One would think that with fewer workers going into the office that an office supply company would be shrinking.
Not so for Chatsworth-based JB Office. The company saw its revenue grow a whopping 163% from 2020 to 2022.
Julian De Salay, the co-founder and chief executive of the company, said a reason for the growth of the company has been its pivoting nearly every year since it was founded in 2012 by him and his business partner Brian Borna, who is the company’s chief information officer.
“Our product mix and go-to-market strategy every year pretty much changes,” De Salay said.
Prior to the pandemic, the focus of the company was on copy machine ink and toner. This was remanufactured ink and toner until JB Office pivoted to new ink and toner and added some office supplies to the mix with paper and paper clips, De Salay said.
Post-pandemic the company added more office supplies, furniture, computers and monitors and information technology services such as phone and internet.
“We are trying to become a whole solution for our clients so that they have one person to call for everything they need for their business,” De Salay said.
De Salay and Borna met while freshmen at California State University – Northridge.
De Salay described his business partner as “very good at the technology side. He can program anything.”
The pair started JB Office in 2012. De Salay came from working with his late father, Peter De Salay, at his company in Chatsworth, Printing Technology Inc., an office supply wholesaler.
“I understood shipping, I understood marketing, I understood the programs, the supply chain, you name it,” De Salay said. “I also obviously had a good grasp on my competitors that I was teaching how to sell to the end user the supplies we were selling them.”
Among JB Office’s competitors are Staples Inc. and Office Depot Inc., and e-commerce giants Walmart and Amazon.com Inc.
Goods at JB Office often cost less than at its competitors.
For example, a carton of 50 2 inch by 20 inch white tube mailers from the San Fernando Valley supplier costs $53.85 while at the Office Depot it is listed at $85.99.
JB Office is able to continue to grow and take business away from the big guys, like Staples and Office Depot, while keeping a pretty small footprint and utilizing technology, De Salay said.
“We try to keep our (cost) per headcount very low so that we can utilize technology so that we can keep our pricing very competitive,” he added. “We work off of less margins because the bigger guys can clearly buy better than we can in certain instances, but we don’t have to make as much to cover our overhead.”
Technology is an important part of JB Office’s recent growth.
One of the fundamentals that DeSalay said he has always stuck to is the use of technology to help grow and manage the business.
Borna developed the proprietary software used to scale the business.
“We can scale without adding to the headcount, which then would add more cost,” De Salay said.
The company utilizes a large network of third-party warehouses across the country that allows it to deliver product to the clients in two days or less without having to stock everything in Chatsworth, he added.
“The scalability is easier that way because I don’t have to have staff and warehouses throughout the country,” he said. “I use services that do that for me.”
While some of the technology used by the company is proprietary, others De Salay could talk about like software that can manage the inventory in multiple locations and know where the quickest location is to get to the client.
“Just like Amazon or Staples or one of these big companies they are not going to ship from across the country, they are shipping it from their closest location,” De Salay said. “Believe it or not there is not a lot of software out there that helps you with that kind of information.”
JB Office also has a software program that helps it understand items that have issues related to them so those can be addressed as well as software that shows it areas where there are underserved markets or products.
If there was a dividing line between how JB Office had been operating and the way it operates today it came in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic and its stay-at-home orders, the company had already provided internet-based phones and computers to employees at their homes.
“Everything we do is internet based, so when we had to go home all they had to do is log onto their computer at home as opposed to logging on to their computer here and they were ready to go,” De Salay said.
The company uses three offshore call centers.
“We had to learn how to communicate via email, we had to learn to communicate via chat and via phone and share your desktop and everything before that was really a thing,” De Salay continued. “So that really helped us when we had to go home during Covid and only me and the warehouse staff were here (in the office) filling orders.”
One other thing he did during the pandemic to help the company grow was not to go into personal protection equipment, or PPE.
“We sold a very small amount of PPE,” he said. “I probably sold a majority of our PPE to my friends and family who needed it.”
Instead, the firm focused on what it was still doing very well, namely the bread-and-butter of ink and toner.
“And that really accelerated during Covid because we didn’t focus on the PPE like everybody else was,” De Salay said. “We were sticking to ink and toner because people still had to print at home.”
One of the good things to come out of the pandemic – and not just for JB Office but for e-commerce in general – is that people who didn’t typically buy online were forced to buy online, he said.
“Now that the pandemic is over, they are now used to buying online. So now we can go ahead and service those customers,” De Salay said.
Amy Feuerstein, the office manager at clothing retailer M. Frederic in Agoura Hills, said she has been doing business with JB Office for about four years.
The reason she continues to use them is that they do comparison shopping and give her the best price.
“They take back what is incorrect or damaged or is not good for us,” Feuerstein said. “Julian will deliver items to us personally if I am in need of something important as a rush delivery.”
She called M. Fredric a pretty big company that runs small, and she thinks that is how JB Office operates as well. “They have a personal touch,” Feuerstein said.
Issue with fast growth
The main challenge of the company’s fast growth has been sticking to the principles of good customer service and fast delivery, De Salay said.
Prior to the pandemic, JB Office was what was called a stockless dealer, or one that didn’t carry much stock at all. It would drop ship its orders directly from distributors or product manufacturers.
“Since Covid, we have now brought the product in house,” De Salay said. “We still do some drop shipping but we are holding a lot more inventory so we can control our own destiny.”
Carrying inventory has proven to be a challenge but one that he said is “a necessary evil.
“Even today we still have supply chain issues with some items,” he added. “It seems we are not 100% back to normal of what we used to be.”