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Soaring to the Top with Airline Stationery
By Alicia Ellis
Jeffrey Siskind's family has owned and operated Airline Stationery for almost 50 years. The Midtown Manhattan office products dealer has built its business on its reputation for offering customers a wide variety of office products and unmatched personal service. Through bleak economic conditions; the rise and fall of the dot-coms; advance of the superstores; and September 11, Airline Stationery has defied the odds, expanded its offering and grown revenue to a projected $10 million this year.
According to Siskind, whose grandfather Max and father Barry opened Airline Stationery in 1955, Airline continues to focus on customer service and customer satisfaction. "I remember my grandfather saying, 'Keep it simple. Offer your customers the highest level of service you can, a guarantee to beat any competitor's advertised price and honest answers to hard questions.' That's exactly what we're doing. We will meet each individual customer's needs based on their individual requirements and we never promise what we cannot deliver. Whether we are the primary or secondary supplier to our customer, they know that they can count on us to provide the highest level of service along with extremely competitive pricing."
Despite the fact that there are more than 12 superstores within a few mile radius; Airline has carved out quite a customer list, ranging from some of New York City's largest law firms and corporations with hundreds of employees to small businesses with no more than two or three employees. "If a buyer is going to choose us, we have to make sure that we make them look extremely smart making that choice," said Siskind. "While we guarantee to meet or beat any competitor's price, a lot of times that's the easy part. The day to day pressure of meeting customers' needs with regards to products and availability and providing good quality customer service tend to be larger issues."
"To keep customer's happy means delivering and not just on price," said Siskind who maintains an extensive inventory at their Madison Avenue location and relies upon distributors such as United Stationers and Azerty for overnight drop shipping to fill or complete a client's order anywhere in the United States. "Our primary goal is to fill each order 100 percent on a next day basis. However, if a customer calls us and needs something right away, we will use whatever means necessary, whether it be our delivery trucks, bike messengers or couriers, to get their product to them."
Wake Up and Smell Success
Airline Stationery is a full service dealer offering traditional office supplies, IT consumables, office furniture and printing capabilities to its customers. While these account for an estimated 75 percent of business, Siskind takes great pride in Airline's foray into the office coffee service industry which Airline has operated since 1995.
"Our Office Coffee Service (OCS) business works for us on a variety of levels," explained Siskind who had an interest in and eventually took over ABC Office Essentials, an affiliate of Airline, in 1997. "ABC is a complete OCS operator offering everything from single cup brewing equipment from Gevalia to standard Bloomfield coffee equipment plus water coolers, soda vending machines, leased microwaves, refrigerators, ice makers and dishwashers.you name it, we carry it." And, while this equipment is often sold, leased or even given away to customers, the real profits come from contracting for the sale and delivery of consumables.
ABC offers a complete selection of more than 10,000 products including coffees, hot and cold teas, soda, bottled water including a house brand "Country Mist" spring water, juices, snacks, breakfast cereals, paper goods, and cleaning supplies.
"We offer our customers the opportunity to buy office supplies from Airline and OCS supplies from ABC, or everything from one or the other, it's really up to the client," explained Siskind. "Both companies operate from our primary location and each companies employees work side by side plus we share bookkeeping and administrative staff."
According to Siskind, the biggest benefit has been the company's ability to reinforce relationships with clients by showing them that reducing the amount of vendors, saves them time and money. "This has been a mantra in our industry for a while, but when you see it actually implemented it's a powerful tool," he said. "We find that we are less likely to lose a customer completely if we are selling both product lines and if we should lose one or the other, our continued presence in the office allows us the opportunity to pick it back up when our competition drops the ball."
A Lesson in Change
"Always remaining optimistic and seeking out opportunities to grow are keys to finding success," said Siskind. "The Dot Com boom and then bust was a very big event for us. The amount of money spent by these firms in the city was staggering and it was too easy, the kids buying our products were spending other people's money, and it created a false economy. The fiscal year ended June 2000 was the best year we ever had. Unfortunately, starting in July 2000, things started turning sour and by the time the dust had cleared, we had taken quite a beating. Between the bad debts racked up by our some of our larger customers at that time and decreased sales we had a tough year. And, just when things started looking up, the terrorists' attack on 9/11 happened. We had many customers in lower Manhattan including at least 15 in the Trade Centers; we lost many friends that day."
"But we're fighters," said Siskind proudly. "We went into a defense mode, cut back wherever possible and were able to hold on. Now, we're finally recovering, we've signed a new long term lease for our space in midtown Manhattan, we plan on renovating our retail space; and we're seeing increased sales. We're moving into the future with a renewed dedication to our customers and the city that has been so good to us for so many years."
Five Beverage Service Tips For Dealers
1. Identify Your Competition - Find out exactly how many products they sell and how often they deliver. Ask your customer what other products they would like to buy, but can't from their current supplier. Stress the convenience of making one call for both office supply and OCS supply items. One call = one delivery = one invoice. Your customer is always looking for ways to make their job easier, help them do just that.
2. Make a Commitment to Inventory - Because of their delivery guarantees, Airline Stationery maintains a well-stocked inventory of beverage/breakroom products. These products include a variety of coffee makers, and water coolers, with flexible purchasing and leasing contracts. "When a customer decides to switch to ABC's services, it is often because another company has failed them and we need to be able to step in right away," said Siskind. "We have everything a customer needs readily available and if we don't have it, we get it and this will often make the difference between getting and losing an account."
3. Find a Good Distributor - "Dealers must understand the pricing issues are completely different when talking about beverage/breakroom products," explained Siskind. "Manufacturers do not always offer the best price which is the opposite of the office supply business and I have found that buying from the wholesaler/distributor is often the best bet in the OCS business." Siskind also noted that payment terms also differ with many suppliers wanting C.O.D. terms or providing invoices with payment due within ten days. "The goal is to find a distributor that can supply the products your customers want, deliver them the next day with a relatively small minimum order size requirement, at a price you can turn around and make a profit on."
4. Listen to Customers - Siskind prides himself on ABC's ability to cater to its customers. Because of its independent setup, ABC can contract with any number of suppliers to secure products for customers. "In response to a customer's request, we recently added the "Ito En" tea line of products from Japan to our offering," said Siskind. "The response has been overwhelming. We've increased orders and new customers with little effort."
5. Be Flexible - Airline has found great success by allowing customers the choice of setting up a schedule or offering next day (or even same day) delivery on all beverage/breakroom products. "This way, the customer is in charge and is never stuck waiting or burdened with too much product," said Siskind. "We'll give them what they want, when the want it." In many cases, our OCS competition will only deliver on a set time schedule, one or two days per month to certain areas, whether the customer needs the product or not. Office products dealer who deliver more frequently to their customers can take advantage of this.
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