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Focus on customer service helps Rogards thrive for more than a century

Just under a decade ago, two peers combined their knowledge to ensure Rogards Office Plus would remain a viable fixture in Champaign.

Jim Beyer, vice president, and Terry Poindexter, president of Rogards, knew each other through a mutual office-supply buying group they were a part of at their previous jobs. Beyer worked at an office supply company in Peoria and Poindexter worked at Rogards in Champaign.

In 1998, Beyer and Poindexter bought the business from the original founder's son-in-law, Bernie Dunn.

It started out as a publishing company, where they published a lot of periodicals, books and things like that, Poindexter said. Then they started carrying a few office supplies, and it just evolved from that.

In the beginning, Rogards sold gift items and office supplies, but got out of the gift line and concentrated on office supplies after K's Merchandise opened, Poindexter said.

For more than 100 years, the business has remained economically viable, even with big box office supply stores threatening its market.

Beyer said the business has been able to compete with stores like Staples because of its superior customer service.

We answer the phones, we don't have an automated phone, which is irritating to people, Beyer said.

Twenty one part- and full-time employees are educated about the products Rogards sells before they are allowed on the sales floor.

Our employees are very key, Poindexter said. And we can continue to train them on customer service aspects of the business because that's the most important part to us.

Even though Rogards uses an intimate, small town approach, it still performs on a national level.

I think that's part of our challenge to overcome people's perception that we are small so we have to be really expensive, Beyer said. But we are not because we are in the buying group so we can be as competitive as Staples pricewise. And sometimes we are cheaper.

In order to keep prices low, this co-op concept groups locally-owned office product dealers together to save by purchasing merchandise in bulk.

Rogards specifically markets to small- to medium-sized businesses, like banks and lawyers' offices. But it also has larger accounts, like Provena Covenant Medical Center, Christie Clinic, Flex-N-Gate and Guardian West.

We have six delivery trucks that we use to take merchandise out free of charge, Poindexter said. So we really are zeroing in on the commercial market.

The business also has an online ordering Web site.

We also have customers locally that have branches elsewhere that we ship to across the country, Poindexter said.

Rogards' wholesaler, United, has warehouses across the country so Rogards can ship out of any of those locations to customers to save on shipping charges.

The drivers are taught to accommodate the customers' wishes, no matter how specific, he said.

We kind of tailor our business to the customers' needs, Poindexter said. In other words, it isn't, 'this is how we do it. Take it or leave it.' It's 'how do you want it done, Mr. or Mrs. Customer?' And that's how we'll do it for you. In other words, if they want paper delivered to the third floor or to the copy machines or if they have a supply room they want the supplies put in, we do that. We don't just drop it off at the door.

By offering inventory services, the companies Rogards services don't need to hire people to count and stock internally, Beyer said.

Using AutoCAD, Rogards can provide layouts of how a potential office could look with certain products and furniture.

At one time, Rogards developed a branch in Urbana. But Beyer and Poindexter closed it in 2001 after concluding that it was not economically viable and lacked a parking lot.

People want to park for free when they shop, Poindexter said. There wasn't easy in, easy out access to that location.

Since 1981, Rogards has sat in an ideal location in Champaign. The visibility of Neil Street and the entrance to Champaign's business district puts the store in the spotlight for customers.

This is kind of the gateway to downtown, really, Poindexter said.

- Emily Fletcher can be reached at (217) 351-5244 or efletcher@news-gazette.com.

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