NARS founder got his start in Cape

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Chris Buehrle is president and founder of an international company that has more than 1,000 employees. He has call centers in St. Louis, Jamaica and Panama. His client list includes more than 25 Fortune 500 companies.

But Buehrle got his start right here, born 39 years ago at Southeast Missouri Hospital and attended St. Mary School.

"I travel all over the world, but when people ask me where I'm from, the first thing I say is Cape Girardeau, Mo.," Buehrle told me in a recent interview.

So he was especially proud when he announced that he was opening his fourth call center in his home-town, one that will eventually employ more than 400 workers and hopefully spur more interest in mid-town near the call center, to be located in the old Sears building on William Street.

"It was very sentimental," he said of his decision. "My values, my work ethic, came from Cape Girardeau. I'm very happy to be here."

Buehrle's roots here are deep. His grandparents, Bob and Bernice Buehrle, raised 12 children here on Cousin Street. Buehrle's father, Bob, was the oldest of those 12. Buehrle's parents, Bob and Sharon, lived here.

Bob Buehrle worked for Wetterau in Scott City. Chris Buehrle's dad moved around a bit for the job, going to Kentucky and Pennsylvania. But he moved back to Cape Girardeau and Chris lived here through the seventh grade until his father's job took the family to St. Louis.

But his memories of his home town are special to him. And his uncle and aunt still live here. At the news announcement that the company was coming here, they were in the audience.

"We're ecstatic about this," Chris' uncle, Tony Buehrle said. "NARS is really a family-oriented company. Chris is very humble, but very outgoing. He's very compassionate."

Tony Buehrle has examples: When a hurricane ripped through Jamaica near one of the NARS call centers, NARS paid to re-roof a school.

"He's an open-hearted kind of person," Tony Buehrle said.

During the interview with me, Chris Buehrle also shared some insights into his business. For example, the reason he found the old Sears building so appealing is that it's one level, large and comes with a lot of parking for the employees. (The call center in Panama is also a former Sears building.)

And when the business had grown such that he wanted another domestic call center, he thought first of Cape Girardeau. Not only was it his home-town, it's close to the St. Louis headquarters and it's a college town, which is a large supplier of employees.

"It made a lot of sense," Buehrle said.

It has been reported (by me in the newspaper and others) that NARS is largely an in-bound call center. That's not always true, Buehrle said.

It's a combination of in-bound calls and outbound calls, he said. For their clients, NARS does debt collection, customer service, takes orders, or makes reminders to client customers to make payments, Buehrle said. But he stressed that NARS does not do telemarketing.

"We're a true call center," he said. "Whether they're making more calls or having calls made to us changes monthly."

The Cape Girardeau call center will employ 150 employees at first, but he hopes the "ramp up" to about 400 can happen in 12 to 18 months.

"We have a great team of people and well-respected clients," he said. "As business grows, so will we."

Scott Moyers is editor of Business Today.

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