While the landscape of the office supply industry has changed over the past three decades with big-box stores and online shopping, The Officer Center Inc. has adapted through all of the challenges.
The business, located at 105 South Broadway St. in Seymour, conducted a 35-year celebration Nov. 13 with an open house.
“It takes a while to build a business,” The Office Center Inc. co-owner Bob Bowman said. “People already have places where they get their things from and that they’re loyal to. You have to prove that you will be there for them. It takes a while to win people’s confidence and so on. I feel fortunate about that.”
Bob and Susan Bowman teamed up with some friends to get the idea off the ground.
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“We owned the cinema here in town, and one of our partners, I bought him out whenever we started, and he owned Seymour Office Supply,” Bob said. “I used to do business at their supply center. One day, I went in there to get a three-ring binder, and they had a nice display, but there weren’t any binders on it.”
At that moment in the store, Bowman knew he wanted to start a new business.
“I went to another one of our partners, Herb Jenkinson, at Seymour Glass, and I said that I know a business we should get into,” Bob said.”We offered to buy (Seymour Office Supply) out, and he said he wasn’t ready to sell. We went into it anyway. Twelve years ago, we ended up buying it out after a couple different owners.”
The Bowmans, Herb and Rosemary Jenkinson and Jerry and Dianne Cartmel opened the business together and knew exactly where to put it.
The Jenkinsons owned Seymour Glass, which is the former location of where The Office Center Inc. stands.
Bowman said the addition of Karen Koester in 1993 took the business to another level.
“It probably starting taking off when Karen Koester got involved,” he said. “She really helped build the business up. We started selling a lot more furniture, cubicles and things like that.”
Koester and her husband, Greg, bought into the business in 1999, and the Cartmels and Jenkinsons left soon after.
In the 1990s, the business directly competed with Staples, which was located in the 1700 block of East Tipton Street, where Aldi currently operates.
“In the ’90s, there was a lot of consolidation in the office supply industry,” Koester said. “A lot of the independent dealers were getting bought up, but we survived through it all. It was some hard years.”
The Office Center Inc. is a part of a buying group, and Koester credits that for a lot of the successes.
“We are part of a buying group, along with 900 others throughout the United States and Canada,” she said. “We can buy direct, and through the buying group, we have access to hundreds of direct vendors that allow us to be competitive in the marketplace.”
Bomwan said the biggest challenge these days is online retail.
“Now, you have to deal with online with Staples and Home Depot and places like that,” he said. “When we had a Staples in town, people asked if it hurt our business. I said, ‘Not really.’ Most of the time, we would beat their price. In printing, they would go there, then come here once we started printing. We got a machine similar to their printing and picked up a lot of business that way. It has changed over time with different competition. You need to keep on top of things.”
While the business offers a variety of services, Koester believes the customer service is what keeps people coming back.
She said the business has a customer list of 700, which includes customers inside and outside Seymour.
“When you call, you get the same person on the phone,” Koester said. “We know exactly what they need on file. We have free delivery, so that’s a big sell, whether it’s five or 500. You can sit on your desk and order like it’s a big box, but you’re still ordering form us. People love the personal service we provide. My newest employee has been here seven years. We have low employee turnover, and we take care of our customers.”
There are three full-time and eight part-time employees at the business.
The Office Center Inc. is a certified woman-owned business with Susan Bowman and Karen Koester owning a majority of the shares.
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