Michael Fox started his business from nothing. He didn’t have a car, so he used a 10-speed bike to make deliveries. He didn’t have an office, so he worked out of his parents’ house, using the bedroom he once occupied when he was a boy. Today, Fox runs a Van Nuys-based distributorship for the paper and toner cartridges used in photocopiers that has revenues of $4.5 million. M & M; Paper Co. supplies to more than 700 clients, including Mattel Inc., the Burbank Airport Hilton, Northrop Grumman, Ernst & Young and the Los Angeles Unified School District. In place of his bike, Fox uses four delivery trucks and operates from a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. In the highly competitive world of office supply, Fox’s secret to success continues to be “service, service, service,” he said. He admits that his prices are not always lower than giant retailers like Office Depot and Staples. But in place of low prices, Fox offers the kind of service that larger suppliers would find hard to duplicate. Once, when a customer called Fox at 4 p.m. on a Friday with an emergency order, Fox filled it by borrowing five cases of paper from another client in the same building. On another occasion, a customer needed a four-drawer file cabinet. Fox doesn’t sell any file cabinets, but he ordered one for the client anyway. M & M; Paper has to go one step beyond guaranteeing next-day delivery (which is often offered by the big office suppliers). He makes sure all of his drivers carry extra loads of paper and toner cartridges in their trucks for same-day emergency drop-offs. In the office, employees must pick up the phone by the third ring and display other, service-oriented courtesies. They go out of their way to be friendly on the phone, and if a customer has a problem, M & M; employees can fix it without getting authorization. When an angry customer complained that a supply of paper was left on the company’s doorstep, Fox gave her the order for free. The office computer is set up to include a history of each client’s past orders so sales people can help customers figure out the quantities they need. “The customer is number one,” said Fox. “If there is an error with an order, I look at it as an opportunity to prove myself. We want to make it right. We want to take care of the customer at whatever cost.” Fox recognizes that other suppliers of his size have not survived the advent of superstores. Last month, in fact, one of his customers decided to move its business to Staples, preferring a national retailer that could service its multi-state offices. Good service is not Fox’s only priority; saving the environment is also part of his strategy. About 15 percent of M & M;’s revenues come from the sale of recycled paper and printer cartridges. M & M; collects used cartridges from customers (in exchange for a discount on their orders) and sells them to companies that use recycled plastics in manufacturing. The company recycles more than 1,000 used printer cartridges a month; each can fetch anywhere from 50 cents to $10. M & M; customers like Jonnie Battle, a purchasing manager at Ernst & Young, appreciates the green bent. “Our company is also concerned about the environment, and we want to do what’s right,” said Battle. “We sell them back all of our old cartridges. It gets them off our hands. It works out very well.” Besides selling recycled paper, M & M; carries an assortment of paper made from Eucalyptus trees. The paper costs $3 to $4 more per case, but Fox offers it because Eucalyptus trees grow back in seven years, vs. 20 years for the average tree. “I have always been concerned about the environment,” said Fox. “It seemed only natural to integrate it into my business.” Fox was working in an office supply company when he decided to try his hand at running a business. Using a $400 cash investment and his credit card, he bought some inventory in 1985 and began slipping fliers under office doors at buildings downtown. At first, Fox, along with his wife and a friend, out of his parents’ house. Eventually, he was able to borrow some warehouse space from a cousin and a truck from a friend. Fox used contacts he had made while working at another office-supply company. M & M;’s prices were lower than the established suppliers at the time. Fox offered next-day delivery and he even stacked paper onto clients’ shelves himself, a courtesy he still provides. Fox plans to branch into business cards, stationery and medical forms this year. He will use other companies to supply the printing. Although he wants to see his business grow, Fox believes in controlling that expansion. “Expanding too fast can be dangerous for a small business,” said Fox. “Keep it simple. I haven’t had any low times, and I want to keep it that way. People will always need paper.” SNAPSHOT M & M; Paper Co. Year Founded: 1985 Headquarters: Van Nuys Core Business: Paper and toner cartridge distributor Employees in 1993: 7 Employees in 1998: 14 Revenues in 1993: $1.6 million Revenues in 1997: $4.5 million Top Executive: Michael Fox, president Goal: To serve the customer as promptly and efficiently as possible. Driving Force: Businesses that insist on hands-on service.