The advent of the Internet and the growing pervasiveness of digital printing equipment in offices has changed the paper business considerably. Overall paper consumption is down and businesses rely on outside commercial printers less, but because businesses are printing in-house more, they are becoming a growing market for wholesale paper distributors such as Lewis Paper, based in suburban Chicago.
“Businesses are shifting from being retail paper customers to being wholesale paper customers,” COO Tom Clarkson says. “It’s tricky because they don’t know who we are or how well we service, but once they see the difference between wholesale and retail pricing – that’s a big selling point for us.”
Lewis Paper, one of the largest wholesale paper distributors in the Midwest, has also diversified its product line beyond paper to include packaging and break room, janitorial and office supplies to serve this new niche as a one-stop shop. In doing so, the company has expanded its potential customer base beyond printers to include every type of business.
The company still primarily sells to commercial printers, which account for more than 70 percent of sales. But it only branched out into packaging three years ago and other supplies two years ago – and it has a strong foothold with businesses that already represent more than a quarter of sales.
“This is a new focus for us, so we’re not expecting much growth just yet, but in 2015 and beyond, we think growth in this market will be very strong,” Clarkson says.
Lewis Paper specializes in smaller orders for small to medium-sized customers. It distributes locally – within an approximately 50-mile radius from each distribution center. Limiting itself to local distribution enables it to keep costs low enough to deliver smaller quantities. Delivery is free with a minimum order of $150.
“If you order by 5 p.m., you’ll get it in the morning the next day,” Clarkson says. “If you order by 11 a.m., you’ll get it by the end of the day in certain areas.” Customers can also pick up their orders if they don’t want to wait for delivery.
Lewis Paper was started by husband and wife Dick and Miriam Lewis in 1982. Its first location was in Wheeling, Ill., which is where the company’s headquarters are today. Its delivery fleet includes more than 40 vehicles.
There are eight distribution centers in four states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Colorado – which serve more than 4,000 customers in those states as well as in Wisconsin and Wyoming. It has more than 4.5 million pounds of inventory in 250,000 square feet of warehouse space.
Caring for Forests
Lewis Paper is committed to doing business with suppliers that practice responsible forestry and are certified by independent third-parties. Its eco-friendly portfolio provides high-quality choices for all environmental printing requirements.
The company has been awarded Sustainable Forestry Initiative chain of custody certification, which means the content of products sold by Lewis Paper comes from certified forests and is sourced through a rigorous fiber-sourcing program. The certification helps consumers identify products that are manufactured from well-managed forests.
It also has chain of custody certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent nonprofit devoted to responsible forest management worldwide.
Beating the Competition
Staples and Xpedx are the big national players in this space, and there are a slew of regional distributors, too. “We’re different because our minimums are so low, we have overnight delivery or the ability to pick up locally and we have the breadth of our offerings,” Clarkson says.
That breadth includes more than 10,000 SKUs, according to Clarkson. “It’s all available in our warehouses,” he says. “We may have to overnight it from one warehouse to another, but we have an internal transfer system so customers can get their products on time.”
But because business customers have fewer paper requirements than printers, Lewis Paper presents the former with fewer paper SKUs and more office products to choose from. “Because wholesale is usually new to them, we try to keep it simple,” Clarkson says.