Q&8 with Communication Resources
Q&8 is a recurring series on Blackfoot's blog where we interview our expert partners and employees, asking 8 questions to provide unique insights.
8 Questions & Answers with Chris Richard
Q1: Will you introduce yourself and your role?
My name is Chris Richard. I'm the Owner and General Manager of Communication Resources. We're a technology installation company based in Missoula, Montana. We have offices throughout the state. We have technicians in Great Falls, Plains, Butte, Helena, and we just opened our most recent office in Idaho Falls.
Q2: What does Communication Resources do?
We are a technology solutions company. And what that means is if there is a technology in a commercial building or organization, there is a good chance that we can work on it. The single biggest thing that we do more than anything is that we are a cabling company. I consider myself a cabling monkey if nothing else, but we run Cat 6 cable all over the place. We do fiber optic cable, particularly in building between a server room and IDF, or tying two buildings together.
But in addition to that, we work on a wide variety of systems. So, for example, we work on phone systems, both traditional voiceover IP. We work on paging systems, camera, wireless access, point-to-point, and wireless bridges. We also work in the realm of life safety and protection, things like security systems, access control, and fire alarm systems. In addition, we do a number of other little niche things like sound masking that you might put into an office to dampen sound from office to office, or audio video systems for setting up a conference room in a bank or some other entity such as that.
Q3: What is the relationship between Communication Resources and Blackfoot Communications?
This relationship is a very special one to me. I was writing an email the other day to somebody at Blackfoot. And for a point of reference, I was curious how long I had done business with Blackfoot. So, for reference, I began Communication Resources in 2004. And four days after I started, I did a small job for Blackfoot. Blackfoot trusted me, this little one-man shop—well, technically I had a part-time employee at the time—but they trusted me to do some work for them. And that meant a lot to me.
I think I made $75 on that first work order I did for Blackfoot. But I look back and here it is 18 years later, and we have done some jobs for Blackfoot that are $75—and we have done some jobs with Blackfoot that are over a hundred thousand dollars. Every single one of them has been really special.
The main reason it is special is because I really feel like Blackfoot trusts me and that I trust them. That we have a very symbiotic relationship where there are things that Blackfoot Communications does extremely well. And we can kind of allow them to excel in that particular area. There are other things that Communication Resources does really well, and they allow us to excel in those areas.
So, it is genuinely special to me because they are one of my oldest customers—in fact, I had done work for Blackfoot prior to starting my company—and so it is a relationship that goes back more than 20 years. And I have seen lots of people that continue to work for Blackfoot that I have known for more than 20 years. And there are a lot of new people that I have just gotten to know. Overall, it has just been a wonderful experience. And I have so many people that I consider friends that have been with Blackfoot for a long time.
Q4: What is a common question you hear from your clients and how do you respond?
I would say one of the most common questions that we get is can you help us? My personality type is one that always wants to say yes. I want to find a way to help somebody. I want to find a way to say yes. Because we work on such a wide variety of systems and technologies, chances are we can help the customer with their technology problem. I am very fortunate with the team that we have built here. I genuinely think I have some of the most incredible, talented employees that you could possibly ask for. I have intentionally hired people that are not the same as me so that we can get a variety of perspectives on a problem. It's a lot of fun when we have this really weird technology problem that somebody wants solved, to be able to go to my team that has different experiences and throw it out there. We'll bounce back and forth a couple of ideas and all of a sudden the best plan pops out of it. And it happens almost every time, the small group of us will look around at each other and we all know that's the right answer—that we have finally found the right thing to solve this weird problem for this one customer. And to be able to present that unique solution that really solves their problem is one of the most rewarding things we can possibly do. So, to hear the common question, can you fix this or can you help me is just probably my favorite question.
Q5: How do you go about assessing the needs of a business?
Every one of the people that work for us, their title could be simply problem solver. I think that is our number one role as employees of Communication Resources. Whether it is an employee's issue that needs to be solved or a customer's issue that needs to be solved, that's what we're here to do—help people fix their problems. When we approach a customer, we want to hear what kind of frustrations they have and if we can help alleviate that problem, that's really our whole goal in business.
It's important for us both from a sales perspective and from a technical perspective to really listen to our customers and hear exactly what they need or what problem they're having, and then provide the solution to that problem, as opposed to trying to cookie-cutter solutions onto their problem. And so, we try to create that unique solution for every single one of our customers.
Q6: With 20 years in business, what is unique to Communication Resources' approach?
I think one of the things that makes us unique is we fit in the space between an IT company and an electrician. So often, an IT company will pull a little bit of cable and spend a lot of time at the keyboard, you know , kind of fixing those kinds of IT problems. Or an electrician will spend a lot of time with their tools in their hands and they are up on a ladder and maybe they're pulling their wire or something, but they can't really solve those technology problems. We fit in the gap between those two industries. And I think we fit it really, really well. There are just a lot of times when you need a technical person who can get up on a boom lift and hang a wireless access point 50 feet in the air, and then be able to assess why that access point isn't working.
Having the side of a business or the side of a technician that is very construction-based is a positive, but also having the side of a technician that is more analytical and troubleshooting-based is very helpful. Being able to bridge gaps between two different industries has put us in a place that is rather unique and has made us an asset to companies like Blackfoot. And IT companies that have lots of cabling that they need done, and they're looking to do the hardware installation and configuration. Or, being an asset to an electrician and being subcontracted to them on a large install where they're doing the electrical work, but they're not going to do the low voltage cabling and fiber optic work.
Q7: What is the best part of your job?
When you are a small business owner, especially when you begin your career, or when you start your company, you have so many different jobs. I was the lead technician, and I was the assistant technician, and I was the bookkeeper, and I was the general manager, and I was in charge of sales and marketing, and on and on. And then as I've hired people, I got to fire myself from different positions, which is my favorite thing to do is fire myself and have somebody focus solely on that particular thing.
And relatively recently, I'm almost down to just a single job where I am the general manager of the company. The only thing that I have to do is to take care of the people that work for us; to create a healthy environment in which they can work; and to protect the culture of the company. If I do that really, really well, then all of these people who have taken hats off of my head and have taken those roles and done what I was already doing and then did it to the next level—when I create a healthy environment for those people to be able to do their absolute best— it's the most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life. And I have absolutely loved building up our company into something that has provided some amazing jobs for people, has given them a ton of autonomy and latitude to be successful, and just leading them in a way where they reach their full potential and to watch them see their potential be even higher than they realized. So, I think the absolute best part of my job is watching our team succeed and excel at what they do.
Q8: What is the single most important takeaway from our chat today?
You know, I am a Montana boy through and through. I grew up in Northeastern Montana in the little town called Wolf Point. Most people who have lived in Montana very long have heard of it. I've traveled all over the world, but I have always had my permanent addresses in Montana, and I just love this state. I love being a part of the community that is Montana.
And so, when we do work here, it is very personal to me. I love the relationships that we have built, the people that we get to help, the problems that we get to solve for them, and the people that I get to work with. If I can spend my entire career doing that, I consider myself a very lucky man.
I am so glad that I get to have relationships with companies like Blackfoot that have just truly enriched me. They have made business for me more fun. They have made business for me better. And they have just helped me grow both personally and professionally.
It has been a lot of fun so far in business, and I really look forward to continuing to do work with Blackfoot, continuing to do work within the state of Montana and all the communities around it. So, I think that's the thing that I care about more than anything.
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