Supplier Spotlight: Meet Carl Satterwhite, Business and Community Leader

The secret to growth: Becoming an essential business partner with valuable market insight

“Understand your value beyond the purchase order.” To Carl Satterwhite,  those seven words are the secret to differentiation in a world of increasingly commoditized offerings.  To be successful, Satterwhite contends, companies need to provide far more than just a good product.  They need to deliver exceptional service and innovative business solutions to win.  Satterwhite is President and Owner of RCF Group, a solutions-driven, comprehensive workplace solutions company based in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Louisville.  When he graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a certificate in Stationery Engineering, he had no idea that his ability to provide added value would enable him to become an essential business partner to some of the world’s largest and most respected brands.

Satterwhite started his career at the Kroger Corporation parking cars and later moved into facilities management at P&G. In 1999, he launched his own workplace solutions business. In 2002, P&G, his first client, threw out a challenge that would change the trajectory of his business career.  P&G had committed to becoming a part of the Billion Dollar Roundtable, a prestigious group of global companies dedicated to supporting diverse businesses.  To qualify for the Roundtable, they needed to maintain one billion dollars in annual spend with minority-owned and operated businesses.  Satterwhite was chosen to be their partner for the workplace solutions category.

The challenge: Finding the right partner to help accelerate massive growth

Satterwhite was thrilled, but had some work to do.  He was running a successful regional business with good partners, but to meet P&G’s challenge, he needed to build his scope and scale exponentially. Satterwhite volleyed the challenge to his vendor partners, and Scott Robertson of GBI (Global Business Interiors) caught the ball.  Together in 2003, they created River City Furniture (dba. RCFGroup) and have been servicing P&G and multiple Fortune 50 companies since.

How did he do it?  “When we started, we were one of the only diverse businesses that had a comprehensive solution to help companies design, furnish and manage their workspaces on a national basis.  We filled in the white space so that our clients only needed one source.  But, unique solutions don’t stay unique for long, and before we knew it, we were going up against large, well-funded competitors,” Satterwhite explained. “The only way to beat the big guys is to be more imaginative, smarter, and faster.   Any product can become a commodity overnight.  But creative thinkers and problem solvers who are experts in helping businesses operate, rise above the rest and become the go-to-partners.”

Staying ahead of client needs: Adding value with expert knowledge

It is no secret that 2020 accelerated the evolution of the workplace.  Due to COVID-19, millions of people were forced to work from home overnight.  Satterwhite and his team helped their clients move their employees home and build safe working environments.  “Over the years, we have gotten pretty good at designing workspaces that are comfortable and efficient.  Sitting on a bed with a laptop, a dog, and a five-year-old isn’t either one. During the pandemic, our clients leaned on us to help them design and deliver at-home workspace solutions to keep their employees healthy and productive.”   RCF Group worked around the clock to source and deliver solutions to meet their clients’ employees’ various needs.

According to Satterwhite, in a global marketplace delivering quality products and services is table stakes. “Your clients expect everyone to meet their standard.  Full stop. What they value is expertise in areas that are outside of their knowledge.  We provide workplace solutions for companies in a wide range of industries and geographies.  We know what works and what doesn’t.  Our ability to continually bring those best practices to our clients is what sets us apart.”

As we emerge from the pandemic, Satterwhite is now being tapped to help his clients reimagine the return. “We’re implementing hospitality models where employees make a reservation for their workspace for a specific period of time.  We’re also developing hoteling environments where employees can plug in for an hour for a meeting as needed.”

Embracing diversity as an asset: The benefits of looking and thinking differently

The workplace solutions market is relatively conventional.  “To this day, I don’t see a lot of people who look like me sitting across the table,” Satterwhite reflected.  “I recognize that my diverse certification helped me build my business.  It’s how we got that first huge opportunity with P&G. That said, sometimes people question the legitimacy of my business because I’m African American. Diversity forces me to always be better than the competition.”

Satterwhite’s company has grown to over 100 employees.  He is sought after as a thought leader and speaker in his industry, serves on numerous civic and community boards and recently launched the Black Leadership Forum to build a support system for African Americans who have relocated to Cincinnati. “Early on, I discovered my MORE.  It is the why behind the what I do every day.  I place a high premium on faith and community service, and that gives my life meaning.  I encourage my teams to find their MORE.  It doesn’t matter what color your skin is.  If you find your MORE, you have everything you need to live a successful and fulfilling life.”

To learn more about the benefits of Diverse Business Certification, check out Coupa’s Diversity Guide.