OCOP Express, Dallas, Texas

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OCOP Express, Dallas, Texas, is 101 years young this year. Founded in 1933 as a retail store in the basement of a building in south Dallas, the store was purchased by a second owner in the 1940s. In 1964, Ken Caldwell’s father bought the company. Ken joined the family business in 1995 and took over as president when he purchased the company from Caldwell Sr. on his retirement in 2000.

Over a century in business, the company’s product line has expanded to include janitorial, breakroom, water, printing and furniture, “which is our fastest-growing category in the last four or five years and is close to taking over office products,” Ken reports.

To stay in business this long, an independent dealer must be doing a lot right. According to Ken, “The biggest reason for our success by far is service. We bend over backward for our customers, whether it’s good for us or not. We may have to go outside and kick a tree or a few tires, but whatever our customers want, they get.

“We also are able to pivot direction quickly; we’re flexible and nimble. When the superstores opened, we closed our retail store and changed the way we went to market. And we are always looking for new categories. Right now, my focus is on expanding our janitorial, IT and print management offerings.”

Ken also sees OCOP’s ability to adopt and adapt to new technologies as a major plus: “We are just completing a total revamp of our online storefront. We are switching from ECI Interactive to EvolutionX and will launch the site in a month or two.”

Despite its longevity, the company has met with its share of challenges, especially in recent years. “One big hurdle for us has been learning to compete with the changing dynamics in the marketplace,” says Ken. “For example, the wholesalers stopped producing paper catalogs but a lot of customers still want to order that way, no matter what they say. Also, wholesalers are limiting the traditional office supplies they offer. There are products customers still want, but the wholesalers don’t carry them or only carry a few. So we have to stock more ourselves and buy more from other vendors.”

Competing against Amazon has been another challenge. “We have to have conversations with our customers to educate them on the difference,” continues Ken. “We have to explain how Amazon may look better initially, but there is a membership fee and the orders come in pieces from all different vendors. Deliveries are rarely next day and aren’t delivered where they want them. Also, an item may be cheaper, but whole orders often are not.” And perhaps the most convincing argument? “When there is a problem, our customers can call us and get a person, and we can figure out a solution. They can’t do that with Amazon.”

Ken has some sage advice for independent dealers who are in it for the long haul: “We need to work together to survive. For example, dealers should assist other dealers with deliveries outside their zones. Instead of paying expensive wholesaler, UPS or FedEx direct drop shipment rates, area dealers can deliver orders for a reasonable fee. That’s worked out well for us. It’s also important to look for new products and areas of growth. The more products you offer, the more relevant you are and the more reasons you have to get in front of customers. If they turn you down for office products, you’ve got alternatives.”


Top management:
Ken Caldwell, president; Judi Caldwell, vice president

Number of employees: 24

Main wholesaler: Essendant

Online business: 56%*

Annual sales: $7 million