Gulf Coast Paper Co. Inc.

When purchasing inventory, buying from a large distributor can be an advantage for volume pricing, but the distributor’s size also can be a disadvantage. “We are a large enough company to purchase products from the best manufacturers with very competitive pricing, but because of our size, we have the ability to react very quickly to changes in the competitive climate and to customer needs,” explains Clay Dibble, vice president of sales and marketing for Gulf Coast Paper Co. Inc. “We can react faster than larger competitors. The chain up the ladder for a decision is a very short climb. We give a lot of discretion to our local managers to make decisions, which helps us quickly meet the needs of our customers.

Gulf Coast Paper is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “We are much more than paper,” Dibble emphasizes. “Our business has really evolved from janitorial supplies. Today, we are a much broader-based company than we used to be. We offer everything from office products and equipment to laundry products; warewash products for use in commercial kitchens; custodial equipment; maintenance, repair and operating supplies; and safety products. We sell more than just towels, tissue and toilet paper.”

Another reason for Gulf Coast Paper’s success is its development of additional product categories. 

“We can sell deeper into the account with laundry and warewash products, office supplies and our regional account program,” Dibble explains. “All those areas have allowed our company to sell deeper and opened doors to opportunities with customers that we have not historically had in the past.”

With its seven distribution centers along the Gulf Coast and in central Texas, the company’s regional account program is able to provide customers’ headquarters with control over pricing, compliance, standardization and consolidation of products, while realizing the benefits of local, professional and individualized service to meet customer’s regional multi-unit operational needs.

Cooperative Distribution

Gulf Coast Paper serves customers in Texas, throughout North America and even into Alaska. “We have created a strategic partnership called Tri-Link,” Dibble says. “We have partnered with other distributors, and together we service a much larger market.”

Gulf Coast Paper also has national reach through its association with AFFLINK. AFFLINK is a member-driven sales and marketing organization that links leading manufacturers of janitorial, packaging, food service, safety, maintenance, repair and operating (MRO) and office supplies together with world-class distributors to deliver integrated supply solutions to thousands of customers throughout North America.

“It’s a very broad mix,” Dibble says. “They will pursue national account business, and we will be a servicing distributor for their national account program.”

The company has approximately 300,000 square feet of total warehouse space at its seven distribution centers. “We service a regional and local customer base from Dallas/Fort Worth to San Antonio and Austin, as well as the entire Texas Gulf Coast from Galveston to Brownsville,” Dibble says. 

Customer Mix

The 4,500 to 5,000 core line items and approximately 40,000 office supplies in inventory vary among the locations based on their customer mix. “We track 30 different classifications of customers, and that mix in each of our distribution centers will vary somewhat,” Dibble declares. “Some locations are heavier in manufacturing, and some are going to be heavier in lodging, education or healthcare.”

Many common products are stocked in all locations, and the company can transfer inventory among the locations if necessary. “We service many types of customers,” Dibble declares. “We work with healthcare, lodging, cleaning contractors, food production and processing, manufacturers and education.”

Gulf Coast Paper serves a variety of institutions and industries. “We do a significant amount of business with governments – cities, counties and municipalities,” Dibble continues. “Austin and San Antonio are going to be heavy in lodging and government. Education is our largest sector. We sell to the full gamut of educational institutions – K12 public schools, private schools, colleges, universities and trade schools.”

The company established its own private-label products branded “Tidal Wave” in 2011. “Having our private brand that is exclusive to our company is something that we see great value in,” Dibble stresses. 

The company also accommodates emergency requests from customers. “The vast majority of our deliveries take place Monday through Friday, but we do emergency delivery service,” Dibble notes. “We would run a special truck if a customer calls and has a desperate need, such as a hospital, on the weekend. We will do everything we can to accommodate their needs.”

Gulf Coast Paper has low employee turnover. “We don’t have a problem with turnover in any of our departments,” Dibble emphasizes. “Overall, we have a pretty stable workforce. We’ve got a lot of people that have been with the company well above 20 years – several are actually over 40 years with the company. So we’ve got a lot of experience and tenure within our company.” Dibble gives part of the credit to Gulf Coast Paper being employee-owned. “That makes a big difference for recruitment and retention,” he says. “When you talk with any of our employees – whether it is a driver or someone in customer service, a sales representative or myself – you are talking to somebody that is a real owner in this company.”

Online Ordering

Many of Gulf Coast Paper’s customers place orders online – few are faxed anymore. “In the last five years, we’ve updated our ecommerce platform twice,” Dibble remarks. “In today’s environment, you have to have a strong, vibrant ecommerce platform. We’ve invested heavily in that, and I continue to see that trend growing more in the future.” 

Online orders are fulfilled by Gulf Coast Paper’s distribution center. “After the customer submits the order online, within seconds it is received in our system,” Dibble explains. “Our people review it, pass it through and it is invoiced. It is sent over to the servicing locations that will handle that order and they process it. Then it goes out on our fleet.”

Custom Catalog Capability

Gulf Coast Paper offers its customers customized catalogs in print or online with products selected by the customer. “It’s totally customer-driven,” Dibble asserts.

The majority of the company’s business is shipped next-day. “We have some outlying markets that we may ship to once a week or twice a week; that varies based on the market,” Dibble explains. “Then we certainly have orders that we will process the same day they come in, if there’s a need for that. When you have much larger competitors in the industry, we need to have greater flexibility, and we certainly do that. We focus on servicing the customer and bringing value to them.”

Gulf Coast Paper helps distinguish itself from the larger national competitors by providing value-added service and support. Gulf Coast Paper employs teams of dedicated specialists for sales and repair with each of its core areas. The company can demonstrate products onsite for customers, such as large floor scrubbers. 

Dibble attributes the company’s success to its employees. “Our employees are the greatest strength that we have,” he emphasizes. “We have a very good group of employees with a lot of tenure within our company, and that makes a big difference. The fact that they are all company owners gives them a greater level of pride in doing what is in the best interest of the customer in growing our business as a company. We are customer-focused, so we work very hard to meet the needs of our customers and bring them innovation. In the end, we want to bring value to that customer. Gulf Coast Paper is ‘much more than paper!’ ’’ 

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