Business all about sales, service
They have come a long way from the days of delivering stationery orders by bike.
Emma Bailey talks to Dowells Office Products Depot managing director Martin Ryan about the company that has been operating in Timaru for 60 years.
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How did the business start?
This year Dowells is celebrating 60 years in business. The company had its beginnings in 1952, originally started by Durham Dowell, who was well known in the community, having been the mayor of Timaru and also the deputy mayor in Christchurch.
The business started in Stafford St with Durham making deliveries on his bike, like Granville out of (television show) Open All Hours. The next owners were accountants associated with the late Allan Hubbard, and then my wife Fay and I bought the business 20 years ago.
Eighteen years ago we moved the premises from the Government Life Building to the present site in Church St. We also set up a branch in Christchurch some years ago but it was fire damaged and we made the decision to discontinue it.
What does Dowells Office Products Depot do?
We supply general stationery but also specialise in furniture, business machines (we have a Brother-authorised technician on staff), photocopiers, cash registers and eftpos machines. We sell presentation products, printed pens to cleaning products. We supply many schools in the region. We can literally sell a paperclip to an elephant.
We supply anywhere in New Zealand and have clients from Southland to the Bay of Plenty, but our main region is Aoraki, where we have three reps.
How has competition against bigger corporate stationery suppliers affected the business?
There was no competition when this business started. Then Whitcoulls and big corporates from America came into the market. Our point of difference is we are local and we can make decisions immediately, we don't have to go through a corporate structure, and we have built up relationships with our clients.
What has the shift to digital meant for the company?
It opened up the market and now we have more online ordering as people don't have to leave the warmth of their office. There was all this talk of computers doing away with paperwork, but it has increased it when you look at how much is printed out in offices. Now instead of writing out an invoice by hand, a computer generates it.
We made the change in the shop to digital four or five years ago. We had to close the shop for five days while we counted everything and put it into the system.
How many staff does the company employ?
Including Fay and I, 10. Six of our staff have been here for 20 years. Our clients are in the hundreds.
What have been the high points?
Joining the Office Products Depot group. When I bought the business I was approached by the group, which was set up by independent and local stationers. We are the biggest region geographically but the most sparsely populated.
What about the low points?
No great bad times come to mind, just the general fluctuations in business confidence and recessions that we all must adapt to.
Best business tip?
Treat everyone the same and bend over backwards to get what the customer wants. It's all about sales and service.
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