GWBJ write up – “Tackling the Paper Trail”

paper trail

Libby Lambeth’s growth strategy draws from the best of her company’s past practices, while pushing her family-owned enterprise firmly into the future.

Since taking the helm of Wilmington-based Tarheel Imaging & Microfilming Inc. four years ago, Lambeth has expanded its capabilities and market. Her success at doing so was illustrated recently when she landed a major contract with the N.C. Department of Labor to scan and index the state’s OSHA files.

“The bid was open due to the [Department of Labor’s] dissatisfaction with a previous vendor,” Lambeth said. “For years, we’ve focused on two things: unparalleled customer service and near-perfect accuracy when digitizing records. We’re proud that our strong track record won us this bid, and we plan to wow the state with the same practices that have impressed our corporate customers.”

Technology is, and has always been, the name of the game at Tarheel Imaging & Microfilming. When Lambeth’s late father, Clyde Green, established the company in the mid-1990s, its focus was on microfilming documents – largely medical records – for clients’ long-term storage.

Thanks to Green’s extensive contacts in the medical community and the growing demand for non-paper document storage, Tarheel Imaging was a success from the start.

Then, in 1996, Green suffered a fatal heart attack. His wife, Helen, who had worked alongside him, took over the business. Lambeth moved back to Wilmington from Greensboro, where she was an exercise physiologist, to help out.

“I’d been around the business, but didn’t have a good idea of how it operated. So at first, I just took over the training responsibilities,” Lambeth said. “As time went on, the majority of the microfilming processing and duplicating fell on my shoulders as well as all the quality control. But my mom was first in command.”

That changed a few years ago, when Helen Green decided to step down and prepared Lambeth to replace her. Lambeth remembers feeling very excited – but daunted – as she took the reins.

While Green had run the business capably and profitably, she had resisted making some technological changes that Lambeth saw as necessary to keep Tarheel Imaging competitive in the document management industry.

“She didn’t want to let go of her way of doing things, which was microfilming,” Lambeth said. “She also wasn’t comfortable sending data by computer. But I knew that we had to go into scanning and greater use of computers if we wanted to stay in business. We had a base of loyal customers, which we wanted to retain, but I wanted also to move into new markets, both locally and nationally.”

Rather than rush into revamping, Lambeth made no changes for more than a month after taking over. “I had a fear of not being successful if I did things differently, and that the business would close on my watch, the business for which my parents sacrificed so much,” she said.
Once she got her footing, Lambeth spent about three months researching digital document management and talking with existing customers about what kinds of services they wanted and why.

“There are about 1,001 directions you can take with digital,” she said.

As she built Tarheel Imaging’s capabilities, Lambeth contracted for a website.

“Our business was pretty much word of mouth with a high percentage coming from the medical industry, which provided us with a consistent volume of work,” she said. “But I felt the website would be our best option of expanding, and it has really, really helped.”

As most of Tarheel Imaging’s microfilm customers have converted to digital records and as the company has garnered new customers, Lambeth has continued to invest in scanning equipment. She says the investment has totaled “tens of thousands” of dollars over the past four years.

Purchase of Simple Index software has transformed Tarheel Imaging’s indexing method from handwritten logs or Excel spreadsheets to sophisticated catalogs of electronic document files.

“Simple Index has completely turned that part of my business around,” Lambeth said, adding that her tech expert, Chris Nienow of Port City Computers, helps tailor the index format to the specifications of each project.

“It’s exciting to see a local company on the forefront of scanning – to see these changes take place at Tarheel Imaging and to see such an industry grow here in Wilmington,” Nienow said.

Tarheel Imaging runs two shifts and employs 15 people. They remove paper documents from endless boxes of files, like those from the NCDOL. The documents are prepped and then fed into the scanner.

Following each customer’s specifications, two workers with incredible tolerance for detail and routine create an index.

The digital files are given to customers on disk or USB flash drives, or are downloaded at the customer’s site from an external hard drive. Nienow brings his expertise to this operation as well and has been especially involved with the labor department project because of the project’s sheer size and the need to ensure the data loads correctly into the department’s complex system.

“Chris went with me when we downloaded the first batch of data at the Department of Labor,” Lambeth said. “Usually, when I download the first scanned documents for any project, we use GoToMeeting [web conferencing] so he’s present remotely and ensures that the customer’s computer is programmed for what it’s doing,” Lambeth said.

Tarheel Imaging keeps a copy of the electronic files and stores the paper documents until the customer confirms that the electronic files are complete and correct. With this confirmation, staffers shred the paper documents.

Lambeth, who sought a green disposal method, now trucks the bagged shreds to a paper recycler.

“Even as we evolve, our business is still personal,” she said. “I’m continuing what my parents did.”