From paper to Parmesan

When you think of a consumables supplier, you think about ink and paper, possibly even stationery supplies. What doesn’t come to mind is cheese.

Johannesburg, 13 Jan 2020
Read time 3min 50sec
Mark Taylor, CEO, Nashua
Mark Taylor, CEO, Nashua

What makes a truly great customer-supplier relationship is trust, says Mark Taylor, CEO of Nashua. However, sometimes that relationship goes beyond just supplying the office essentials.

Traditionally, office accessories include the likes of staplers, whiteboard markers, paper and toner for printers, and even pens and pencils. A truly great supplier will go beyond those office essentials and source pretty much everything that a customer requests – even if it’s something completely unrelated – says Taylor.

“Some businesses are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to buying stationery and other office supplies. They shop around for the cheapest price on paper, for instance, not realising that the time they spend on the phone and driving to buy that paper ends up costing them more in the long run.”

Businesses will be better served if they have a single point of contact and single point of sourcing whatever it is they need from a consumable perspective.

Take a printer/copier as a case in point. All the business wants is a machine that’s ready to print on demand. They don’t want to have to worry about toner or paper. That’s the philosophy that a consumables supplier needs to adopt: let us worry about the fact that your machine needs to be working, instead of you wasting time trying to find the cheapest toner or paper. It’s all about saving the business time and money.

“The role of a consumables division is to contact customers on a regular basis to help them plan their consumables consumption. They need to find out what they have in stock and uncover what other consumables they might need. It requires a proactive approach so that the customer can focus on their business instead of worrying about running out of toner.

“If a customer has one of our machines, for example, we know how many copies they make and what their toner and paper consumption is. This makes it easy for us to identify what the customer needs in terms of paper and toner. We can see how close the customer is to having to replace the toner, and we can proactively contact them and tell them they’re about to run out. Paper is more difficult to track because people use paper for other purposes too, not just in the copier/printer.”

The point of being proactive is that it takes the hassle out of getting what’s needed in the office for the customer – and they can get everything they need delivered from a single supplier, where they deal with one person, and on a single account.

However, the consumables team has been asked to source many items that aren’t considered conventional office supplies, like tea or office chairs. “The team will try to source whatever the customer wants, even if it’s not a Nashua product. We’ll even find toner for competitors’ machines, if asked. Because the customer already has an account with us, they feel comfortable asking us for a whole range of items, and we provide that value-added service.”

Another value add is printing booklets or exam papers for schools, or labels. Taylor adds: “It’s all about providing customer service, instead of just selling what you have. We even do signage for some customers.”

This type of bespoke service is particularly important in outlying areas, where customers might not have access to all of the retailers that bigger towns have. In a small town, the consumables division becomes the go-to place that customers call when looking for something as random as a huge plastic drum or toilet paper. The requests even include office staples such as tea, coffee, cleaning products, etc.

These aren’t traditional office consumables, but this is the extent to which suppliers will go to help a customer. “It’s not our core focus, but it is about building a personal relationship with the customer so that they feel they can call you at any time and ask you for a price for an item. Why wouldn’t a supplier deliver that service to their customers?”