Office Solutions & Services, Missoula, Montana

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For Kevin Huguet, president of Office Solutions & Services in Missoula, Montana, the secret of success is community. “Nobody can be the cheapest, but we can be more than competitive with anyone. Sales should be about value,” he says. “We provide customers with next-day delivery, no-hassle returns, 30-day payment options and the chance to keep their dollars contributing to the local tax base. These are all benefits of buying local. The dollars our customers spend with us stay right in the community, compared to the dollars spent at Staples or Amazon. Who knows where those dollars go. And most of the time, their deliveries are no longer next day.”

Kevin suggests it’s up to independent dealers to talk up this competitive advantage. “The opportunity is still great for independent dealers who are willing to work hard to get the message out to the business community that they can get all they need from them,” he says. “If they have a good story to tell and the drive to get the message out, they will be able to compete into the future.”

Stalled but not stopped
Kevin admits that the COVID-19 pandemic “was pretty concerning in all different areas. For copiers, people were not making decisions with so many unknowns and when no one was in the office.” These uncertainties also impacted breakroom and office supplies.

However, it was not all doom and gloom: “Some projects in our furniture division were going already, so that was helpful. Also, PPE took off and we were able to find sources for things like hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes.”

Maintaining staff levels was another win. “My goal was to not lay anyone off or cut wages during the pandemic and we were able to accomplish that,” explains Kevin. “Most of our team members have been with us for 10-20 years.”

The pandemic also underlined another company objective. “Online sales are extremely important and our goal is to continue to increase our online presence,” says Kevin. “The pandemic changed everyone’s expectations. The main way people are ordering now is online. Luckily we have a robust site that’s easy to use. It was headed that way already, but there will be more and more online in the future. Our job is to make sure it’s easy for customers to click on our solutions on our site. If they’re looking to talk with a local person, they can still call us any time to get professional help from local people who have been doing this for a very long time.”

But being there for those in need requires more than just phone service and will continue far beyond the pandemic. “When the pandemic started, we had 60 cases of trial-size hand sanitizer, so we started donating them with orders,” recalls Kevin. “We also had salespeople drop off almost 3,000 containers of disinfecting wipes to various nonprofits. We always try to donate to different charities in the community we live in to help people who need help.”

A bright horizon
Kevin predicts a rosy future for those independent dealers with the right mentality: “Independent dealers need the drive and will to succeed, and the mentality that you are just as good as non local online sites. You also need to stay busy, getting out there to build relationships. The more people you know, the more business you get. It’s that easy. I believe in our local family business and it will continue to thrive well into the future; it’s always been a very competitive business and we’ve always proven we can compete.”

Number of employees: 20
Key management: Kevin Huguet, owner/president; Darla Nokleby, chief operating officer
Percentage of business online: 55%
Key business partners: S.P. Richards