Dillard Talley is running a business, he wants you to know. Just like any other business with a service to sell.
But sales volume and the bottom line aren't his only measure of success. It's a success for him when his workers quit and move on to other jobs.
Although Mr. Talley calls it "his company," it's really the subcontracting division of the Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens (BARC). And he is its sales and marketing director.
On any given day, at least 120 people work in BARC's low-slung, blue-and-gray cinder block building in the 4300 block of Old York Road. It's one of 11 centers in the area that make up BARC, a private organization that provides a variety of services to the mentally retarded.
The employees' wages are based on their productivity and the prevailing wage in the industry. The operation grossed around $500,000 last year, Mr. Talley says.
"This is basically a training workshop," says Mr. Talley, 34. "We teach job skills -- being to work on time, listening to supervision, taking direction, how to be independent. The ideal situation is for these people to go and work in the community just like you and I do with normal jobs."
But he doesn't ask for sympathy or charity when he goes out to sell their services -- which include labeling, mailing, packing and light assembly. In fact, he sometimes uses just the acronym BARC as the company name when he talks with potential customers and neglects to mention that his employees are different in any way.
"I want to bypass the conception that people have when they hear mental retardation," he says. "I go in there and say, 'I am a business.' Once we secure the contract and we do the work for them, and they come in and see that the people have mental retardation, if they want to feel good about that, that's fine.
"But I want them to approach me just like they would approach McCormick, Noxell or any other business. The other part is secondary. It's not relevant."
In a huge orange-and-yellow-painted room, workers are processing three orders. The strains of easy listening from WLIF-LITE 102 drift through the room as employees work in groups of six or seven around large, wood-topped tables.
On one side, they're folding a mailer for Center Stage. In the center of the room, they're adding four pages and a correction to a book from R. E. Michel Inc. On the other side, they're putting keys on key chains as part of a future sales promotion for Seagram. Next to each employee is a piece of paper to keep count of his work.
"Some of these people are very high-functioning," Mr. Talley says. "They can do some tasks better than you or I. We have some people out here that can do math probably better than you or I could ever dream of doing. It's just that they have a difficulty learning some things. But anything that's hand-labor intensive, we can do a better job."
Often the work they do can't be done on automated lines, either because the job is too specialized or the order is too small to be cost-effective for larger companies that do mass mailings.
Past and present customers -- now numbering more than 200 firms -- include the House of Seagram, McCormick, W. R. Grace, Durkee-French, Sheraton Inner Harbor, Maryland National Bank, the city government, Advocates for Children and Youth, and the U. S. Tag and Label Corp.
When Profiles Inc., the public relations company hired by Center Stage to do its current subscription campaign, needed a mailing house to fold and collate a complicated brochure, it turned to BARC.
"This folder for Center Stage is pretty unique. It folds five times and has two inserts. I got an estimate from a mailing house and an estimate from BARC, and the mailing house was four times the price," says Profiles president Amy Elias.
"This is a rush job," says Sharon Smith, one of the employees working on the Center Stage job.
"The most important thing about doing business with people is timeliness," Mr. Talley says. "If you can't get it out on time, you're no good to them."
Seagram is one of the largest customers, hiring BARC to assemble gift sets and other types of so-called "value-added packaging."
"I can't say enough about them," says Steve Gooding, administrative manager in purchasing and bottling services for the House of Seagram in White Plains, N.Y. "The quality and quantity of their work is excellent. We don't cut them any special breaks. They've done some extraordinary things for us in terms of making deadlines."
Mr. Talley came to BARC three years ago from Birmingham, Ala., where he worked for Pillsbury.