Garrigan's Office Plus is a third-generation
independent office products retailer that has not only survived
in an industry increasingly dominated by Goliath-like suppliers
but is thriving by offering products and service the mega
stores just can't offer.
Family-owned office dealers began to look
like candidates for a corporate endangered species list
as big box operators and industry consolidators swept through
a few years ago, said Simon De Groot, editorial director
of Office Dealer, a North Carolina-based industry magazine
aimed at independent dealers.
The magazine recently focused a cover story
on family-owned suppliers and the importance of supporting
local businesses. And De Groot noted that the independents
that survived the consolidation are stronger than ever and
getting a boost from the best market the industry has seen
During the past 10 years, 80 percent of
independent suppliers have gone out of business or been
purchased by larger chains, said Joe Garrigan, owner and
president of the Springfield-based company, which was founded
in 1939 by his grandfather, Al. The remaining suppliers
have turned to technology, customization and group buying
arrangements to differentiate themselves while keeping prices
down. Garrigan's still has a retail store stocked with pens
and office chairs, but the bulk of its 11,500-square-foot
space is devoted to a warehouse, and its online revenue
has grown to make up 40 percent of its business in just
At the same time, the independent suppliers
have banded together for grass-roots 'buy local' campaigns.
"We can compete," said Julie Garrigan,
Joe's wife and co-owner and business development manager
for the company. "We are thriving when it is so hideously
Garrigan's has the numbers to prove it:
sales have increased every month for the past 18, and sales
were up about 15 percent in May compared with this time
last year. The company posts more than $2 million in sales
annually, Joe Garrigan said, adding the company is aiming
to hit the $3.6 million mark within three years. And online
sales have gone from zero percent of the sales volume in
2003 to 40 percent and growing today.
A big part of Garrigan's success is the
cooperative the company had joined in the 1980s called ISgroup,
which is run out of Indianapolis and is now one of the most
extensive organizations of independent office suppliers
in the country. What started out as a group purchasing arrangement
that allowed small- and medium-sized retailers make large-scale
buys to get volume discounts has turned into a marketing
and technology supplier helping them compete against the
deeper pockets of bigger chains, Garrigan said.
"ISgroup has stepped up and said, if
you are going to survive this, you've got to have a good
e-commerce system, you've got to have the right kind of
marketing, you've got to be efficient," Garrigan said.
"Your infrastructure lets you work on a lower margin
than you did 20 years ago because the super stores aren't
going to let you charge that kind of price. So whoever is
alive today is learning that lesson."
ISgroup now has three distribution points
that take in deliveries from the Bics and Lexmarks of the
world and ship out to the suppliers daily. It also has a
full marketing staff in Indianapolis that put together the
catalogs used by the independent suppliers, cutting down
on design costs. And it maintains a slew of programmers
who update and run the e-commerce programs each supplier
uses to place its orders as well as the customizable Web
sites developed for each customer.
In Garrigan's case, about 300 customers
-- ranging from a two-man company to an employer of 1,500
-- actively use the customized e-commerce system it rolled
out three years ago.
"We have less employees than we did
10 years ago but we do twice as much business," Garrigan
said, noting the company currently employs 13 and hired
two this year. "We are using a tremendous amount of
technology. In the past a lot of our time was spent sitting
on the phone talking to our buyers and the actual companies
-- Smead, Bic -- to procure our products. But computers
allow us to do it electronically."
The e-commerce system allows Garrigans to
walk into a company, do an inventory of products and set
things up so that when John, an employee, logs into the
site, he can order new color cartridges by simply clicking
on "John's printer." Then the system can be set
to send the order to his boss for approval before it is
sent to Garrigans to be filled. That personal service is
what sets the company apart from the big boxes even though
they are what first trained customers to get used to Internet
shopping, Garrigan said.
And personalized service is something unique
to small, independent businesses, Garrigan said, adding
there are other benefits to shopping local. He cited a U.S.
Chamber of Commerce statistic that money spent in a community
will turn over locally an average of seven times: from the
store to the employee to the accountant to the lawyer to
the area non-profit.
Through an online forum and seminars, ISgroup
members are working together to create grass-roots campaigns
in their individual areas, most with good results, Garrigan
said. And other industry co-ops are also jumping on the
bandwagon as the movement gains traction, said Office Dealer's