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The Office Place focuses on customer satisfaction

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

In 1975 Jerry Henderson opened his office supply business at the corner of Glenstone and Bennett. Henderson, who grew up in Marshfield, moved to Springfield with his wife Karen in 1967.

He had worked for Inland Printing Company, learning the ins and outs of the trade, and decided to make it his career even before he graduated from Drury with a degree in business administration. Henderson also holds a degree in business from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.

Henderson leased the 4,500- square-foot building in southeast Springfield for a number of years before buying it. The location has been a great asset, he said, as it's easy to find and centrally located.

The Office Place maintains stock of a variety of office supplies and equipment, including the latest styles in office furnishings and interior dividers. They can also special order a number of items through distributors.

Although Henderson works in all aspects of his business, he usually spends about 50 percent to 75 percent of his time helping companies set up new office space or remodel existing interiors.

He built the business over the years by calling on local and regional companies and developing repeat business through personal service, he said.

A number of local companies both large and small depend on his expertise, and a large segment of his business comes from repeat customers and referrals.

"I've learned over the years to listen to the customer," Henderson said.

Once he has a clear picture of their needs and their budget constraints, he said, he helps them decide what they want and gives them options.

Price is usually the prime factor. Most companies have budget guidelines. Available space is the second most important factor, he added.

"The key is to find out what their vision is and satisfy it," Henderson said.

Henderson said he is not troubled by the trend toward large franchise suppliers, which hit the local scene in the late 1970s. Competition makes one look at how one does business and find ways to become more efficient, he said.

There are two main factors that keep people coming back to independent suppliers, according to Henderson. The service that companies receive from independent suppliers cannot be matched by the large retailers. And the price on some discount furniture may prove to be less of a bargain if the product doesn't hold up, he said.

Henderson said that delivery service makes it convenient for companies to order supplies by phone or fax, or give him a list when he calls on the customer. Many businesses do not have time to send someone out for supplies during the busy workday, he added.

Henderson said he prides himself on handling only quality merchandise. He wants to provide furniture and accessories that will hold up with time.

Most dealers stay competitive in today's market by taking advantage of factory discounts and quantity purchases. These factors help keep the smaller companies in line with major suppliers without sacrificing quality.

The Office Place routinely services businesses within a 50-mile radius of Springfield, including Bolivar, Monett, Branson and Mountain Grove.

Although Henderson sells faxes, calculators and other small equipment, he has shied away from stocking computers.

"I knew they would be big business a number of years ago," he said, "but when I looked at the parts and accessories and technicians needed to service the units, it lost the appeal. Like copiers, that segment of the business should be left to the specialists."

The nine employees at The Office Place are long-term, dedicated workers, Henderson said. The group includes Henderson and his daughter, Nichole, who has worked in the company since she was in high school.

The company maintains a 5,000-square-foot warehouse apart from the store where extra furniture and supplies are stored. The company's delivery trucks run daily in and around Springfield.

Henderson said he still makes regular cold calls on new businesses or expanding companies, along with his regular customer base, to whom he makes regular visits.

The office supply business is a people business more than a commodity business, according to Henderson, and this is the part he loves the best. He will not hesitate to refer a customer to a competitor if they need something immediately that he doesn't have on hand, he said. Likewise, he has had other companies send people to him.

"Relationships with people is one of the keys to success. I like to treat people the way I want to be treated," he said.

The Office Place puts out catalogs and a number of supplemental flyers throughout the year, which Henderson mails or hand delivers to area companies.

Customers can take advantage of factory savings on many items listed and have the convenience of delivery at no extra cost.

Henderson goes to a number of trade shows each year to meet factory representatives and stay informed about new products and distributors in the changing market.

He is a member of the Optimist Club and has held several offices with that organization over the years.

PHOTO CAPTION:

After 28 years in business, Jerry Henderson still calls on his customers personally. Henderson decided to open his own office supply business after working for Inland Printing Company.[[In-content Ad]]

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