Crains Office Supply: Competing With The Big Box Stores And Winning

Olympia office suppliesGreg Seals, co-owner of Crains Office Supply with wife Mary Seals, found his calling in the office supply business even before he’d graduated from Tumwater High School, in 1981.

“I started as a delivery boy at Griswolds Office Supply in1979,” he says of the store that was then located at Fifth and Washington in downtown Olympia, current home of Wind Up Here. “I went there every day after school, from my sophomore year on.”

Greg landed the job after it was suggested that if he wasn’t going to play sports, he might want to find an after-school job.

“I worked there for five years and became a salesperson after I graduated from high school,” says Greg.

He found that he liked the office supply business and interacting with people.

“I worked at Griswolds until 1984, and then at another office products company for 11 months,” he says. When Crain’s Office Supply (now known as Crains, without the apostrophe) opened their doors, they asked Greg to be their sales manager.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Greg says with a laugh.

Greg and Mary took over the company in January 2010, after the original owners retired.

Olympia office supplies“I was always a salesperson and out doing public relations around the community,” says Greg. “And I still go out every day and call on clients I’ve had for 20+ years.” He’s even been known to ride his bicycle to sales calls when the weather cooperates.

It’s not an easy time to be an independent business owner, but Crains Office Supply continues to do well during the downturn.

“It’s probably one of the roughest times in the nation’s economy to be doing this,” Greg says. “That being said, we are experiencing growth.”

About four months ago, Crains Office Supply was awarded the City of Olympia’s contract to deliver office supplies all across the city for police, fire, and City Hall.

“We competed with some of the big box stores, and they chose us,” Greg says proudly.

It surprises some clients at first, but prices at Crains Office Supply are not higher than the big chains stores. And the customer service is unparalleled.

“I hear it from people a lot,” says Greg, “‘We wouldn’t be getting this kind of service from a big box store,’ or ‘A big box store couldn’t even do what you guys are doing for us.’ And that’s always a compliment.”

Another thing the big box stores can’t do is fix typewriters. In fact, Crains is the only local group still repairing and working on typewriters at all.

Olympia office suppliesCrains Office Supply delivers every day – and there’s no charge for delivery or a required minimum order.

“We have about 30,000 items available overnight for our customers,” says Greg. “You can go to our website, submit an order right up until 5 o’clock, and still get it the next day.”

Greg knows that different people like to buy in different ways. “We’re perfectly happy with people calling us on the phone, sending a fax or an email, going to our website if that’s what they want to do, or having us come to them. There are really five ways to buy from Crains Office Supply,” he says.

Such flexibility is just one way Crains Office Supply competes with the chain stores.

“When I first started in the business, there were no big box stores – no Office Depot, Staples, Office Max – those companies were nonexistent,” he says.

Dealers like Greg have had to change with the times.

“For example, we belong to a buying group,” Greg explains. “We buy with about 800 other dealers across the country, so our buying power is tremendous.”

Because Crains Office Supply buys at a great price, it can sell at a great price. “People underestimate us sometimes, thinking we can’t compete with those big box stores,” says Greg. “But we can – we do every day.”

Crains Office Supply also carries its own private label, Universal, a brand designed for the independent dealer, with more than 1,500 items.

In the same location for the 26 years, Crains Office Supply is at the corner of Fourth and Quince. Half of its 4,000-square foot showroom is dedicated to furniture and the other half is what Greg calls the good old-fashioned office supply store, where people can walk in, find a pen, get an envelope, whatever they might need.

“We also have a full furniture department, so we have a large number of ergonomic chairs on the floor that people can take a test drive in,” Greg says. In fact, Crains will send a chair to an office and let someone sit in it for several days to see if it’s the right product for them.

“We also do ergonomic consulting with companies,” says Greg. “We’ll go in and help them to get their people comfortable and productive.”

A lot of folks know Greg from his years of working at Crains Office Supply, but many may not yet know that he’s taken over the store.

“If you come in, you’ll still see the same faces,” he say, with a laugh, “but maybe the faces you’re seeing are now the owners and not just employees.”

Visit Crains Office Supply’s website and Facebook page for more information about the longtime Olympia staple.


Olympia office suppliesCrains Office Supply

1006 E. 4th Ave.

P.O. Box 555

Olympia WA 98507


Hours: Monday – Friday 8am to 5pm

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