“Ev, what I’d like is to be your partner.”
I dialed the number and found myself talking with Evan Moffit, “Evan rhymes with heaven and Moffit rhymes with profit”. We went and looked at the company in which he owned a minority stake. I didn’t like the deal because it was a minority ownership in a company that really didn’t want another partner. I’m not sure exactly why but on the way back from Omaha I said, “Ev, what I’d like is to be your partner.” It wasn’t long before we were working out of the Moffit basement at “7100 York Lane, where Y Street goes crooked”.
We had found our niche. We were the specialists.
The early days were spent with Ev handling some of his old business forms customers while I figured out how to incorporate a company and write by-laws without hiring a lawyer. This was before you could just download forms on the internet. The next tasks were finding a new larger location and getting set up direct with some of the manufacturers. Our original magnetic media manufacturer was Verbatim. They said that without proven volume we would have to buy through another dealer. Within a year Data Source Media was buying direct from Verbatim and the dealer that we had been buying from was buying from us.
At first the growth came easily. The IBM PC had just come out the year before and the Apple IIs were selling like hotcakes to schools. Our goal was to grow volume to get better pricing which would allow us to be more competitive. Office supply stores would sell typewriter ribbons, but they didn’t really want to get into the printer ribbon or media world. Computer stores would sell supplies but they preferred the higher profit margins of the office supply world. We had found our niche. We were the specialists.
I received two phone calls that let me know we were on the right track.
The first came from the owner of the largest computer store in town. He wondered if the reason our prices were so low was because of financial problems. Then I received a call from my father saying that Fred, who bought his company’s computer supplies, found that Data Source Media’s diskette prices were a lot lower than our competitors’. Back then we were making $4 on a $20 box of 5 ¼” diskettes and I was making all of the deliveries out of the trunk of my car.
After Data Source Media’s fifth year in business we started winning some honors for our growth. For three years in a row we were members of the INC Magazine 500, the fastest growing private companies in the country. We also were named IBM Supplies Dealer of the Year.
What hasn’t changed is the company’s reliance on talented, knowledgeable friendly people.
Over the years the products have changed. Diskettes and ribbons, once the heart of our business, have faded into the past to be replaced by toners, ink cartridges and high density computer tapes. What hasn’t changed is the company’s reliance on talented, knowledgeable friendly people. Not only can our people rapidly cross reference your printer to its toner but they also can suggest cost effective alternatives like the high yield version or the dual pack toners or offer a compatible toner. As I write this, over half of our employees have been here for more than 15 years, with 3 who have been here for more than 20.
It would seem that with many of our products just being newer iterations of our original products that nothing much has changed, but that would be far from the truth.
For years we treated business like a series of transactional sales. We sold on price and service. We stocked more than others, specialized so we could answer questions and were price competitive so that we could grow volume. The price, service and specialization remain but our salespeople have been transitioning to consultative selling. I figure that we will keep our customers’ business if we save them money.