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TOS growing with acquisitions, bigger sales

Wolf sniffing around for more tasty acquisitions

Tom Wolf has been on a buying spree of late.

After snapping up First Monroe Systems and Southwest Business Systems, the founder of Jackson-based Total Office Solutions recently purchased OEM, a copier supply company, which catapulted TOS into the largest locally-owned original equipment consumable supply company in Mississippi. Already, Wolf isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s “in constant talks with publicly-traded entities about acquiring local branches,” he said.

“About two and a half years ago, we decided to grow through acquisitions to gain more market share in Jackson,” said Wolf. “In a continuing effort to become Jackson’s total office solution, we were looking for a good fit. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) was a very good fit. When we spoke to Rick Stewart, president of OEM, about a year ago, the timing wasn’t right. About three months ago, it was.”

TOS’s client base of 1,800 meshed well with OEM’s base of about 1,000 clients, Wolf said.

“While he didn’t sell too many consumables for products that we sell to our base of clients, he did sell to a bunch of our competitors,” Wolf said. “We knew it would make for a much easier transition for us to get into the copier business. As far as locally-owned companies go, he had a wonderful name. Most people like the local flavor of having someone who’s there for them. When Rick walks in with a cell phone and a radio system, he’s got 100 things working at once. He’s the kind of guy we wanted, and we told him the only way we wanted the business was if he came with it. He said that’s the only way he’d sell it.”

Based on the purchase agreement, Stewart, a 15-year industry veteran, became TOS’s supply sales manager, Wolf said.

In 1995, Wolf and Tom Herrington borrowed $10,000 and opened Total Office Solutions with a total investment of $28,000.

“Normally, to open up a copier dealership, you’re looking at half a million dollars,” he said. “We should have been out of business in a couple of weeks, but it didn’t work that way. We got every break imaginable and grew from the two of us to 22 employees.”

In 1998, TOS added two employees when it opened an office equipment leasing division that has its own in-house collection department. Last year, in addition to revenue from their interest in two related companies, Audio Answers, an on-hold messaging service, and Network Communications, Inc., a cabling company, Total Office Solutions brought in about $5 million. In 1999, TOS tallied approximately $400,000 in supply sales. This year, projections are $1.5 million in supply sales, Wolf said.

Their goal by 2005 was to employ more than 100 people and to offer a total service package for offices. With the acquisition of OEM, there will be 38 employees and “we’ll knock down the 2005 number on the outside of 2002,” Wolf said.

“We’re in the process of putting together a package to do true-blue e-commerce,” he said. “Everybody says they do e-commerce, but what ends up happening is that people go to their Web site and human interaction is required to complete the sale. What we want to provide is an Internet venue where people can point and click, where we can take credit cards or they can open a house account. Believe it or not, for it to get that automated takes a lot of human hours.”

EOM’s Web site, www.oemsupplies.com, will soon be integrated into www.totalofficesolutions.com.

Next up: sniffing around for more acquisitions.

“National companies have managers that report to managers that report to managers who report to stockholders. I report to my customers. It’s a goofy philosophy, I know, but if you live it, it works out great.”

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Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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