Betting on the Small-Town Office Store

BUCKLEY – There are certain businesses you expect to find in small, rural towns. Office supply stores aren't generally among them.

Yet Kelvin Shaw, who owns the Traverse City Cartridge World franchise, which remanufactures printer ink cartridges, is betting that enough people will appreciate the convenience of stopping in at the Buckley Office Express to make a go of it.

"Nobody else has done it as far as I'm aware," he said. "Most of our customers say they're surprised to see we're here."

He had noticed that the business was getting a lot of customers from areas south of Traverse City, like Buckley and Mesick.

Shaw wants to see if the concept works, thinking that if it works in this town of about 570 residents, it just might work in other small towns as well.

In fact, Shaw says he's been encouraged since opening the store in September. With the exception of a couple months when M-37 was torn up in town for the installation of a new streetscape, the clientele has been steadily growing.

"Since then, it's been steady growth," he said. "We've been seeing about a 20-percent increase per month."

In addition to saving many people the half-hour drive into TC, the store boasts about 700 different products, though without as many choices per product as a big box office store. Still, people can stop by to pick up pens, paper, cash register tape, or to make copies or send a fax. He even sells some printers.

"We haven't had too many people come in and not get what they were looking for," he says.

Shaw says he strives to keep the prices competitive with much larger office supply stores.

"We can price to be very competitive and still make a good margin on it," he said. "I don't want to be convenient but expensive. I don't want them to feel they're getting a better deal by going in to Traverse City."

The store expands on a concept he's been offering with his ink cartridge-exchange business. He's established several drop-off spots in other towns around the area. They're in UPS offices in Traverse City, Cadillac and Petoskey and at Crystal Copies in Beulah. Shaw said he's also setting up a drop-off spot in Mancelona.

This store, however, is devoted to general supplies, in addition to ink cartridges.

Shaw is also trying to be a good neighbor through the Buckley store. He's contributing a percentage of the store's receipts to Buckley Community Schools. He doesn't want to say what that percentage is, because he's still tweaking it.

"It's a moving target at the moment, depending on the volume," he says.

The store has issued a couple of checks to the school so far, and Superintendent Rick Heitmeyer said he's glad to have the store in town for other reasons, as well.

"We appreciate the working relationship with them," he said. "They're right here if we need ink and toner and we bought a couple of printers from them."

Shaw says the store also delivers products to businesses around town, as well. BN