Hirease Blends Work, Fun
Pull up to Hirease Inc. on South Page Street in Southern Pines and you will find a vacuum cleaner for automobile interiors in the parking lot.
Walk just inside the front door and you might find a fryer used during the recent employee chicken wing cook-off. Step into the break room and you could be surrounded by Halloween decorations.
For Paul and Heidi Dent, the husband-and-wife team that leads Hirease, working hard and playing hard have been the keys to their success since founding the firm in 2002.
"We left the corporate world because we got sick of the minutia," says Paul, the company's CEO. "I would dread going into work. We didn't want that here."
Heidi, who serves as chief financial officer, says her husband is the "class clown" at Hirease.
"We joke a lot and just do fun things," she says. "We take our work seriously, but we love to blow off steam."
Paul agrees, saying, "We have high expectations, but in return, we're going to have fun."
The formula has worked well. Hirease grew 329 percent between 2005 and 2009, helping the firm secure the No. 928 spot on Inc. Magazine's 500/5000 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in America.
"We have grown a lot faster than we anticipated," Heidi says. "We're constantly in brainstorm mode. We're not only thinking about what else we can do, but what we can do better."
Hirease already does a lot. From its headquarters on South Page, the company's 35 employees serve about 1,300 clients across the United States and throughout the world, providing an array of employment screening and human resources (HR) on-boarding services.
"Some people use us once a year," Paul says. "Some use us 50 times a day. We monitor our employees daily."
He notes that pre-employment screening is critical because 10 percent of job applicants have a criminal record, and 40 percent of resumes contain material lies or omissions about education, past employment or qualifications.
Once a potential employee signs the release form authorizing the screening, it takes Hirease about 72 hours to return the results to the employer.
"We want to ensure that our customers get the best customer service," Paul says. "That is why we adhere to ECHO."
ECHO is an internal ethos that stands for working with Ethics, being Customer-centric, being Humble and honest, and taking Ownership of every aspect of work.
"To work here, you must be absolutely sure that you can commit 100 percent to these principles," the company's website says, "or you're not going to fit in at all!"
Heidi says employees also must be flexible and able to think outside the box.
"We have had to change and adapt to stay in business," she says. "We've always got to keep our ear to the ground."
Two years ago, the Dents hired an on-staff attorney and put together a product development team.
"It allows us to be on the same playing field as the big guys," Heidi says.
In fact, Hirease plans to launch three new HR on-boarding software products for small- to medium-sized businesses in the first quarter of 2011.
"At times, it's exhausting, but I don't ever second-guess why we got into our own business," Paul says. "We're on pace for 35 percent growth in 2010, which is shaping up to be a record year."
He started doing the leg work in April 2002 while they were living in Atlanta, and Hirease was launched shortly before they moved to Southern Pines that August.
"We were going to move it to Jacksonville, Fla., which is where we are from, but we decided we wanted a small town," Paul says.
The Dents knew each other in high school and started dating while attending Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
"My friends dated him in high school, and they all told me to run," Heidi says with a laugh.
The Dents were married in 1995 and have a son, Alex, 11, and a daughter, Kirby, 9.
"One of the reasons we stay here is quality of life," Paul says.
That is music to the ears of Ray Ogden, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress.
"Hirease is another example of the type of company that can grow here," Ogden says. "I think Paul and Heidi are great examples of young entrepreneurs that found a niche and are doing it well. They're creative, energetic and successful. It's a great formula."
The Dents could have grown the company faster in a metropolitan setting but intended it to be a "lifestyle" firm from the get-go.
"It takes great companies 20 years to become great, so why rush things," Heidi says. "It was very tough in the beginning, but I'm into positive psychology. You just have to be willing to take a risk."
Paul says the company survived initially because the Dents didn't take a paycheck for four years.
"We lived off our savings and credit cards," he says.
Hirease reached profitability in 2006 and now the sky appears to be the limit. The company opened a satellite office in Omaha, Neb., last year and another in Jacksonville earlier this month.
Hirease has also outgrown its headquarters and is trying to sell its two buildings on South Page.
"Once we sell them, then we will decide whether to build or buy existing space," Paul says.
In the meantime, the Dents will work hard and play hard.
"We work really well together because can both think strategically," Heidi says. "We laugh. Paul's funny. I honestly think we're just lucky."
And there is no exit strategy in sight.
"It depends on the month or the day," Paul says. "We don't know. But we're going to have fun along the way."
Just ask their employees, who are eagerly anticipating their quarterly massages.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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