There’s definitely something different about Supply Chimp. To begin with, while most companies start out with a physical presence and then turn to e-commerce, Supply Chimp did just the opposite.
“Isaac [de la Fuente] was a schoolteacher in New York City and needed some supplemental income,” explains president Kris Colt. “So in 2006, he started selling paper shredders through Google. I joined the company about six months later. Since Isaac was still teaching, I basically ran the company for a year and I noticed we were getting orders from the Defense Department, the TSA, the FBI and the CIA. I started looking to see if there was a program that would make it easier to sell to government agencies. That was how we were introduced to the world of GSA. We got our first government contract in 2008, near the end of the fiscal year, and the orders flowed in. It was like Christmas in September and we knew we were onto something.”
Today, government contracts account for about 80% of Supply Chimp’s business.
Another Supply Chimp distinction is its unusual moniker. “Initially, we were named Mono Machines,” Kris recalls. “‘Mono’ means ‘monkey’ in Spanish and machines were what we sold. But it never really caught on; we all wanted to change the name and the logo. In fact, when we rebranded in 2016, we were going to dump the monkey altogether. But when we asked a lot of our customers why they bought from us, one of the things that kept coming up was, ‘We like the monkey.’ I don’t know if it was because it was something unique, but we heard this over and over. So we kept the monkey and rebranded as Supply Chimp.”
While Supply Chimp was inevitably disrupted by COVID-19, like nearly every business, Kris says the company ultimately fared reasonably well—in part thanks to its attitude: “When something big changes the industry, like COVID-19 or Staples’ acquisition of Essendant, rather than complain about how bad it is, we think, ‘How can we support our company and our team? Is there an opportunity to do good or increase revenue?’”
Two other factors also worked in its favour. “We have medical and janitorial divisions, and we are a virtual company,” explains Kris. “All our employees had home offices already, so we weren’t really affected by logistics.”
But that’s not to say that the pandemic didn’t present some challenges for the company.
“One thing that hurt was the change in spending behavior,” Kris says. “Customers working from home would tell us to deliver to their companies, but no one was there to accept the delivery. Also, they were buying different things, not the same commercial office or school supplies, so July and August were down a little. But it’s the end of the fiscal year, so people are starting to spend their budgets.”
Kris has nothing but praise for those in the IDC that have made it this far: “Congratulations to all of you who have survived. It’s been a wild five to 10 years—things have changed so much!”
And he has strong convictions on exactly what is needed to continue to thrive in the future: “Anyone who wants to exist two, five or 10 years from now needs a vision and a plan. Those who are just going day to day, crisis to crisis, will not survive. It’s hard. As leaders, we want to plan, but we often get stuck in the doing. Before we know it, a year has passed and we are still stuck doing. Things change, and you may have to pivot; but if you keep your vision and a plan for how to get there in mind, you will be okay.”
And what about the plan itself? “I like the quote from John Maly, former CEO of Paul Mitchell International, who once told me, ‘Whenever you have a really big idea, stop and ask yourself: is there an even bigger idea you might be missing?’”
Year founded: 2006
Number of employees: 60
Key management team:
Isaac de la Fuente (CEO), Kris Colt (President), Kim Tollefsen (Director of Operations)
Percentage of sales online: 20%
Products carried: Office supplies, janitorial, medical, furniture, food service, power tools, industrial, technology