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Office supply company switched gears during coronavirus pandemic


Glen Burford, VP of Business Development at Glennie’s Office Supplies, with some of the best sellers that he switched over to provide to business customers during the last few weeks of the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Escondido Business Insight

Glennie’s Office Supply, which has served Escondido businesses for more than five decades, had to make drastic changes in its business model and become even more nimble on its feet to survive during the pandemic.

It made those changes without ever altering its philosophy of promoting Escondido’s businesses first.  In fact, Glen Burford, VP of Business Development, created a webpage that outlines his philosophy of buying local:  glenniesop.com/why-buy-local/

Burford puts it this way:  “When the local office supply store purchases their vehicles from the local automobile dealer, who buys from a local hardware store, whose accountant is a local accountant, who sells her home through a local Realtor, who purchases his groceries from the local grocery store, whose attorney is a local attorney, who gets their clothes cleaned at the local cleaners, who eats at the local restaurant, and has coffee at a local coffee shop, who purchases their office supplies from the local office supply store, the money turns over and over and stays in the community.”

Glennie’s has always supplied basics like toilet paper and paper towels to its business customers, but never to the extent the demand began in March.

“Early on we got toilet paper because everybody was worried about toilet paper,” said Burford. “We’re predominantly business to business. With a little retail storefront, a furniture showroom, mainly business to business, out the door to our trucks. We saw early on the shortages before it really hit.”

They saw panic buying on some products and assigned an employee to be online constantly looking for distributors of paper towels, and then sanitizers and bleaches. “Masks were the last thing,” said Burford. “Some of those products we were checking to see if any distributors had them. We would just bring it in if they did. In the process, we let our business customers know that we had it. When we would sometimes have an excess position, one of our young guns posted on a neighborhood app that we had the product.”

Glennie’s leveraged its business relationship with Sculpt Nouveau (located at 1155 Industrial Ave.) a supplier to  “artists, tradesmen, and visionaries with tools” and a leader in patina and metal finishing products. The company works with the same chemicals used in making sanitizers. “The owner is a fellow Rotarian,” said Burford. “She helped make hand sanitizer for senior citizens because you couldn’t get any.” Then she started bottling it. It was touch and go for a while because isopropyl alcohol was hard to get in large quantities. 

“She got a hold of a big bunch of it and it’s been a real life saver to a lot of people,” said Burford. “We sold to city of Escondido and some of our regulator customers. Most sanitizer is locked up. We got early notification that they were going to hospitals and maybe a few others. She has been able to supply us. She ended up being our number two supplier by volume—which is a lot.”

They were able to keep their sanitizer prices fair and reasonable compared to others who sold them at profiteers’ rates. Their supplier also insisted that Glennie’s sell it locally. “We’ve done that and we’ve also worked for Habitat for Humanity to help it get ready to reopen,” said Burford. “They turned us on to State of California Habitat and we have been supplying masks and sanitizer to Habitat affiliates.”

Before the pandemic, Glennie’s business was 10-12% janitorial. By March that hit 35% and then 50% in April and May. “We’ve done some business supplies,” said Burford, “But 

I think I’m going to ring a bell when someone buys some paper clips and furniture.”

Some customers walk into the showroom. “We have some business with restaurants,” he said. “Real estate has been sketchy. They are trying to get their feet under themselves. We didn’t see the business from them we normally do.” 

They have also gotten a lot of business from displaced employees forced to work at home. “We got spikes in home office printers,” he observed. “It’s been an interesting journey. Some say we have evolved. I think we adapted and overcame. Evolved is a progression almost voluntary; this is pretty much like a survival instinct— but it’s worked.”

Now that businesses are becoming active again, Burford warns, “It’s not like turning on a light. People who say that it is, are people who don’t have to turn on a light!”

Some things may never be the same again, especially in retail. “It’ll be very interesting,” he said. “We’ve heard this discussion about furniture and offices and how business are going to adapt. People will discover they don’t need the office space and they can allow employees to work from home.” 

Once again business product demand is changing. “Right now we are not seeing the traffic on typical office products,” said Burford, “but we are seeing some small furniture for at-home offices.”

To return to Burford’s theme of the importance of buying local, he puts his money where his ideals are. “We hire local accountants, we go to local grocery stores, we get our gas locally, we get our repairs done by local repair shops and we buy our cars local and use local attorneys. It’s not just the tax base, we are giving them the profits that we earn. All of us local companies support local high schools and soccer leagues and Rotary clubs and Lions. But here’s the question: How many accountants, doctors and dress shops does Amazon shop at in Escondido? Everything that is bought online supports Los Angeles. All that business that goes outside the area is gone, whereas products bought locally, spent locally, are more likely to stay local. 

“That money stays local, gets spent local and turnover and over again. The big companies put lots of money into big charities, but if you look at local companies,  they give twice as much to charities as major corporations do. They typically are geared toward the communities they live in. The big corporations don’t focus on the local teams. The value of local is much, much greater than the people who don’t take a 50,000 feet view realize. That is huge. People don’t realize how much it means.”

As a consequence, Glennie’s feels it when local customers are hurting: “If something happens to one of our customers in Escondido, it means something.” 

He has preached this message for 25 years. “It’s important for the local businesses to offer value,” he said. “Does that mean the lowest price? No one is lowest on the price for everything. Not even Amazon. We don’t sell over list price. Sometimes we beat them on prices. Pick a day and pick a product. As much as I preach consumers that I want them to buy local, it’s important for local business to provide value in whatever format that is.” 

In his younger days, Burford was in military intelligence. He muses about what he has experienced this spring. “In my career, outside of that role in military intelligence, this has been the most interesting three months.”

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