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The Office Place: 1988 revenues: $20.9 million; employees: 190; rank: 37.

IT'S NOT UNCOMMON FOR AN Alaskan enterprise to be snatched up by an Outside firm, which uses the business as a stepping stone to the 49th state. But it is out of the ordinary for said business to ricochet back to Alaskan ownership. A group of Anchorage investors acquired select assets, redesigned the operating and management structure, revamped marketing plans and began afresh to build an Anchorage based office supply business.

The Office Place, only a year old under its new management, employs 190 people statewide. One hundred percent Alaskan owned, the enterprise reports 1988 revenues were $21 million, placing The Office Place not only among the New Forty-Niners but also in the top 4 percent of the office supply industry nationwide.

The firm has 3,500 active accounts and an annual payroll of more than $6 million. Last year, it sold 120 million sheets of copy paper - a stack of paper twice as high as Mount McKinley.

Five years ago, Yukon Office Supply, an Alaskan corporation formed in 1951 that had grown to include stores in Washington and Hawaii, was bought by a national chain. The large conglomerate, known as NBI-believed to stand for "nothing but initials" acquired numerous office supply stores in the western United States.

The firm operated stores in Colorado, California, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska under the name NBI's The Office Place. Competing in a business that's dominated by local and regional company's, NBI of Boulder, Colo., found it could not turn a profit with its Alaska subsidiary. In June of 1988, NBI sold a substantial portion of its Alaska inventories for $6.5 million to a group of 16 Alaskans, several of whom were managers in the business. Then, the Alaskans did what NBI could not: They turned a profit. Despite the sluggish economy during its first year of operation, The Office Place generated a five percent increase in sales.

NBI's Southeast outlets were sold separately. The stores in Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka have resumed using the name Yukon Office Supply, although ownership is different from the former firm. Another operation in Kodiak also was sold separately.

Today, The Office Place has five outlets: two in Anchorage and one each in Fairbanks, Kenai and Soldotna. The company, which uses the slogan "Your Business Express," markets business furniture, office supplies and business machinery. Its largest facility, in Anchorage, is more than 100,000 square feet, half of which is warehouse.

The Office Place operates a sophisticated computer network that links all retail stores to the main office in Anchorage. Data transmissions allow the company's midnight-to-dawn shift to have orders delivered within 24 hours. Added benefits have been the elimination of local warehouse facilities and more efficient use of inventory.

"There has been quite a change in our industry over the last decade," says Robert Ballow, president and chief executive officer of The Office Place. "The office supply business can be a mom-and-pop operation. But with the large retail companies like K-Mart, CostCo and others selling office supplies, there has been a shift in the business' emphasis. Service is becoming more important, particularly in terms of product selection and free delivery."

Another shift in the industry, Ballow says, is more sophisticated tools demanded by business. Among the new technologies: fax, electronic communications, memory typewriters and faster copiers.

The business also has changed due to an increase in the number of small businesses, and The Office Place is serving a growing number of home offices. "There has been slower growth in general office supply business and a corresponding increase in home office service and supply," Ballow notes.

One reason for the company's success: The Office Place is sensitive to the most basic of business needs machines that work, It employs 35 business machine technicians statewide, 24 of them in Anchorage. Ballow boasts that the company stocks more than 32,000 parts. "Service is important in Alaska, and The Office Place understands that a broken machine keeps a business from being as profitable as it could be each hour the machine is down," he says.

Training is another priority at the office supply firm. According to Ballow, 45 employees went to Outside training courses in the company's first year. The Office Place also sponsored an Anchorage training seminar that focused on sales skills in the office supply industry.

Not content to wait for business to come to its doors, The Office Place publishes its own catalog. This year's catalog offers more than 6,000 products. According to Muriel Taylor, vice president of finance for the firm, the volume of combined local and Bush mail deliveries from Anchorage positions The Office Place among the top 10 postal customers in Anchorage.

In its contract furniture division, the company installed a computer-assisted design (CAD) program. The only program of its kind in the state operated by an office supply firm, it assists businesses in choosing and placing furniture. The computer software helps customers select office furniture that fills both size and quantity requirements. Using office floor plans, immovable features such as electrical outlets and doors can be accommodated. Because customers can move the furniture around and simulate layout, they won't go home with a desk two inches bigger than the room.

Says Ballow, "Our salespeople like CAD because it can make changes easily if the customer changes his mind; the customer likes it because he gets exactly what he wants. That's the way we like doing business: providing a service that

helps businesses stay in business."
COPYRIGHT 1989 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
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Title Annotation:The New Forty-Niners
Author:Levi, Steve
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:company profile
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Previous Article:South Coast Inc.: 1988 revenue: $26.2 million; employees: 150; rank: 33.
Next Article:Earthquakes and other economy shakers.

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