Northwest Business Magazine

Success Story: Rockford Office Supply House

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Meet a business that’s remained faithful to an old-school, customer-focused approach to office furniture and supplies, and discover how they’ve gone out of their way to satisfy special requests.

Curtis and Jennifer Scribner, owners of Rockford Office Supply House, offer products and services that big-box stores just can’t provide. Established in 1909, the business still operates out of the original building on South Main Street. (Karla Nagy photo)

Walk into Rockford Office Supply House, 119 S. Main St., Rockford, and you won’t be overwhelmed by blasting stereos and video games, competing with muddled voices from the PA system, in a warehouse-sized space with a maze of departments, swarming with too-busy employees.

Instead, you’ll be greeted by one – or both – of the owners, Curtis and Jennifer Scribner, who operate their office supply and furniture store in the same space as when it opened in 1909. Both know every aspect of the business, whether it’s office, cleaning and break room supplies, or filing cabinets, shelving systems, desks and entire office designs.

“When customers come in, they deal with us – the owners and the experts,” says Curtis. “When you call here, a person picks up the phone – not some complicated answering system. That level of personal contact is what sets us apart from the competition.”

The Scribners have more than 5,000 items in stock, and can access just about anything else on a daily basis. “Our catalogue has more than 65,000 items – pens, ink, paper, printers, computers, office furniture,” Curtis says. “And our prices are competitive. There’s a fallacy that Big Box is cheaper, but we can be very competitive.”

In addition, with their longtime supply contacts, the owners can still get “obsolete” things that others can’t. “Remember the typewriters with ribbons on two spools?” Jennifer asks. “We have regulars who come in for the replacement spools all the time. Then the manufacturer stopped making the spools, but we discovered that we can still get the ribbon. So the customers bring in their spools, and Curt winds the ribbon on for them.”

Another benefit of shopping here is the availability of smaller quantities: one pencil instead of 12; 10 sheets of stationery rather than 100; even a single lead replacement for a mechanical pencil. “We sell in bulk, too, but we cater to many of the people who work downtown here,” Jennifer says. “We also carry fine ballpoint and fountain pens, art supplies, gift cards, wrapping paper, wall hangings, little gift items for co-workers.”

Rockford Office Supply opened in 1909, in the historic Chick House, which was built in 1857; it was run by two partners, and then their sons. Curtis went to work for the sons while still in high school, and finally, in 1996, bought the business from them. “It’s still basically that family business,” he says. “The only real change was that it was originally just stationary and office supplies. I expanded into office furniture and design when I took over.”

The staff consists of the two of them: Jennifer handles office management, covers the sales floor and places orders. Curtis makes deliveries and does the office design, consultation and installation.

“We give people what they need,” Curtis says of the design service. “We find out the space size and what it will be used for, what the customer wants to accomplish. We look at the budget and come up with a couple of options, offer advice. Once everything’s decided, we put it all together.”

A longtime Rockford Office Supply House customer is the Boone-Winnebago Regional Office of Education (ROE). “I’ve worked with Curt and Jenn for many, many years, even when we were still downtown,” says Lori Fanello, Boone-Winnebago Regional Superintendent. “We’ve always gotten all of our office products and furniture from them. And the best part is, when we purchase whiteboards, for instance, Curt not only delivers them but installs them.”

When the ROE relocated to 300 Heart Blvd. in Loves Park, according to Fanello, Curtis designed the back section of the office and helped to reconfigure some of the other space. So Rockford Office Supply House was the natural choice when the ROE needed to convert a former classroom into a special testing lab. “This was the first time we got to start with a blank slate,” Fanello says. “The room was completely gutted when we brought Curt in.”

The lab’s main use is General Education Degree (GED) testing, and certain specifications were required in order to become an authorized Pearson VUE testing center. “We had to have 4 feet around each student, and cubicles had to be a specific height to block sight and noise,” Fanello says. “All testing is to be administered electronically, so each cubicle had to have a CPU tower underneath and a monitor, mouse and keyboard on the desktop.”

After receiving all of the parameters, Curtis came up with two designs. “The first had room for 24 stations, but the second allowed for 32,” Fanello says. “We also had to have cameras mounted over every station, and adequate lighting, and Curt figured all of that out for us, including the wiring. He presented a couple of color schemes, but we asked him to decide, and he even did a great job on that.”

An adjacent storage closet became the office for the testing space, and Rockford Office Supply House handled that design as well. “It had a terrazzo floor with a concrete lip, and lockers behind the concrete,” Fanello explains. “The builders had to strip it down to the studs. Then, we needed something special for the test-taker lockers, and Curt said, ‘I have just the thing.’ We had originally placed the lockers behind the desks, and Curt noticed that the computer screens were visible with that design. So he fixed it for us.”

Test-takers can take nothing into the lab with them nor view any other computer screens, so the lockers and their positioning were key.

The lab completed, ROE is now awaiting the Pearson VUE authorization to allow its use for other types of testing, such as professional accreditation or teacher certification.

“We’ve always been very pleased with the products and services Rockford Office Supply House provides, and this experience was no different,” Fanello says. “The lab exceeds our expectations, and Curt did a fantastic job.”

The Scribners always offer free delivery with no minimum, including next-day delivery. Other products and services include embroidery for uniforms, custom rubber stamps such as notary or signatures, business cards and letterhead.

With so many impersonal warehouse brick-and-mortars and the proliferation of Internet buying, it’s nice to know that there are still places like Rockford Office Supply House, with conscientious owners like the Scribners. “We’re a one-stop shop for current products and technology and expertise,” Jennifer says. “But we’re an old-fashioned store, when it comes to personal service and going that extra mile.”

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