Exec Business Products is an independent, business to business office supplies company. We provide St. Louis businesses with everything from custom printing to hardware, and all the supplies in between. The company has been around for 30 years, me for half of that time. Exec has thrived in a competitive market by offering great service, prices as good or better than the chains, and free local delivery.

1. What first spurred you to get involved with social media for your business?

Well, the office supplies business is one that is rooted in old school methodology…from top to bottom, and as a result, I thought the sales process was a bit primitive…cold calling or canvassing door to door, trying to get your giant catalog in the hands of buyers, it works if you put enough numbers into the funnel, but it is also very hard to differentiate yourself from your competition…so I thought social media might present an opportunity to better leverage my sales efforts, since I am a small company, and get my message to more people than I could otherwise, in a way that the competition maybe had not caught on to yet.

2. Tell us about your online strategy. What online tools are you using now to grow your customer base?

I blog about office supplies at execdeals.com, I use email marketing, and I have an e-commerce site for my local office supplies business. And I use social media like Twitter, of course. I spend a good deal of time trying to tie all of it together and get them working for each other, so to speak. I am starting to try out some other things, like a Facebook fan page, some video…but the whole strategy is in constant flux..I am always trying new things, backing off others that don’t seem to be working.

Also, fairly recently we developed this idea of creating ‘niche’ e-commerce sites. By niche I mean sites focusing on one product line within the office products world. With the 100,000 item universe of office products, it’s a way we feel we can get the most SEO bang for our buck, as well as do really well with our customers in terms of price and service. We just launched the first one…it specializes in paper shredders.

3. What’s the ‘one thing’ that social media has taught you about your business?

That I can’t use it to directly sell office supplies, actually…they are a commodity item people can and will buy from anywhere as long as it is cheap, and they don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about them…which is very different from selling something handmade or unique. At the end of the day, you can get the same Sharpies at the same price anywhere you go. I can compete with the chains on price, but I also realized I can not afford to ‘out-discount’ or out-market them to get my new customers, and people don’t want to hear about the price of my sharpies anyway. What I can do is to use social media to develop relationships, let people get to know me, get to know them, further my network, be informative, etc.

Social media has taught me that my best customers buy from me because they like dealing with me, or they like my delivery driver, or they like that I know their order history and they can call and ask for ‘those yellow things’ they got two orders ago and I will know what they mean…they see that as a value. They know my copy paper will be at least close to Sam’s price…but they also know my driver will bring it into their office and put it where they want it…so, maybe if it’s a dollar more a case, that is actually cheaper. People that want to call 10 places and check the prices of everything they need, or scan a bunch of websites…I probably don’t present as much value to them.  Problem is, there is probably more of the latter, so like I said, we are trying to find a balance, and it is all very much a work in progress.

4. What was your biggest marketing tactic success in 2009?  Your worst?

The tactic I was most successful with was putting my focus on SEO. learning about SEO and getting found online is where I am going to see the biggest return on my investment, so just starting to embrace that idea was my biggest success. Your seminar, Will, was a big part of realizing that.

Worst? lots of little things did not go over as well as I hoped, but I think I avoided any big disasters for the most part.

5. What was your biggest marketing blunder? How did it affect your business?

I think my biggest blunder was being ‘spammy’. I don’t really know that it affected my business, other than maybe some lost opportunities, but it finally hit me that it is better to engage and be informative, even educational, but not pushy. The odds that somebody cares about, much less needs, the office supply I was touting at any given moment is slim…but being helpful, engaging, informative and maybe even developing a relationship, …well, hopefully that gets you remembered when the need does arise.

6. How do you compete against the bigger names in your industry?

Exec partners with a distributor that is a huge publicly traded company. They deal only with other independents like me, all over the country, and use their enormous buying power to keep me on an even playing field price-wise. They use state of the art fulfillment and shipping equipment and they also help out with the marketing..,they provide lots of materials to send out. They also maintain the electronic catalog of over 100,000 items.

7. Are there any new tools that you’re playing with that haven’t caught on to the mainstream, but are working well for you?

I wish I was…but I don’t think I am. However, within my industry, as best I can tell, there are not many other companies like mine blogging and using Facebook and things like that to educate and inform their customers, so in that sense, even though mine versions are still new and fledgling a bit, I feel like those things are slowly starting to gain traction for me.

8. What is your favorite part of what you do? Your least favorite?

My favorite part is working with my customers, especially when we can save the day for them by getting them something for a deadline or that they otherwise did not think was possible. If they succeed and look good, then so does Exec…my least favorite part is probably the same as everyone’s: all the administrative stuff…the paperwork, it is a necessary evil, but I feel like it takes me away from the stuff I really enjoy

9. Greg, I know you are also the main force behind the St. Louis Social Media & Tech Report.  Keeping up with the latest SM events, news and happenings must take a lot of time.  Where do you get your information for the site?

Yep, that is me too…back when I started trying to incorporate social media into my company I thought I could document that process in a blog and help others with doing the same thing, but trying to do a ‘how-to’ blog just was not for me…I am not that technical of a writer. However, I enjoy blogging and there was (and still is) a lot of interest in social networking events around town, and people in St. Louis coming together and interacting with each other…so after a few early attempts at the how-to aspect, I had the idea for the St. Louis Social Media Report, and it has just kind of gone from there. It remains a work in progress, and just a hobby, but honestly, it has also been a good networking tool for me as well, I have met some good people through that blog and the events it talks about.

As for getting the information, at this point, I still go out and find almost all the news and events myself, which does take a lot of time…although I have set up lots of twitter searches and google alerts that get passed into my RSS reader that tip me off to most of them. I am trying to develop a network of ‘tipsters’ to send me stuff, that and asking for a little more input from others is a goal for 2010, but so far, it is almost all me.

It does take a lot of time, but I enjoy it and the response has been real nice. I have a few interesting ideas for it too, so I am excited to see where it leads next year.

10. Do you recommend any books or blogs that have influenced you or helped your business grow?

Actually, it just occurred to me the other day that there are a ton of great books out there that I want to read, but I have not been reading actual books enough lately, mostly because I read a ton of blogs and other stuff online.

So I guess let me point out a few blogs I like:
Duct Tape Marketing this one helps a lot with ideas for marketing my business
Lifehacker – always cool information on there
ReadWriteWeb – a solid web 2.0 blog
Ribeezie.com – a little more obscure maybe than those others, but a good take on social networking.

One Response

  1. Will & Greg I enjoyed the read. The Q&A format of your recent blogs is very easy to read and very fun and interesting to read. Thanx Will.

    Greg, I can relate to much of what you disgussed. I have been following your SM website and hope to joint the SM Group. I look forward to viewing your site and Thanks for sharing your experiences.
    Good Luck with you ventures.

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