President and CEO of Yuletide on His Start in the Business and Advice to Newbies
In our weekly blog, "Beyond the Bio," we ask MBQ Power Players to write a post of their choosing about their industry. This is the second post from our June/July issue which features the category of Office Design. Last week, Henrik Schmidt talked about celebrating a quarter of a century in the U.S.
In 1973, I was 16 years old and my father, Paul Miller, Sr. gave me a choice: Either sack groceries or work for Yuletide Office Supplies. He had founded the small company to address the need he was having getting office supplies to support his already existing publishing business. In those days, office supplies were not as readily available as they are today. Dad could have cared less if the new company had a real future, because the profit margins were “penny ass” compared to his thriving publishing company.
So, with a fresh driver’s license in hand, my journey began. I was delivering supplies and working in sales. The biggest question we got was “why the name Yuletide?” My father was a brilliant marketer. He chose the name because he wanted something that would be easy to remember, and bring a smile to one’s face. Back then, we used to wrap each box in Christmas paper and include a candy cane. It became something of a joke- the idea of delivering presents in July. We used to say that they were presents leftover from the holiday that Santa had missed. Today we don’t wrap the boxes, but we do still include candy canes in each order. Our customers enjoy getting those as much as their supplies!
When I started here I had no idea that I would be selling office products, janitorial supplies, technology products, and offer a full service furniture showroom in 2013. As with any business, there are daily challenges and there is always risk. My father always said, “Put your mind to something and don’t do it half ass. Do it right or don’t do it at all” I have lived by those words and risks have paid off “most” of the time.
The big box companies began coming into the national market when I was around 28. Office Depot, Office America, and others had deep marketing pockets and their message was clear: “We are bigger, better, and will save you money.” As the chains began strengthening their grip, many family owned business across America sold out, either unable to compete or were simply forced out. Yuletide navigated these new challenges by computerizing our operations, and by joining a buying group called Independent Stationers. This gave us access to competitive products, and marketing materials. I certainly believe in fate, because our acceptance letter arrived just one day after a rejection letter arrived from a different buying group.
The office supply business used to revolve around paper. A receptionist could not do without her pink “while you were out” pads. Accounting departments had to have their printed balance sheets, with all the necessary columns. These products were once bread and butter items for us, but are now all but extinct. The trends are now headed toward more “paperless” environments with the adoption of newer and faster technology. I personally enjoy having a paper trail for my projects, but that’s just me.
Today, Yuletide has three generations of family involved in the company. I have shared the following advice with them, as I would offer to anyone starting out:
Listen: Whether through social media channels, or any other outlet, understand your customer’s needs and concerns. Facebook is a great and fun way to interact and stay in touch with your customers.
Be involved in your community: It’s important to get to know your customers and to support the many non-profits that work so hard to better our community.
Read trade magazines: Keep up with what’s going out there and make sure you are current on what is trending. There is nothing wrong with copying what someone else is doing if it works.
Be sincere: If you tell someone you are going to do something, do it! The only thing we really leave behind is our reputation.
Be nice: Do not ask anyone to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself. You must earn respect from your peers and not expect it to be given.
Have passion: To be successful you must have passion for what you are doing. The passion must be there in order to work the long hours that it requires. If you don’t like what you’re doing, get out now. Life is too short not to enjoy.
Be open to change: It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary in order to succeed in such a fast changing market. I am doing things today that I could not have imagined doing when I used to drive that one small delivery van.
To me, life is about waking up in the morning and feeling grateful for good health, good friends, and a feeling of accomplishment for all the hours it takes. Keep moving forward and I promise you will find many reasons to be thankful.
Power Player Bio: Chris Miller
President and CEO, Yuletide Office Solutions. Started working at Yuletide in 1974 at age 16. In 1987, became President. Clients include City of Memphis,Duncan-Williams, Lipscomb & Pitts Insurance, and The Orpheum. Yuletide maintains giving at least 9 percent of net profits back to the community. Recipient, 2007 Crystal Award, Association of Fundraising Professionals, and 2010 Small Business Award, Memphis Business Journal. Named one of 2012’s Top 50 Fastest Growing Dealers, Proficiency Post.