When Harrison J. “Chip” Hummel started working in the family business as a delivery driver and retail clerk, he probably didn’t realize what a lynchpin of the company he would become. Yet 50 years later, his son Justin Hummel, CEO and president of Hummel’s Office Plus, is eager to credit Chip and his foresight for keeping the business thriving and headed toward what could be the company’s fifth generation of family ownership.
Hummel’s Office Plus was started in 1934 by Chip’s grandparents as a typewriter cleaning company in Herkimer, New York. Chip joined the business in 1972. In 1977, he became president and CEO, a position he held for the next 35 years. To give a small idea of his success at the helm, the company was doing $50,000 in sales when he took over. By the end of his tenure as CEO, that figure was $15 million. Today, the company sells more than 100,000 products and is the largest independent office supply dealer in upstate New York.
A knack for looking ahead
According to Justin, a significant factor in Hummel’s ongoing success was Chip’s foresight. “In the 1980s and 90s, our main competition was the corner and stationery stores, “Justin says. “It was Chip’s idea to put Hallmark Crown stores inside our eight retail stores. Then demand changed. Chip saw the move away from retail and adjusted the business model. We acquired a distribution facility and enhanced our offerings to B2B so people could phone or fax their orders. We increased our fleet of trucks from one to 16 and started the next-day delivery model that still exists. Chip also made sure we invested in a website and e-commerce. We were ahead of our time.”
However, the biggest secret to Hummel’s continued success is Chip never losing sight of what is important. This is also what distinguishes the company from Amazon and other big-box competitors. “What differentiates Hummel is our personal service and relationships; our willingness to go above and beyond and not be just another website to buy from,” explains Justin. “Chip’s parents—my grandparents— instilled the importance of this attitude in him at a young age. He has done an exceptional job of maintaining and improving this service and personal touch, and instilling an understanding of their importance in the rest of us.”
Getting by with a little help from friends
These personal relationships with customers and partners were what saw Hummel’s through the COVID-19 shutdown.
“COVID was very disruptive but was a huge learning experience for us,” Justin says. “We had to learn to communicate differently with our employees and customers. Our sales reps couldn’t visit, so they had to email, call and text their customers. We had to lean on the relationships we built over the years.
“ISG and S.P. Richards were incredible,” he continues. “They gave us world-class service. They created new vendor relationships to get product and kept us informed. They got us PPE, something most in the industry had never sold before. If we hadn’t been able to sell PPE, our business would look very different today. But they got us through the process; they explained what we needed to know. They were very proactive.”
In 2012, Chip became chairman, turning the day-to-day operations over to Justin and his two siblings. And the reins were passed in a carefully thought-out fashion.
“We were blessed with the way Chip approached the family business and succession,” Justin says. “He started meeting with the three of us at least once a month in 2008-09. He made us have the tough conversations, getting us through the good, the bad and the ugly. We still meet once a month to have the necessary conversations. Chip taught us we need to prepare for succession before, during and after—which is important since the fifth generation could soon be coming into the business.”
Mohawk, New York
Harrison J. “Chip” Hummel, chairman; Justin Hummel, CEO/president; Harrison John Hummel IV, chief operating officer; Solace Hummel, chief administration officer; Michael Schultz, chief information officer; Dan Stalteri, vice president-furniture; Ray Seefeld, VP of Albany Market
Percent business online: 65
Main partners: S.P. Richards, ISG