Aspen Staffing Services is thriving despite a rocky start

Janet Hannaway and Teresa Shuler met while working together at a temporary staffing agency in Columbus.

In summer 2007, the women told their employer they believed it needed a presence in the downtown area, as they were finding it increasing difficult to work the legal market from a suburban location. With most of the city’s legal market concentrated downtown, it made sense to be where the action was.

The only problem was their employer didn’t share their enthusiasm for making that change or giving them a minority ownership interest while they did so, and chose to cut them loose on a Friday afternoon.

“We never saw it coming,” says Hannaway. “So, with our boxes of personal items from our desks in hand, we stood in the parking lot looking at each other and had to quickly come up with a new plan.”

For years, Shuler’s niche had been legal staffing, Hannaway’s background was legal administration, and they both needed to work, so employment in the legal realm seemed like their only option. The duo went  to a nearby mall and decided to act fast.

“We called my 14-year-old daughter and had her hop on Yahoo and create an email account called “legaljobs4u” just in time to meet the Friday ad deadline for the Sunday classifieds, and we were on our way,” says Hannaway. “In no time, prior clients were contacting us and asking what we were going to do and indicating that they wanted to move with us. We didn’t have an office, a business plan or any funding, but we were determined and scared to death at the same time.”

In August 2007, Hannaway and Shuler launched Aspen Staffing Services (of which they are director of operations and placement and director of sales and marketing, respectively) and haven’t looked back. To learn how Aspen has weathered the recession, why it didn’t end up merging with an international staffing company, and what gives its founders a “great feeling,” read our interview with Hannaway.

The Metropreneur: Do you think being a local staffing agency, rather than a national one, has helped Aspen in any way?

Janet Hannaway: There are plusses and minuses to only having a local presence. We know the Columbus market like no other legal staffing agency due to our combined experience, but the downside is that we do not have the resources and funding that national agencies do to handle a larger temporary staffing payroll. Perhaps the biggest plus is our knowledge of local law firms and their different cultures, and having personal relationships with their firm administrators/office managers.

We have a lot of repeat business and with working with the same firms over time, really get to know what type of candidates −practice groups and skill sets− they are looking for. We personally visit most of our clients, as we feel that understanding the office environment our candidate will be working in is important to making the right client/employer match. We currently work with 19 of the top 25 firms in Columbus as listed in Business First. We attribute this to the personalized service we offer and because we do not have the excessive turnover of our internal staff that plagues many of the national companies. 

[M]: Has the company experienced an increase in demand for its services in light of recent economic conditions?

JH: We are only starting to see an increase in demand post-recession. Law firms are still being very cautious and slow to add to their payroll burden in these uncertain economic times. Many firms did lay-offs in the past three years that left them absolutely running with the bare minimum. As some employees make job changes, they are refilling those positions, but not really adding additional personnel beyond replacement hires quite yet.

I think more businesses are budgeting to do some additions in 2012, but are waiting to see year-end numbers before making many new hiring decisions. We do work outside of the legal community and those markets are utilizing more temporary employees, but also not making big changes to their workforce at this time.

[M]: The company recently added a third team member, a director of placement. What necessitated that hiring?

JH: We had been in negotiations to possibly merge our company with a large international staffing company for most of the past year and just in the last month or so realized that it just didn’t feel right. When it came down to finalizing our agreement, we just didn’t feel that we could continue to provide our standard of service to our clients working within their structure. But the whole process of evaluating our business that occurred as part of that deal really opened our eyes to what we wanted our vision for Aspen to be in the future and what we would have to do to move to the next level, which for us is moving from a local presence to a statewide presence.

Adding to our staff was something we needed to do to achieve this. Adding Kathy Rosenberry as our director of placement was a great decision. There are not many individuals in the Columbus market that are as respected as Kathy. She has been a perfect match for us in regards to our goals as an organization.

[M]: What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced as a business owner and how did you overcome it?

JH: The recession has certainly been the biggest obstacle we have faced in the four-plus years we have been open. The timing really couldn’t have been worse, but we just kept adjusting our services to stay afloat during 2008 and 2009. Since we had specialized in legal and the legal industry was hit so hard, we diversified our business and were able to establish ourselves as a proven source in additional industries. At this point, probably half our business comes from the medical industry.

[M]: In your opinion, what is the best aspect of being a business owner?

JH: It is really rewarding to be able to determine where you take your business.  The success or failure of Aspen is totally depending on the decisions we make each day and while that can be a little daunting, it is also really exciting. The example we are setting for our own daughters by being business owners and showing them that you can aspire to do anything is really a great feeling.

[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?

JH: Quite simply, we love what we do.

To learn more about Aspen Staffing Services, visit AspenStaffingServices.com.