Office supply firm merging with fast-growing operation

Teresa Kareus
Ken Larson

An office supply company with local roots and more than 30 years of operation in the Grand Valley is merging with a Front Range company that’s enjoyed rapid growth during a soft economy.

Valley Office Supply recently notified customers it’s merging with Source Office Products of Golden.

The Golden company is a decade younger than Valley Office Supply, yet has expanded with locations in Colorado and Wyoming as well as Atlanta.

Representatives with both companies said their business cultures are similar, attributing expansion to customer service even as other office supply firms downsize their operations.

“The key to the relationship is almost identical values,” Ken Larson, president of Source Office Products, said during an exclusive interview with the Business Times. “The cultural fit is really important.”

Larson was hired last fall after working for Corporate Express for 15 years and another nines months for Staples after the national chain purchased Corporate Express.

Larson said national office supply chains have downsized in recent years, often eliminating customer service workers. The result is that many customers are on their own when shopping for products. The merger with Valley Office Supply offers an alternative, he said.

For example, Source Office Products will continue the Valley Office tradition of delivering orders free of charge — even if that order is a single pen.

Local employees will remain in place in Grand Junction. Teresa and David Kareus, co-owners of Valley Office will shift gears, becoming manager and account manager, respectively.

Source Office Products insists on retaining sales representatives in outlying areas to maintain personal contact with clients, said Rick Allen, regional vice president of sales and a 27-year employee.

The merger presents Source Office Products with a public relations issue, though. The Kareus family boasted of its company’s success as a locally owned and operated business with long-term ties to the Grand Valley. Company contributions to local charities long has been part of doing business.

Source Office Products will continue to contribute to Mesa County organizations, said Sam Winfrey, vice-president of strategic accounts.

Still, a portion of company profits will go out of town to the Golden headquarters.

“We are still local,” said Teresa Kareus. She said customers will call the same phone number and talk to the same employees working at the Grand Junction office. “I don’t think it’s a conflict at all.”

Said Winfrey: “I think it’s the best of both worlds.” Customers will benefit from the economies of scale and pricing a large company can offer while supporting a local office that could add employees, he said. Moreover, the company is still based in Colorado. “We’re not from New York,” Winfrey added. “I drove here.”

Source Office Products has added more than 20 employees since the beginning of last year and now has a staff of more than 100. Larson said the company’s reputation has grown to the point it doesn’t recruit workers. Potential employees seek out the company.

The merger could offer jobs to Grand Valley residents while also offering Valley Office Supply owners an exit strategy, Kareus said.

The local office will use signs for both companies at first, but will eventually use only the Source Office Products name. Representatives from the two companies discussed retaining the Valley Office name, but a similar experiment in Wyoming didn’t work well. Source Office Products prefers to stick with one brand name, Kareus said.

It’s difficult to question the strategy of a company as successful as Source Office Products. It was recognized as one of the top 50 privately held companies in Colorado in 2009. As an encore, its revenue grew 30 percent in 2010.

In addition to standard office supplies, the company offers coffee machines and other break room supplies, copy machines, printers and office furniture.

“And our technology platform integrates all those lines into one Web site,” Winfrey said. Instead of asking customers to shop for a set of items, check out, then shop for another set of items, the Web site enables customers to select all their items before checking out once, he said.

Larson said it’s not easy to provide both good products and service. But that’s the company’s goal and a reason its slogan is “to create a better experience,” he said.