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updated: 8/16/2016 9:35 AM

‘Our biggest challenge is the decrease in demand for copy paper’

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  • Sergio Pereira

    Sergio Pereira


Q: Describe your company.

A: serves small and mid-size companies, practices and institutions by providing all the products needed to run their offices. We supply everything from copy paper to coffee, from ink and toner to Kind bars, from Post It notes to toilet paper, from Rx pads for physicians to ELMO projectors for schools. We have more than one million products and 1-2 day delivery.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: Because we are a .com company that generates $1 billion in Internet sales, we are constantly investing in our website. ... In terms of hiring, we do hire continuously throughout the year to fill openings. We just finished a major push to beef up our inside account management team, adding 45 jobs in that team since April.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: Our biggest challenge is the gradual decrease in demand for copy paper and all the office products that relate to printing: ink and toner, filing products, binders etc. Fortunately, we are seeing growth in other categories that can't be digitized, like coffee, paper towels, toilet paper, snacks for the workplace, ergonomic furniture, hand soaps, sanitizers, wipes and other consumables that are industry specific, like medical gloves and table paper.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: Online purchasing is the trend in our industry. Purchasing for the office has always consisted of a mix of in-store, catalog phone sales and on-line. Customers are more and more comfortable purchasing on-line, but also demanding greater ease of use from the websites they shop from. From a product standpoint, the most interesting innovations are taking place in furniture for the workplace. For one thing, color is now more present in the office than ever, with colorful chairs replacing the traditional black chair, and stand up desks popping up in offices everywhere. After all, sitting is the new smoking.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie company president, what would it be?

A: Walk around a lot. Be visible, get to know people, ask questions about their life and about their work. People are your number one resource, and the better you know them the more successful you will be in motivating and leading the organization.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: If your competitors can't figure out your business strategy, you probably don't have a clear strategy. Yahoo is a great example.

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: Howard Schultz. He is visionary man that brought excellent coffee and the Italian experience of coffee to all of America. But what I admire most is his ability to course correct and evolve the business. Through it all he has kept product excellence and customers at the center of everything Starbucks does.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

A: Our company is 60 years old this year. It has evolved from a door to door sales company in its beginning, to a large catalog reseller, to an enormous ecommerce player.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I like to walk the two family dogs, work out and play golf. I also like to stay current through Twitter, newspapers (yes, I subscribe to 4 newspapers that arrive in paper format on my driveway), and confess to an addiction to Words with Friends.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: "Only the Paranoid Survive," by Andrew Grove. An oldie but goody about the inflection point of industries when a major shift happens. Our industry is undergoing major shifts in what customers buy and where they buy from.

Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?

A: I have always been fascinated by advertising and by the growing influence of the Hispanic population. I probably would be working/leading a Hispanic marketing and advertising group.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: Conducting inventory in a mid size hotel in Bogota, Colombia.

Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?

A: When I worked for Barilla pasta, I traveled frequently to Italy. While there, I would rent a car and travel from Milan to Parma. Once, the car rental company gave me an Italian car, must have been an Alpha Romeo. It took me 30 minutes to find where the ignition key went, how to adjust the mirrors, and how to pop the trunk. That car was designed for form, not function and was a total "fail" from an ergonomic standpoint. It was, however, a blast to drive.

Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why.

A: Bret Stephens from the WSJ @stephensWSJ. His columns and analysis on current events are incisive and direct. Kai Ryssdal from NPR @kairyssdal. I listen to NPR's marketplace religiously, and Kai finds a way to present business news in a very interesting fashion.

- Kim Mikus