Early one morning last June, Patty and Tom Wolf were taking a routine jog on the north shore of the Ross Barnett Reservoir discussing their three sons, the success of his business, and how life in general was very, very good.
Then Tom Wolf was stung by an unidentified insect, fell to the ground and went into anaphylactic shock. Even though Patty Wolf immediately flagged down a motorist and an ambulance was promptly dispatched to take him to the hospital, he died in the emergency room less than three hours later.
“He didn’t know what hit him,” recalled Patty Wolf. “Neither did I.”
When Tom Wolf died June 10, 2004, he left behind a burgeoning business, Total Office Solutions (TOS), which he managed while Patty Wolf stayed at home tending their children. Even though she’d never been directly involved in the frontline operations, she was a helpmate on the periphery and a staunch supporter of her husband’s work.
After his death, she immediately faced several major decisions, including what to do with the family business.
“I never thought about selling,” she said. “I felt a very strong attachment to the company, especially after Tom passed. I almost felt it would be a betrayal to sell it, and I felt a responsibility to pick up the ball, so that’s what I did.”
Falling into place
Patty Wolf initially muddled through cloudy issues, such as handling partnerships, settling the estate and figuring out where she would fit into the company. “We got everything ironed out and it all fell into place,” she said.
Patty Wolf took over as CEO. Troy Lambert, who owns a small percentage of the business, took over the service, supply and inventory functions. Charles Peeples, who had worked as a sales representative for TOS several years earlier before moving out of state, was hired as the sales manager. Other than a few additional personnel and department changes, Patty Wolf left almost everything else intact — including her late husband’s office.
“I haven’t changed a single thing,” she said. “Tommy was an avid hunter, and had trophies from hunts in Mississippi and South Dakota. Keeping it the same has made me feel closer to him, like he’s watching over us.”
The company celebrated its 10-year anniversary July 4 with 17 employees, including five service technicians, and several hundred customers in “fantastic shape … we’re so happy with the whole makeup of the company,” said Patty Wolf.
“When Tommy started the company, he made a promise to our customers that we are faster and simpler to do business with because we remain close to them. Our main goal is to help our customers succeed. Tommy would be so proud that we are celebrating a decade of service, one customer at a time.”
TOS markets Savin digital technology products, part of the Ricoh family group, offering a full line of advanced color digital copier and printer products. The Hewlett Packard and Lexmark lines of versatile color printers are also represented. The company continues to rebuild office equipment, including more than 10 models of copiers and facsimiles in two brands.
“A growing part of our business involves selling document solutions,” said Patty Wolf. “You don’t normally think that a copier dealership can provide this to you, but there are endless possibilities.”
Other expanding nichés include marketing portable scanners for attorneys to take into the courtroom for instant storage and retrieval of documents and the recently more affordable and accessible wide format digital imaging systems for small engineering and architectural firms.
“Even though there’s a move toward paperless offices, we’re finding more paper output than ever before,” said Patty Wolf. “You can move documents around the office, but eventually there’s hard copy at the end of the line somewhere. It’s moving the paper in between, cutting down on legwork, time and labor, that is especially helpful to office managers.”
For now, Patty Wolf remains focused on being a local, independent, woman-owned, 24/7 service business.
“All of my customers have my cell phone number,” she said. “You cannot say that about IKON and Xerox, where it takes five days sometimes to get a billing issue resolved.”
Celebratory events for the company’s decade in business include catered “Lunch and Learns,” free roundtable tech seminars to discuss various vertical market solutions.
“This past year has taught me that you never know what you’re capable of doing unless you’re asked to do it,” she said. “You play the hand you’re dealt, and I’m playing a pretty good hand.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.