Guy Richards, sitting next to several of his Davey Awards, is the CEO of Linwood-based Abiah, a marketing firm that follows Christian principles. Danny Drake

Guy Richards is in the business of rebranding businesses.

He uses the power of marketing, social networking and an image overhaul to help other companies grow their audience and distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace.

"They'll say to me, ‘We're in a last-resort effort,'" Richards said recently from his sleekly designed Linwood office featuring a black marble conference table and a wall that reads, "Affecting millions to develop billions."

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That moment of last resort isn't lost on Richards. The 31-year-old CEO began as a designer and entrepreneur of clothing. But when his million-dollar dreams were dashed, he used what he learned and opened a one-man marketing firm six years ago called Abiah. The name is found in the Bible, meaning "God is my father" in Hebrew.

Richards is guided by his faith and works with many Christian businesses and organizations, which is a rarity for a marketing firm based in New Jersey, he said.

But whether his clients are Christian or not doesn't change his goal of helping them realize their potential.

Take, for instance, Atlantic Medical Imaging, or AMI, which has offices in Atlantic and Cape May counties and offers MRIs, CT scans and other diagnostic imaging services. Richards said he was hired to help AMI rebrand its first office in Monmouth County. (The offices in its core market were not rebranded.)

He began working on a strategy for the Manasquan office, including redesigning its logo, business cards, pamphlets and website. It was given a new tag line: "Accurate answers. Fast." And to top it off, the livery fleet was wrapped in AMI's new eye-catching design.

In the end, the makeover came out under budget and helped the company refresh its look in the community, Richards said.

The effort was included on this year's Top 100 list put out by ReBrand, an online forum studying international rebranding efforts. That same list included Walmart, which created its "Save money. Live better" campaign, and Delta Air Lines, which got a face lift after its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2007.

Richards' previous efforts have also been recognized by ReBrand, including his work three years ago with Manna restaurant on Ventnor Avenue in Margate.

"He didn't just rebrand us, he really branded us altogether," said Manna owner and chef John Merlino. "He started us out with a look that people were really drawn to."

The idea of rebranding is a lesson that Richards, of Egg Harbor Township, experienced personally. He spent his youth dealing drugs, figuring out that he could sell $5 bags of crack for $20 and pocket the difference, he said. He attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia and found a niche creating clothing. He'd go to clubs and sell shirts and hats with his company's name, Enve. A band wore his clothing on MTV and he thought he was going to be a millionaire.

"At the end of the day, I'm a slug. I'm a street hustler," Richards said. "But when I gave my life to Jesus, I became successful."

That was 10 years ago, after his brother sold drugs to an undercover police officer and Richards said he went to church feeling a sense of guilt. The experience changed him. He went back to school, got a marketing job and got married.

But if he was going to work in an office, it was going to be his own. He opened Abiah in a Linwood office park, sharing a suite with Michael Shumski, a family friend and certified public accountant.

Richards does much of his work via teleconferencing with other firms that help him with websites, copyright and design tasks, he said.

In August, he will release a book called, "Talkable: Building your brand from the inside out."

He makes a name for his own business by attending conferences and asking visitors to his booth to finish the sentence, "My dream is ...." When Richards gets home, he sends each person back a Starbucks gift card.

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