Rocky Mountain Business Products isn’t worried about Amazon. In fact, president Jay Tittman is enjoying what he calls “out-Amazoning” the tech giant. How does he do it? “With good old-fashioned B2B customer service,” he says.
Tittman believes Rocky Mountain Business’ ability to trump Amazon with outstanding customer care is a key secret to the company’s success—and one he’s willing to share with other dealers.
“Think about it,” he says. “The days of next-day Amazon Prime delivery are over. I can’t even remember the last time I got a package from there overnight. Amazon is all business, but it can’t provide the next-day delivery customers in our industry need. Our customers order today, and we are there tomorrow with a smile on our face asking, ‘Where would you like us to put your product?’”
And Tittman believes this customer service edge over Amazon goes beyond product delivery. “Some people want to buy the old-fashioned way,” he says. “They want to talk; they want a human to pick up the phone. We cater to this old-fashioned business model that people can’t find any more.”
Yet at Rocky Mountain Business, it’s not all about the chat. “Some people want never to talk,” Tittman acknowledges. “Some want to email or even text in their orders. Years ago, I remember we were baffled that someone wanted to text an order to us; since then, we’ve done a 180-degree turnaround. Now our customers can call, text, email, even fax. However they want to order, we’ll take care of them. Catering to people personally and their preferences is a rare commodity; but it’s one we provide.”
The company’s “we” includes Tittman; his mother, the company’s co-owner; his wife; two of their four children, who are just entering the business; and several second-generation employees who are joining the firm as their parents retire.
Tillman suggests the ability to adapt to change is another secret to Rocky Mountain’s longevity. “Our 45 years of success are due to our ability to evolve with the needs of our customers,” he explains. “We went from selling corporate typewriter ribbons and supplies to laser copiers to our 200,000-product online catalog. We now have more than 1 million products, from office products to promotional products to custom printing. We evolve as industry needs change.”
This diversification includes selling to industries many office product dealers may not have considered.
“About 20 years ago, we focused on restaurants at a time when no one thought of restaurants as office product users,” he says. “About 11 years ago, we embraced the cannabis industry. Many office supply dealers shied away from that industry because it isn’t legalized at the federal level. But we embraced it at the state level. We sell computers and hardware that support the industry, and equipment that traces the movement of cannabis. We call the business ‘Seed to Sale’ and have about 1,500 customers in 35 states and five countries. We just installed 60 terminals in Planet 13 in California, and we did Planet 13 in Las Vegas two years ago—the world’s two largest dispensaries.”
Tittman strongly recommends this type of diversification for other independent dealers. He also urges them to stay flexible. “The key for independent dealers to continue to compete is to evolve with the times,” he says. “We are at a new point now. What the workplace and market will look like is a work in motion. Many people don’t know where they are going to be; the new boardroom for many is called the kitchen. There’s a lot of frustration.”
But with frustration comes opportunity. “A year ago, we couldn’t compete with Amazon,” Tittman says. “Now, realistically, we can outperform them with great service. Also, before COVID-19, buying local had sort of lost its appeal. But a lot of people saw their local businesses struggling and this has reignited that conversation. Buy local is a chance to steal customers back from Amazon, which it would not have been a year or so ago.”
Something else Tittman hopes is coming back into favor is ethics. “We are old-school,” he says. “My father started the business and he was adamant about being 100 percent ethical. He never bent his ethics no matter what. I worked alongside him and watched him walk the walk. If a customer wants to return something, sometimes to a fault, I’ll take it back; I’ll sell it used or donate it. I think when you go the extra mile, even if it is not justified, good will come back to you. Ethics, diversifying and modernizing are what will keep my children running the business for the next 40 years.”
Year opened: 1977
Number of employees: 12
Key management: Jay Tittman, president
% of business online sales: 50%