Latsons.com started in Sulphur Springs, Texas, in the 1940s as a newspaper before becoming an independent office supply dealer in the late 1980s. Yet in 2012, when Mike Horne bought the company where he had worked since graduating from college in 2000, he figured he’d soon be closing the print business.
“A lot of people thought print was dead, and I thought so too,” he says. But by 2018, the company had enough print sales to open a separate print division. So why the comeback?
“What has helped our print production has been promotional products,” Mike says. “We do banners, badges, drinkware—anything with names on it. The speckled mugs they call ‘camping mugs’ are hot right now.”
In fact, the printing and promotional sides of the business are both hot—so much so that they had their best year to date, despite the pandemic. “COVID-19 had a huge impact on our office products sector and, initially, the other sectors as well, although we sold a lot of janitorial products,” says Mike. “But starting in June 2020 through the end of the year, our furniture, print and promotions sales started recovering and went way up. Our print and promotions division had the best year it ever had. Overall, we were down 10 percent for the year, but that was a lot better than I thought it would be.”
According to Mike, there were two main reasons for the better-than-expected bottom line: “We do a lot of business with school districts. Their budgets are set ahead of time and they have to use them before the end of the year. Plus, the schools were given a lot of COVID-19-related money by the government to spend.” And with businesses and schools now reopening, 2021 sales are up in all sectors, he adds.
While Latsons.com’s print and promotional sales have accelerated to account for an estimated 30 percent of total sales, traditional office products remain the leader at 55 percent. Mike attributes part of the resilience of the office supply sector to location.
“I hear a lot of dealers say sales of copy paper are down,” he says. “Not for us; we are selling more of it. I think part of the reason is people want to go digital, but many are still using copy paper they scan and shred. Also, we’re in a rural area and the technology hasn’t quite caught up. A lot of our schools still use print. I like to say, ‘We are about an hour out of Dallas and 10 years behind’—which, in cases like this, can be a good thing.” Although the company is keen to show that it has moved with the times: “The reason we changed our name to Latsons.com was to try to move our clients to the online platform,” adds Mike.
Amazon and technology
According to Mike, Amazon has been a significant factor in the overall challenge posed by technology. “I think keeping up with technology can be tricky for all small businesses,” he says. “We’ve always had competition, but we had more customers who ordered from us no matter what. Now, Amazon consumer spending patterns have changed commercial buying and lowered order size and thresholds. People expect websites to have Amazon-like features. You have more younger buyers who do everything online and expect you to be open 24/7. One of the best things we did was start letting people text me. Many people don’t want to wait or pick up the phone. They want to email or text.”
Mike is optimistic about the future of the industry and offers this advice for continued success: “Diversify; try to keep up on technology; and don’t lose that personality that makes you different from Amazon. Get involved within the communities in which you work and live. A lot of people don’t realize how important small businesses are to communities. There’s a statistic that for every $100 spent at small businesses, $83 stays local. Amazon doesn’t contribute to communities. I hope the younger generation will realize this. We need to get the word out.”
Number of employees: 10 full-time, 1 part-time
Key management: Mike and Mallory Horne, owners; Irma DeJesus, office products manager; Jessica Akers, print manager
Percentage of business online: 70%