Those arriving at Springfield Paper Co. might be surprised to see a large portion of its office floor space filled with cleaning equipment for sale.
But the presence of floor burnishers and scrubbers speaks to the diversity of products offered by the family-owned company founded in 1906. This is not Dunder Mifflin, the fictional paper company in the NBC comedy, “The Office.”
Springfield Paper Co.’s inventory comprises more than 2,500 products – many of them not paper-based – in the 45,000-square-foot building at 412 N. National Ave.
That’s not to say Springfield Paper Co. doesn’t sell paper. It is in the name, after all.
“It’s not a big moneymaker, but we do sell a lot of it,” General Manager Kevin Smith says of the company’s paper products, which represent about $500,000 in sales annually.
Copy paper sales make up about 20% of its revenue.
With other products for sale including janitorial supplies, cleaning equipment, food service items, office supplies and eco-friendly products, Smith says 2018 revenue reached $4 million.
Sales have been growing 3-5% a year over the last decade, he adds. An active sales staff that has completely changed over since he came on board in 2009 has fueled part of that growth.
“It’s always been a good company, very ethical company. But we just got some new blood in here,” he says, citing a significant number of retirements.
Harry S. Jewell founded the company 113 years ago, succeeded by son-in-law Thomas Duvall nearly 40 years later. In the late 1950s, Duvall’s son-in-law Keith Wells took over ownership and held it until he died in 2002. Son Thomas Wells and daughter Marty Wells Hornbuckle co-owned the business following their father’s death. Thomas Wells operated as company president for the next 16 years, before dying at 65 following a short illness in December 2018.
Hornbuckle, who worked for 35 years as a dental hygienist before retiring, was recently named company president, succeeding her brother. She’s involved in any big business decisions, but says she leaves the daily operations for Smith, who also serves as vice president.
“We continue growing just as usual and moving forward,” says Hornbuckle, who’s now 100% owner.
The company was initially named Springfield Paper Supply Co. in 1906 but changed to its current moniker in 1919.
The addition of products beyond paper started around the time the company moved to its current home in the mid-1950s. There are two warehouses on the property – the second of which was added in 1957, Smith says.
Roughly 30% of sales come from janitorial supplies, Smith estimates, followed by 20% for meat processing supplies, 15% for custom printed products, such as fountain drink cups and merchandise bags, and 15% for packing and shipping supplies.
Some of those food service supplies are eco-friendly, he says. The addition of compostable and biodegradable materials that break down in landfills in a matter of weeks is in response to the desires of hospital and school clients.
“They want stuff that’s a little more friendly to the environment,” he says.
Company clients are in banking, K-12 and higher education, grocery and restaurants. Smith says Great Southern Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GSBC), Missouri State University, Aviary Cafe and Creperie LLC, and Harter House are among its local clientele.
While Springfield Paper Co. delivers about 180 miles around Springfield and ships to customers nationwide, Smith says copy paper to schools is on the decrease. Part of the reason is schools just don’t print as much paper anymore with the increased usage of computers and tablets.
In addition, Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific LLC announced earlier this year it was exiting the communications paper business, which Smith says has driven up copy paper prices. He says schools in the past might have purchased a truckload of copy paper over a year’s time, but now are cutting back by about half.
“Our costs for schools went from $22 a case to $32 a case, which is a huge increase – especially when they’re buying truckloads,” he says, noting a case of paper is the equivalent of 10 reams, or 5,000 sheets.
That’s one reason why having a diverse product line is advantageous, Smith adds.
“Our largest customer category right now is the building service contractors – people that go in and clean offices and buildings,” he says of the purchases of chemicals, towels, tissues, mops and cleaning machines.
Around eight years ago, the company began delving more into e-commerce, selling its products online for the first time.
“It’s an e-commerce site where anybody can get on there now and put in their credit card. But it’s mainly for people who are established customers,” Smith says.
As many as 40% of its more than 2,000 customers currently place orders through the website.
Ozark-based Scrivener Oil Co. Inc., the parent company of Signal Food Stores, buys its cleaning supplies, paper products and fountain drink cups exclusively from Springfield Paper Co.
“We’ve done business with them 30-plus years and buy from them every other week,” says Lisa Cobb, a Scrivener Oil Co. analyst who orders the supplies for the Signal stores.
She says the company averages $8,000-$9,000 per order. Trash bags, straws and windshield towels are among the items ordered most frequently. All products are delivered by Springfield Paper Co. to Signal’s 11 convenience stores in the Springfield area.
“It’s a big time saver for me,” Cobb says of Springfield Paper’s online ordering. “You don’t have to speak to someone and give them your order over the phone.”
New technologies have streamlined operation, Smith says, allowing the company to operate efficiently with just 12 employees. Three more eventually will be added to the staff, he says, but it’ll remain shy of its peak of two dozen in the 1970s.
Smith says offering customers additional ordering options is evidence the century-old business has an eye firmly on the future.
“Tom left us in a good position, and Marty’s on board now. We’re good for another 113 years,” he says with a laugh.
Interpres Building Solutions LLC gave former Springfield Fire Station No. 6 new life; Crave Cookie Dough added a south-side store; and Kansas-based Artistic Works by Lu LLC opened a brick-and-mortar shop.
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