[Dealer interview] Up-front and honest

Maria McGinley, co-founder of PaperPunch, described her company’s approach to attracting big customers – and the benefits she’s seeing – in April 2019’s edition of Dealer Support

While Maria McGinley, a co-founder of PaperPunch as well as a member of the sales and customer service team, has been part of the OP industry for over 30 years, she has yet to tire of the market. When she entered the OP world with Slattery Office Supplies, Ireland was full of other stationery companies, while Lyreco, Staples and Office Depot were an unknown quantity.

Then, as is often the way in business, Slattery was bought up by a big player – Corporate Express, which was, in turn, bought by Staples, and the business which once brought in £1m morphed into a £35m giant. Maria gained all her training and business experience through this role but, eventually, she wanted to go back to basics.

“It gets to a stage in your career where politics get in the way – you can’t contact certain suppliers and you can’t change anything anymore because there are too many procedures and hoops to jump through,” she says. “You’re constantly told it’s not enough and you have to do more – that’s when I decided it might be time to set up for myself, deal with my own customers and give them what they wanted.”

Maria’s hand was eventually forced when her husband, with whom she had worked at Corporate Express, was let go; at this point, the two set up PaperPunch. “We launched in 2011; we made money and were able to pay our bills for a number of years but, a couple of years ago, we decided we were fed-up of being small and decided to implement an aggressive growth plan,” she explains. The crux of this plan was to start winning big corporate business – an ambitious goal for a small, young company, but Maria knew where to begin.

Netting big business

“Our website makes it clear that we want something our competitors aren’t going for,” she says. “When you log into their websites, the first thing you see is a shopping basket – they all look the same. We’re not looking for customers to go online and place an order; we want to attract big business. Our website is designed towards finance people or heads of facilities; they will see our site and know that we’re the type of business they probably want to deal with. For a lot of companies, you don’t get a sense of who they are from the website, whereas we’re looking to raise our profile and build a brand more than anything.”

So, if attracting large corporations is the first step, how does PaperPunch then give them the level of service they expect? “We do everything for them,” Maria emphasises. She has her husband, Anthony, to thank for some of that, as she admits he is often the driving force of going above and beyond for customers. “Anthony runs the operational side of things so, when somebody wants a cable for a first generation iPhone that went out of date a decade ago, he’s the one who’ll source it, order it, pick it up and deliver it. We’d make absolutely no money on that, but it’s what we do as part of ensuring we’re offering a solution to the customer. That’s why they’re happy with us.

“It’s hard, when you’re small, to convince a large customer to come with you because they assume you can’t keep up with their needs. There are lots of big players around now, and we’re up against the likes of Codex here in Ireland, but we tell customers, ‘You’re going to be the big fish in our little pond and we will look after you’. On top of that, they’ll be dealing with us – the owners of the company – directly, and we’re transparent and communicative every step of the way. We don’t generally lose customers because we give them a good service and we are up-front and honest.”

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Finding a niche

PaperPunch sells across a variety of sectors, but this isn’t much of a challenge for a business that aims to go above and beyond for its customer base. “There’s a lot of crossover,” Maria says, and it’s often the bespoke items for the bigger players that enable the business to thrive. PaperPunch doesn’t keep a huge volume of bread-and-butter stationery items in stock, as this comes in from VOW and Spicers each morning anyway but, instead, the business focuses on niche items such as printed boxes and envelopes. For example, Ticketmaster envelopes are printed by PaperPunch, and this is an item which is always selling, with people ordering concert tickets every day.

“Another industry we’re quite successful in is accountancy firms, where we manage and store a lot of pre-printed items like storage boxes and note books,” says Maria. “When you have all that special product, manage the stock, give them reports on their usage and spend and break it down by department, you see huge advantages for those larger customers.”

Finding a niche is the best advice PaperPunch can give to other dealers, as well as being able to do or supply basically anything a customer could ask for. “The more they trust you, the more they’ll give you – and the more they’ll put their eggs in your basket,” says Maria. “You’ll start with a box of paper and, before you know it, you could be kitting out their board room.”

Nurturing a growing business

Maria is the first to admit that PaperPunch wouldn’t be making money if it just sold office supplies; it’s the additional services – including the company’s own driver who is also trained to give the best possible service – that make it successful. While it’s hard to truly measure the effect that the changes PaperPunch has made have had, they certainly paint a picture of a growing business. “We can’t measure exactly how social media has changed things specifically, or what difference having our own driver makes, or the extra effort Anthony puts into sourcing unusual items, but I have this feeling now that it’s all making a difference because I can see it in our sales and what our customers are saying,” Maria explains. “Making the extra effort is paying off.”

Despite any uncertainty that Brexit is causing, Maria still has a plan in place for a 50% sales growth target, alongside an aggressive new business development target. “Between the existing and the new stuff, we’re feeling very positive about our targets,” she says. “Going forward, I’m hoping that we’ll continue to build on the PaperPunch brand and go on using the website and the tools attached to that.

“For the first time ever, we’re getting phone calls from people who are looking for quotes; we’re not paying money to Google for that, but our existing customers are reviewing us and adding weight and credibility to our name, which brings us up the search engine rankings. So we will continue to make sure that we’re marketing ourselves to full potential, to try and get that free advertisement that’s out there!”

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