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Office market surges.

THE TWO LARGEST OFFICE products companies both got larger during the past year, based on the total number of people they employ.

Today's Office Inc. added a 7,000-SF retail showroom called Today's Office Furniture USA, a franchise of Office Furniture USA Inc. of Memphis, Tenn.

The retail division complemented the company's existing divisions: contract sales, used furniture and business services.

The company is locally owned by Larry Walker and Marvin Moles and has 75 employees.

Walker says the USA division sells "middle-market products" at half off manufacturer's list price.

Copy Systems Inc. of Little Rock -- with locations in Fayetteville, Batesville, Jonesboro, Springdale, Bentonville and the Copier Exchange in Little Rock -- has increased its employees from 54 to 75 over the past year.

John Frederick, one of the owners of the fast-growing company, attributes Copy Systems' growth to a customer-driven philosophy.

Although many in the office products business says the $161.5 million central Arkansas market is very competitive, the largest companies appear to be holding steady or thriving, based on a comparison of the number of employees in 1992.

One exception is Stuart's Inc. in El Dorado, which eliminated its satellite stores in Magnolia and Monticello in an effort to trim overhead. Company sales representatives stayed in those areas, however, and the company's software division, Stuart's Software Inc., remains in Alexandria, La.

Judging from the number of office products companies in the central Arkansas market, Walker of Today's Office says there must be enough business for everyone.

"Competitors seem to stay around," he notes.

In the future, he says, the office products business will require companies to grow or consolidate.

"I don't think there will be more players," Walker says. "I think there will be fewer players, but the players that survive will be larger in size. There is a sifting of the sand going on and you can see it everywhere, not just in our industry. There is a consolidation going on."

One example of that trend would be B.T. Buschart Office Products in Little Rock. Owner Lonnie Patterson sold the company, formerly known as Downtown Office Supply, in mid-1991 to Buschart Office Products Inc. of St. Louis. B.T. Buschart also has locations in Fort Smith and Springdale.

Room for Everyone

Large chain-operated stores have entered the Little Rock-North Little Rock market over the past few years, representing another facet of the market.

Office Depot, a chain based in Boca Raton, Fla., opened a location in west Little Rock in 1991. The area has been a good fit, according to the store's merchandise manager, Chris Sander.

Sander says Little Rock has been so good to Office Depot that the chain is expanding into North Little Rock in September. Fort Smith may be next.

Another giant chain, Office Max, based in Shaker Heights, Ohio, has a location on Asher Avenue in Little Rock. It has no immediate expansion plans but is said to be looking at North Little Rock or west Little Rock for future stores.

Independent, locally owned companies say their business continues to grow in spite of the large chains. Some might say it's because of the large chains.

Owners and managers of those businesses say service and cultivating customer relations are their best weapons.

"People still want service -- that's what we sell," says Lynn Pettus, owner of Pettus Office City, which has expanded in the past couple of years from four to 12 employees and from a 2,000-SF space to a 10,000-SF warehouse. "We are competitive in price, but people still want to be able to pick up the phone and take care of something."

Management at LaHarpe's Office Furniture agrees. Founded by Russ Matchett, the company has been in business 30 years.

Though Matchett says he doesn't completely understand the phenomenon, he says increased competition has helped his business grow each year in profitability.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Arkansas
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:May 17, 1993
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