In true Harper fashion, the story of The Richland Group starts with a river. After returning from a white water rafting trip in 1996, Mark Harper was looking for a way to share photos from the trip with his friends (yes, this was before Facebook). He had recently learned to code HTML when he created KTCS.com for KTCS 99.9 where he worked as Operations Manager. He put together a small web page of photos from the trip, not thinking much of it. The trip outfitter ended up finding the site and liked what he saw. He called Mark and offered him a free rafting trip in exchange for designing a website for his business. This was the first website Mark Harper ever sold.
It became clear to Mark this could be the start of a new venture. He left the radio station and moved into his home office where his wife, Cheslea Harper, was working as the Underwriting Coordinator for the NPR affiliate, KUAF 91.3. With code book in hand and long distance dial up Internet at his disposal, Mark started designing websites. The Richland Group began.
In the early days, Mark was a one-man operation. He did all coding, design, content writing and everything in between. As business grew, Cheslea joined him and they began to leverage the freelance market, working with designers and developers across the country. Eventually, Mark and Cheslea realized their need for permanent staff and took the next step in forming a space for creative minds. In 2008, The Richland Group moved into an 862,109 sq. ft. building (Central Mall of Fort Smith) of which it occupied 250 sq. ft.
While at the mall, the Harper’s small, single office expanded to two, then three as business grew and the RG team expanded. However, Mark and Cheslea felt having multiple offices didn’t reflect the team dynamic with which they approached their work. Five years and 5,000 trips to the food court later, The Richland Group moved to their own office space. Since the move, business has continued to grow. What started as a team of one is now a team of seven supporting over 300 websites in 21 different states. And to think it all started with a white water rafting trip.