As a forward-thinking dealership that understands the changes that are currently reshaping the workplace, SourceOne Office Products, Santa Fe Springs, California, knew it was time to evolve in the same way. So in January 2019, it rebranded as Big Cat Solutions.
“The future office is sleek, fast, powerful and intelligent, like the big cats that roam freely in the mountains of the United States,” says Jim Gerbershagen, co-owner of the family-run dealership. After 30 years working under its original identity, it was delighted to discover that its new incarnation was readily accepted on the market.
“Since the change, our focus has been on L.A. County, making sure that customers were comfortable with the switch and that they still knew who to call,” continues Jim. The dealership has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and its first year under the new brand saw returns of more than $8 million in revenue.
Jim credits Big Cat’s success to its diverse product offering and ability to adapt to changing customer needs. Every dealer underscores the importance of service, but he highlights that this service can take many different forms. Recently, when a wholesale order came up short, Jim went out to Staples to purchase labels, which he then delivered personally to the customer.
While traditionally sales of office products have remained steady, these days Big Cat’s biggest seller is furniture—especially ergonomic furniture. “Office assessments, furniture installations, chair fittings—these are areas of growth for us,” he says.
This new emphasis also prompted the company to begin conducting ergonomic assessments. “We had some strengths in that area and saw it as a service we could offer,” explains Jim. Two employees have now been certified to perform assessments and Big Cat began offering the service early last year.
The assessment examines workstation dynamics such as monitor height, chair height, how many monitors are being used, the sorts of monitor arms that might be needed and the work being performed at the workstation. Big Cat could easily charge as much as $450 for an assessment; but customers are told upfront that if they buy their products from Big Cat, they will benefit from competitive pricing and won’t be charged for the assessment.
Along with Staples, Big Cat has entered into an agreement with L.A. County for the supply of office products. This has opened a lot of doors for the company, which has proved both a blessing and a curse—especially right now, with the coronavirus crisis causing cash-flow issues.
“It seems that every time we get rolling, there is a setback,” muses Jim. “L.A. County recently sent all their employees home to work remotely due to the coronavirus, so now the money is trickling in. Essendant has been fantastic to work with, though. No doubt we will get through this crisis—it’s comforting to know Essendant and ISG have our backs.
“We really can’t project growth at this point,” he continues. “Everybody at Big Cat has been set up to work remotely from home, with the exception of the warehouse.” They will continue deliveries, but will limit exposure by dropping off orders on delivery docks.
Faced with this entirely new challenge, Jim and his brother Ed, who together manage Big Cat, have redoubled their efforts to keep the dealership profitable and on track. Jim says they’ve started to “work the business”, rather than “work in the business.” “You have to be able to adapt and take a proactive approach,” he explains. “At this juncture, I think we’re better owners; we’ve got smarter and learned some hard lessons.”
“We have solidified our operations and reduced our overhead, and because of these new processes we are in a much healthier position,” agrees Ed.
Key management team members: Jim Gerbershagen, Ed Gerbershagen, Henry Gerbershagen
Products carried: Office products, furniture, jan/san, breakroom
Year founded: December 2004
Sales volume: $8 million
No. of employees: 15
Key business partners: Essendant, Independent Suppliers Group
Percentage of total sales generated online: 90%