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Last Update: Tuesday August 20, 2019

Key Idea: Do Business Your Customer's Way

Gerald Tebola at Houston's Health Science Center says Tejas Office Supply was quick to accommodate its request that products be delivered in plastic bins that are recycled back to Tejas.

Key Question:

A: 

Let the customer make the rules.

Whether Lupe is being sensitive to his customer's ecological concerns, delivering a lost rubber stamp or buying an inventory item at Office Depot, the focus is always the same…customer, customer, customer. 

It seems so simple and so obvious, doesn't it? Staying focused on the customer is a common mindset of successful companies, big and small. It is Lupe's customer commitment that motivated him to invest thousands of dollars in online ordering functionality.

Q: How do you show your customers that you appreciate them?

A: Lots of companies send their customers cards and presents at Christmastime. This is a good idea and it's probably risky not to remember your customers during the holiday season, particularly if they expect that you will. Little gifts throughout the year, demonstrating your gratitude for your customer's business are a great way of saying "thanks for contributing to our growth".

Nothing, however, shows your appreciation as much as providing them with great service and friendly faces. Lupe is careful during the hiring process, to ask prospective employees if they like people. Everyone from Tejas Office Products who has contact with the customer is considered a goodwill ambassador for the company. This is a great lesson for all of us.

Think about it

What would your customers say about the service that you deliver? How are you using technology to make it easier for customers to buy from you?

Clip from: Tejas Office Supply is all Texan.

Houston: Texans are resilient and resourceful, and people of deep faith.  When Hurricane Ike struck, they began turning to each other to  pull through thiat  storm together.  Pictured above is Lupe Fraga.  He came with his family to Houston as a young boy and grew up as a Texan.

He captures the spirit of this part of the world.

In 1962 Lupe Fraga left his bookkeeping job to buy an office supply business but steady profits did not come quickly. Today, over 150 employees turn $40 million a year making Tejas Office one of the largest minority - owned businesses in the greater Houston area.
 
He borrowed some of the start-up capital from Irene, his girl friend; and, the owner financed the purchase. He married Irene -- "the best thing I ever did in my life" -- and then he learned  profits do not come easily.

This is a family business. Michelle is their first born; and the day we met her, she was busy teaching a new manager and leading a customer service training session. Alisa, the middle child, handles human resources and says that caring can be measured on the bottomline.  Stephen, the youngest Fraga says that they all wear many hats. Stephen followed in his father's footsteps and graduated from Texas A & M. Rather than coming to work at Tejas Office right from school, Lupe encouraged him to work for a large company which he did for two years before joining Tejas in 1998.

Named by Governor Rick Perry to the Texas A&M Board of Regents and currently Chairman of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank Dallas-Houston, Lupe also volunteers for the Greater Houston Partnership and The United Way.

Tejas Office

Lupe Fraga, Owner

1225 W. 20th Street
Houston, TX 77080
7138646004

Visit our web site: http://www.tejasoffice.com

Office: 7138646004

Business Classification:
Office Supplies

Year Founded: 1961

Do Business Your Customer's Way

HATTIE: You're on the cover of Hispanic Business magazine.

LUPE: Yes.

HATTIE: You're a dot-com. What did it take to move to online ordering?

LUPE: Remember, we talked awhile ago about columnar pads?

HATTIE: Yes.

LUPE: ...and how you've got to be out front?

HATTIE: Right.

LUPE: We saw--and, again, Wayne Bartkoviak, who's on our staff is really, I think, the tops in the area of dot-coming. But anyway, we saw that the trend was to Internet ordering and having to supply reports for customers. And so we were out front, and Wayne came to me and he says, `Look, we've got to make an investment.'

HATTIE: So what kind of money did he ask you for?

LUPE: Really. First, it was $10,000, $20,000, you know.

HATTIE: Then he keeps coming, `I need more. I need more.'

LUPE: He keeps coming, you know. I said, `Wayne, when is this going to stop?' But no, I could see the benefits of it. You know, again, the banking relationship that I talked about. I go to the banker, I say, `Look, come on. You know, this is a trend in our industry.' I had already established a relationship. So it wasn't a case of him not knowing what we were doing

HATTIE: You've got your line of credit. Now you go to the banker for a big chunk of cash.

LUPE: Yes. Exactly. This is what our industry's telling us we need to do.

HATTIE: So you had stats from the industry. And Wayne had done all this homework.

LUPE: Yes.

HATTIE: You don't just go to the banker and say, `I need money to be a dot-com now.'

LUPE: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Really, we told them what the possibilities were. Our sales would increase, you know. And so they were very receptive.

Unidentified Man #1: The Internet ordering is now becoming a requirement to do business. And approximately 20 percent of our business is conducted over the Internet. We have all the tools that the big guys have. But we also have one thing that they do not, and that is the personalized service that goes along with it.

LUPE: There used to be about 500 office supply companies here in Houston. I think we're down to 50 now.

HATTIE: Ten percent of what there was, maybe, in the '70s. LUPE: And it's because, again, everybody panicked, everybody gave up. We didn't. We just kept fighting on through. And people said, `Well, how do you compete with an Office Depot and...'

HATTIE: Right. Tell me, how do you? LUPE: Oh, it's easy.

HATTIE: I love that. I love that. 'Let the big guys come. No problem.'

LUPE: Yeah, let them come. Because they forget about the customer.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) For the past 10 years, the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center has purchased office supplies from a big company. This year, Tejas won the account. The green plastic delivery tubs replace cardboard, and are part of the Health Science Center's sustainability program.

GERALD TEBOLA: Tejas started delivering their goods in green tubs to see how we can keep so much cardboard from coming into the university.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Director of distributions Gerald Tebola.

GERALD: And the neat thing about Tejas is they're way ahead of some of the large businesses. There's nothing that they won't do for the customer, and we have seen that in so many ways. For instance, I have a story here. There was a customer who ordered a rubber stamp, a measly little rubber stamp.

HATTIE: And this is a person that works in your health science center.

GERALD: Absolutely. In this building, as a matter of fact. And somehow the package was lost, and when it was finally found, Mr. Fraga himself brought the package out to him and delivered it.

LUPE: (Voiceover) I have gotten more compliments on our drivers. You greet everybody. OK, so that's the first thing you do.

Unidentified Man #2: Good morning.

Unidentified Woman #2: Hi. LUPE: (Voiceover) Second is, `Where do you want me to put this merchandise? Can I move this for you, or do this, or whatever?' We really feel that our delivery personnel are also salespeople for the company--for the organization. And we reward them, give them cash sometimes. I mean, it's just an arbitrary amount, you know, that they don't even know that it's coming, and they love it. Unidentified Man #2: You have a good day. Unidentified Woman #2: OK.

LUPE: When we're hiring, people kind of laugh at me. But I say, `How do you feel about people? Do you like people?'

HATTIE: Is that a question that you ask?

LUPE: I ask them. I say, `Listen, do you like being around people? Do you like being friendly and jovial and so forth? Because that's what we want.'

SHEILA PESADA: I got some of these made up for some of our customers just to show them we appreciate them.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Sheila Pesada is an outside salesperson who came up with her own marketing idea for Halloween.

SHEILA: And I have the Tejas touch: `We make every day a treat for you.'

HATTIE: Sheila, did you do these on your own computer at home on the weekend on your own time?

SHEILA: Yes, I did, the whole weekend. And my kids helped me out, too, and we cut them out and did the ribbons on them.

HATTIE: Did your kids get to have some of the candy?

SHEILA: Yes, of course.

HATTIE: Why are you different from Office Depot or Staples or any other big guys, or even any of your small competitors, too? What is the Tejas difference?

LUPE: I tell you--you said you wanted a specific, right? I'm going to give you one. We had to buy an item from Office Depot one time because they're the only ones that had it, and we're going to take care of the customer. So even if we don't make any money on the item, we're going to go ahead and take care of this.

LUPE: So I go to Office Depot, I buy the item, I bring it back here, I deliver it to the customer. The customer doesn't care where it comes from. So later on, a couple weeks later, I get a statement from Office Depot, saying, `Hey, you owe this invoice.' I said, `Fine. OK, I'll pay you.' I mean, we're talking, like, $10, $15, you know. I said, `Send me a copy of the invoice.'

HATTIE: Because you're going to use it in your billings for your other customers.

LUPE: Exactly.

HATTIE: Right.

LUPE: I said, `I need a copy of the invoice.' You know what they told me? `It'll take you six months. It'll take us six months to get you that.' Isn't that something? When I heard that, that was like music to my ears. I said, `If it takes six months to get a copy of an invoice, boy, what about access to a buying history?' The key is that they get so big they forget about that customer and consequently, they're not able to really serve them like the customer wants to be served.

HATTIE (In the Studio): Most small-business owners admit that they win and keep customers with a personal touch. This is our competitive advantage over big companies. We know the names of our customers. We live in the community with our customers, and we even come to see customers as a part of our family. But high touch is not enough in this competitive world. As a small-business owner, you must have high-tech to support your high touch. You can be the nicest, friendliest, kindest, sweetest, most attractive person, as is Lupe, but if you cannot provide customers with the efficiencies of technology, you will lose them, and you won't have a prayer when it comes to winning big companies. Lupe embraced the Internet early. He partners with a technology company that specializes in software for office supply firms. When big competitors made it possible for customers to order on the Internet, Lupe was there. Don't think that friendship and charm can make up for outdated business practices. High touch must be supported now by high-tech.


 
 

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