Hoffman Office Supply: Main Street, not Wall Street

Sourced from Dubois County Free Press

A page from a 1999 calendar hangs on a metal file cabinet in Mike Hoffman’s office.

The month is September and a faded red circle is drawn around the 25th.

That’s the day Staples held its grand opening on Jasper’s north side.

“There was some trepidation,” Mike said. “I knew we were going to take a hit, but we said we were going to keep focusing on what we were doing all along.”

That focus on customer relations has worked. Staples recently announced it would be closing on September 9, just 16 days shy of its 18th year. But in Jasper, Hoffman Office Supply is still going strong.

Started by Mike’s father, Bernie Hoffman, in 1970, the company was an expansion from Hoosier Business Machines. While HBM concentrated on business machinery like cash registers, the expansion allowed Hoffman to display locally produced office furniture as well as sell office supplies.

About a year later, Bernie sold Hoosier Business Machines to long-time employee Lee “Toot” Horney and began to focus solely on the office supply company.

Mike came aboard in 1977. Two years later Bernie died from a heart attack leaving his son to run the business. “It more or less fell on my lap,” Mike explained. “But you have to make do.”

The business continued to grow under Mike and his wife Cheryl’s guidance. These days Mike has been joined by his son Nick, 33, who helps fill in the gaps wherever necessary and acts as the company’s IT department. An important role for a company that adopted an online presence in 1999.

“We are almost two separate entities,” Mike explained about the office supplies and furniture business.

Under office supplies, the company includes everything to operate an office and due to market pressure, has expanded into other areas like janitorial supplies, coffee and break room supplies.

“Everyone is trying to branch out in our industry,” he explained about the impact of the digital world on commodity driven businesses like office supplies.

“My Scotch Tape is the same as just about everybody else’s,” he said. “So you have to be competitive on price and differentiate on service.”

Hoffman’s is built on service that isn’t separated by technology.

A customer can order online from Hoffman’s ordering platform with the assurance that most items will be available the next day at the 116 E 7th Street location a block away from the Jasper Square. They also maintain a Facebook Page and can be contacted at 812-482-4224.

But what if one of Hoffman’s customers needs a dozen pens for their office but types in a wrong number in the online order panel.

“Then we get the order and notice that this customer has never gotten 12 dozen pens before,” Mike explains. “So we’ll call them and ask them if they really wanted 12 dozen pens or if they made a mistake.”

That familiarity allows Mike to save time restocking 11 dozen pens as well as ensure the customer is getting what they wanted.

Although, potential customers are welcome to stop in at the storefront on 7th Street, walk in traffic is only about 4 percent of the company’s business. The remaining 96 percent is through the door-to-door service. That’s where the personal connection offered through Hoffman’s two route salesmen is important. They know their customers’ needs allowing for easy ordering with a simple game of show and tell. “They’ll say, ‘I need two of these. I need four of these,’” Mike explains holding his hand up with an imaginary item. “They don’t have to know product numbers or names, they can just show us and we know.”

With Staples stepping out of the market you would think Mike would breathe a little sigh of relief but there’s always Amazon. Of course, with most of Mike’s customers needing dozens of items per order, Amazon’s disadvantage becomes apparent. “Items will be shipped from different locations, so you’ll get four different boxes over six different days,” Mike explained. “Then you’ll have the added soft costs of ensuring each order is correct as it comes in from different locations.”

With Hoffman Office Supply, the customer can be confident the order is correct and usually received all at one time.

In regards to furniture, the company takes a more hands on and service driven approach. “Not too many people are going to pick up a six-foot desk, take it home and fit it through the doorway,” Mike said.

Not to mention, although the local factories specialize in manufacturing great office furniture, they aren’t set up to provide sales to local customers.

So Hoffman specializes in providing that office furniture as well as an office design, delivery and installation.

And it’s those moments when Mike steps back to see a new office in what was once an empty box are the ones he relishes “I call that my therapy,” he said.

The success of Hoffman Office Supply is also generational. When Bernie died, Mike wondered if he had lost all of his father’s contacts, but he was able to retain those relationships. Then, those relationships were passed down to the next generation. “And now my son is getting to know them. “Eventually those contacts will retire, and the next generation will know him,” Mike explained. “When a customer calls and says they are so-and-so from wherever, we know them.”

And as the world changes around them, Mike and company will continue to adjust to their customers’ needs.

“They (box stores like Staples) have to keep Wall Street happy, we have to keep our customers happy,” he said.

A story on Cecil’s Printing and Office Supplies is in the works.