Bailey’s Office Outfitters, Ottumwa, Iowa

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When Bob Witt and Stevie Nelson Witt purchased Bailey Office Outfitters, LLC in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 2017, they knew nothing about office products.

“I had my own trucking company,” says Bob. “I sold it and we started a trucking dispatch service. One day, Bailey’s previous owner came in for a delivery. She saw pictures of horses in Stevie’s office and said, ‘I’d love to retire and ride horses again.’ I asked how much and six months later we owned the company.” This is how the Witts became the fifth family to own the 99-year-old company.

The couple admit that at first, there was some skepticism.

“When we were buying the company, an S.P. Richards rep came and took us out to dinner,” explains Stevie. “By the end of the meal, he admitted he had initially been a little doubtful about us being able to run the business. But he realized I know customer service and Bob knows hard work. We don’t always do things the same way, but we complement each other.”

In 2020, the Witts bought a second small family-owned office products storefront in Oskaloosa, Iowa, to expand Bailey’s customer base. In both cases, they kept all the employees, contributing to the company’s success.

“We have one employee celebrating her 31st anniversary with us and several who have been with us for 25 years,” Stevie says. “All our employees are hard workers and go above and beyond. The customers know them by name and they know the customers.”

The Witts also believe this personal touch sets them apart. “I don’t understand why more dealers don’t meet with their customers face to face instead of just phoning,” muses Bob. “Our customers know us. They know we are the owners, the decision-makers. We make the deliveries ourselves, so when there is an issue, they know we can take care of it right then and there.”

Yet Stevie acknowledges this type of customer service might not be possible for all dealers: “We are not a metropolitan area—where we are is very rural, so it might not be the same elsewhere. But our customers like the personal service.”

This approach extends to maintaining two storefronts, even though walk-ins account for only about 10 to 15 percent of Bailey’s business. Bailey’s is also the only stocking dealer in the area.

“We are right across from city hall and the courthouses, and down the street from the sheriff’s department,” Stevie explains. “You wouldn’t think there are a lot of emergency needs for office supplies, but there are. They come to us knowing we will have what they need and it saves them time, since they don’t have to drive or wait to get things online.”

Stevie believes that a physical presence can also bring in business. “If you have a storefront, it needs to be clean and attractive and stock interesting things, not just be a boring warehouse,” she explains. “We also ensure the window always looks attractive—we feature red, white and pink items for Valentine’s Day or green for St. Patrick’s Day to attract attention.”

According to the Witts, their recent decision to partner with DeVere Company out of Wisconsin to sell laundry and other chemicals to hotels, restaurants, jails and other local businesses has also increased sales.

And what about Amazon? The Witts aren’t worried, because they know their customers appreciate touches like personally labeled boxes delivered to the exact locations and with the correct PO—services Amazon doesn’t offer. But mostly, their lack of concern comes down to customer loyalty.

“Our customers will tell us when a representative from Staples or Quill calls on them,” says Stevie. “Our customers tell us they run them out because they are happy with us.”

 

Top management: Bob Witt, president/co-owner; Stevie Nelson Witt, vice president/co-owner; Adam Prose, service manager

Number of employees: 11

Main wholesaler: S.P. Richards

Annual sales: $2.5 million

Online sales: 85%-90%