On April 1, 1965, Albert Sprenger and three partners opened a small employment agency in the Gardner Building downtown. “We just happened to pick that day, April Fool's Day,” said Mr. Sprenger, president of Imperial Placement Service, Inc., and Imperial Temporaries, sister agencies that are now on Central Avenue.
But the business climate was certainly no joking matter: Imperial faced stiff competition from more than 30 agencies active at the time. Within two years, his partners had moved on to other endeavors. And over the decades, nearly all of those mid-1960s competitors have closed, sold out, or blended into other organizations.
Imperial is among the few that survived. It has grown to 10 employees and annual revenues of about $3 million. The growth hasn't occurred in a straight line, but rather in fits and spurts, interrupted by several recessions in the last 36 years.
“We have always been able to survive,” said Mr. Sprenger. And in recent years, business has been good, he added. “I've been a little nervous because of what's happened to the stock market and the auto industry, but it looks like this will be a decent year.”
Imperial has been at 6800 W. Central for five years, a period when its business doubled, Mr. Sprenger noted. Mr. Sprenger attributed much of his agency's success to the longevity of some key employees. Four of his employees have a combined tenure of 90 years, including Polly Pomeranz, who joined Imperial a month after its formation 36 years ago. She is in charge of clerical and secretarial temporary services.
Pam Ricciardi, manager of human resources for Master Chemical Corp. in Perrysburg, said she has been a client of Imperial for nearly 25 years, “mostly because of Polly.” Ms. Ricciardi added: “She has an innate sense of what type of people we like to hire.”
Mr. Sprenger said his start in business was aided by the many relationships he developed while in school (Central Catholic High School and the University of Toledo) and the Ohio National Guard, and his early work experience. For a time in the early 1960s, he managed the downtown Sprenger's Men's Store - part of a local chain operated for decades by his father and grandfather - and he learned the employment business by working for another agency before starting his own.
He opened a temporary-help division in 1977, during an era when his firm had four offices around town. Five years later, he closed the division because of a nasty recession. However, another recession, about a decade ago, caused him to reconsider on the theory that as the recession ended companies would want to see if the upturn lasted before hiring permanent workers.
The move back into temporary help paid off. Mr. Sprenger's revenue quadrupled in the 1990s. Now, the firm has two temporary divisions - one handling legal, clerical, and secretarial placements, and the other dealing in assembly, factory, packaging, and warehousing jobs. It also has two permanent-placement division, one for office workers and one for manufacturing, engineering, trades, and sales positions.
Mr. Sprenger said his agencies work with 70 to 90 companies in northwest Ohio and parts of Michigan and Indiana.
Imperial uses computers, of course, but Mr. Sprenger said the firm avoids using the web for placement purposes. “The Internet is too impersonal,” he remarked. “We prefer to handle people on a personal level. We take the time to know the applicants, and we do the same for employers.”
Mr. Sprenger is 63, nearing what most people would consider “retirement age.” But, he said matter-of-factly, “I'm not going to retire.”
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