When your father owns the store, chances are you start working there when you are in high school. Both Bob Shulman and Jeremy Bourret grew up working at Suburban Inc. in Middletown, Connecticut. Their fathers started the business in 1979 and by the early part of the 21st century the two founders were ready to pass along ownership.
“Our fathers came to us in 2003 and proposed that Bob and I purchase the business from them,” says Jeremy Bourret, co-owner. “Before we owned the company, we had worked in every area of the business from warehouse management and customer service to purchasing and accounts receivable.” When it was time to take over company management the two second-generation owners understood every aspect of the business.
It was about ten years ago that the two started to seriously pursue growth. The business knowledge they had acquired helped on the sales side. “We knew where we were strong, where we could be competitive and how to differentiate ourselves,” says Bourret. “We became laser-focused. Since we started, sales have tripled, which is a nice measure of our success,” he adds.
A strong sales focus at Suburban is supported by a solid business foundation. “That really puts our sales team at ease and helps us pull over folks from our competition,” says Bourret. Uncertainty about the future of office products distribution has started to spill over to customers. “Folks aren’t receiving the service they’re used to; we can take advantage of that,” he adds. Suburban has added more salespeople positioned to solve problems and provide service.
In the last twelve months five sales people were added bringing the team total up to 15. Salespeople were added to improve coverage and possibly expand geographically. “We look to cover Connecticut better and to expand with more national account opportunities,” says Bourret. “Our new salespeople have been quick to hit the street and have been successful in account acquisition.”
Sales specialists for janitorial and coffee sales have been considered, but haven’t seemed necessary so far. Over time, the general line sales staff has developed expertise in both categories, and with the help of business development managers from vendors they have been able to expand sales in both categories. Cross selling has almost become second nature for the Suburban sales team. “We like to take a broad approach when we come in to see a customer, we don’t just look at one category,” Bourret says.
A specialist in the furniture category has proven to be a boon for furniture sales. “If a salesperson needs more expertise or even a complex smaller job they call on our specialist,” says Bourret. A small furniture showroom also supports furniture sales as a means to physically showcase product. In other instances Suburban will ship samples to a customer for them to apprise on their premises. “We’ve even sampled desks with potential customers,” he adds.
One of the biggest challenges Suburban faces is how to differentiate itself from competitors. Depending on the customer, one favorite technique is to offer business reviews annually or quarterly. “It gives us the opportunity to show how we continue to be in their corner, to show them new products or areas where we can save them additional dollars,” he says. Customers and prospects appreciate Suburban’s consultative approach and the ongoing support that it offers. “That is how we are able to compete,” he says. “We’ve worked to differentiate ourselves and offer more for our customers.”
With a strong sales approach the future for Suburban seems positive. The sales concentration has created strong forward momentum for Suburban and promises continued success. “Last year was the best we’ve had in 40 years of doing business,” Bourret reports proudly.
Key management team members: Jeremy Bourret and Bob Shulman, owners
Products carried: OP, Furniture, Print, Janitorial, Break room, Coffee and Water Service, Industrial, Shipping and Packaging
Year founded: 1979
Annual sales: $15+ million
No of Employees: 50+
Key business partners: S.P. Richards, TriMega
% of total sales generated