VOL. 6 | NO. 44 | Saturday, October 26, 2013
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
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Yuletide Office Solutions Adapts to Changing Industry
RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News
Paperless office. It’s a phrase to strike fear in the heart of any office supply provider.
“I used to sell ‘While You Were Out’ pads in the two-part books every day,” said Chris Miller, president of Yuletide Office Solutions. “I might sell a dozen ‘While You Were Out’ pads once every three months now.”
Despite this environmental shift, Miller has risen to the challenges and changes in his business to embrace it as opportunity. For instance, what he doesn’t sell in note pads and printer paper now, he more than makes up for in office furniture.
Chris Miller, president of Yuletide Office Solutions, said the company has evolved over the years as businesses’ office needs have changed.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
Though furniture long has been available in the company’s catalog, the focus switched to full-service design in 2012 when Yuletide’s new showroom was opened on Sycamore View Road at Interstate 40. Two designers were hired to keep up with increasing demand, and the team works from the beginning to the end of projects with clients and architects to provide layouts for existing space and new construction. Because of such attention to detail and their longevity in the business, Miller said, “We were up 55 percent last year in our furniture segment.”
Yuletide was begun in 1972 by Miller’s father, Paul Miller, whose family has owned Miller Wood Trade Publications, a niche publisher for the forest products industry, since 1927. The elder Miller, says the younger, began the office supply company to “teach all of his sons a sales background so that they could go into his publishing businesses, and then he was going to close it.”
Miller began work at 16 and began running the supply venture in 1985 at the age of 28. His first order of business was to join a national buying group, which allowed him to buy more inventory direct from the manufacturer at lower prices, and pass those savings along to his customers. Yuletide now has 34 employees and a client list that includes notable local entities such as Duncan-Williams Inc., Vining Sparks IBG, Delta Medical Center, Porter-Leath and the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority.
In addition to the paperless paradigm, other hurdles to present themselves have included the rise of online shopping and the big box, retail office supply chains; the recession, when companies were understandably cinching their belts; and changes in the nation’s health care system requiring a patient’s information to be transferred from the traditional manila file folder and 20-pound paper stock to an iPad or laptop.
Yuletide felt the recession’s effects in 2009, but managed to mitigate the damage to a low 3 percent drop in revenue. Miller and his team were proactive, going to their customers with options and asking them to make changes in the ways they bought.
“That created more loyalty and, to be honest with you, those people gave us more opportunities when we went to them like that,” Miller said. “We educated our customers because that’s the best way that you can work on that partnership; it is a partnership, no matter what.”
Another way that revenue has been boosted in the last decade was by offering janitorial supplies, allowing Yuletide to supply a full range of products to customers.
“We keep adding things to our segments to help our customers where they’re not having to shop all over the place,” Miller said.
As for competing with Internet sales, Yuletide has embraced the technology instead of fight it and, though the bulk of the business is regional, they have 19 distribution points throughout the country and can drop ship anywhere from the East to West coasts.
Through the ups and downs, Yuletide has weathered all storms and created more of a partnership with clients than a traditional buyer-seller relationship. Miller understands and embraces the impact of community on his business and vice versa, and there is a philosophy of giving back within the office. Miller sits on the board of Memphis Botanic Garden and the company has worked closely with the Greater Memphis Chamber, the Memphis Food Bank and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“We’re involved in Memphis and we all want Memphis to be a better city, so we’re invested in our city,” Miller said. It’s a lesson he learned from his grandmother and infuses into his business: “You give back to those who give to you.”
More than 40 years ago, Miller’s father toyed with the idea of “what makes people happy and what will they remember,” his son said.
The answer was simple – Christmas – and it informed the name of the business. With every package wrapped in holiday paper, it became more than a product, but something that “puts a smile on their faces.”
These days the supplies may be delivered in standard boxed packaging, but Yuletide customers will still find family-friendly service and a candy cane within each order.