our competitors in the paper filing world … have closed their doors, just because the attrition has been too great for them. But with our diversity in our product line and offerings, we’ve been able to acquire some of those companies, and, in turn, their distributor networks, to keep us as a very viable manufacturer in the paper filing world,” Ruffin says.
Ruffin was the one who brought TAB to PSDA. He joined TAB a year ago, though he had known of the company for a long time thanks to interactions with TAB at old jobs. His prior positions also introduced him to PSDA, and he was a longtime member. When Ruffin arrived at TAB, he recommended that the company join the association.
“I was very interested in increasing our marketing and network reach, and I thought [PSDA], from my experiences with my other companies, would be a really good fit,” Ruffin says.
At the same time, Ruffin suspected that TAB would fit in well at PSDA. With other records management companies shutting their doors, he believed there was probably a need for companies like TAB to join and patch the hole.
In previous positions, Ruffin has made good use of the distributor directory. He is also a fan of PSDA’s referral program for distributors. Ruffin says he gets “multiple emails a day from different distributors looking for resources to provide solutions to their customers’ needs,” praising the referral network as a unique aspect of PSDA that makes the association strong.
Ruffin says he used to attend PSDA events fairly regularly, and he exhibited at seven or eight shows in the past. Now that he has brought TAB into PSDA, Ruffin says the company will look to become a familiar presence at future events.
From transforming the distributor network to jumping on acquisition opportunities, TAB has never let go of the can-do spirit that won it early successes, like with the New Jersey gaming commission. While the records management practices of the Mad Men era have changed drastically, TAB has deftly navigated the change, making it a leading provider of records management well into the 21st century.
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