GUY BROWN TURNS TONER INTO A $200,000.00 A YEAR BUSINESS !
GUY BROWN TURNS TONER INTO A $200,000.00 A YEAR BUSINESS !
2009-03-10 at 11:37:02 am #21823
Chamber’s Tera Vazquez turned ink into gold
Vazquez is president of Nashville-based Guy Brown Products, a
nationwide office products supplier with revenues near $200 million a
year, and the incoming president of the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of
She joined with partners Ashoke “Bappa” Mukherji and Jay Chawan
years ago to sell recycled toner cartridges to businesses and city
governments. That may seem like a mundane business, but Vazquez and
company have relationships with corporate giants such as HCA, Comcast,
John Deere, Walt Disney Co. and the city of Los Angeles, among many
others.Vazquez, a native of Lima, Peru, moved to the U.S. as a college
student and went on to earn a master’s of business administration
degree from American University. Now, she hopes to take a more visible
role helping the area’s Hispanic businesses flourish.
She spoke with Tennessean Business Editor Randy McClain last week.
What were sales in Guy Brown’s first year?
first year of sales was $179,000. It was a scary time, but we had a
path and a plan. Once you make a decision, you do not look back. The
best way we found to get our name out there … we joined an entity
called the Tennessee Minority Supplier Development Council, which is
run by Cheri Henderson as executive director.Through them we started
participating in national trade shows, having a booth and getting our
name out there. The first year in business we did 27 trade shows
nationwide. It was a massive effort.
Were you doing deliveries in those early days?
We went through other distributors — an Office Depot, an Office Max,
somebody who could deliver the products for us. We manufactured ink and
toner cartridges. That was our role. We had a plant in Chatsworth,
California, near Los Angeles.At that time, Chatsworth was a center for
this kind of manufacturing. The knowledge and information technology
was there, so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and operate out
of a “garage operation” in Nashville we decided to go where there
already were resources in place.It was 100 percent a remanufacturing
operation. We recycled everything, and the key to success was to
collect used cartridges and replenish them. We really had to work at
Were there any middlemen who’d collect the cartridges on a broad scale and sell them to remanufacturers like Guy Brown?
But we found that wasn’t the most cost-effective way to do it. We set
up programs with Office Depot and others at store sites to collect the
cartridges for us. Whenever they delivered a load of paper to a company
they’d pick up empty cartridges and put them on a pallet for us. We’d
come by, sort them and ship them to our recycling plant.
How did you win clients? Who was your first big catch?
first year in business we landed the city of Los Angeles as our
customer. To be able to tell the world that we had the city of L.A.,
the police department, water and power, the whole thing … as our
customer was wonderful for us. We met the mayor’s economic development
representative at one of the trade shows that we did. We made a
presentation and after some testing, they accepted our products, and
they saved $400,000 the first year in costs. We’ve also sold products
to the Walt Disney Company for nine years.
How have your sales increased and how many more products do you sell today versus day one?
sales last year were $197 million. Our focus since day one has been on
customer service. We still only manufacture (toner) cartridges, but all
other office supplies we buy from other providers and sell them to our
customers. In Nashville, we have our own Guy Brown distribution fleet
of trucks.Nationally, we work with other distributors such as Staples
or Office Max to carry our products and distribute them for us. And in
some locations we partner with other minority-owned companies to do
How did you branch out into medical supplies?
acquired a small company called Specialty Medical in Ohio last
September, and we are just starting to ramp up our business-to-business
sales in that niche.They were a small company doing most of their sales
online. We saw it as an effective way to get into that sector without
having to buy a $200 million medical supply company. The challenge now
is to expand sales.Specialty already had relationships with suppliers,
although they didn’t sell in a big way to hospitals, doctors’ clinics
and places like that. We will try to expand sales to new customers and
serve our existing ones with new products.A client like Bridgestone
Firestone, for instance, uses rubber gloves in their (tire) plants. We
have other customers — large ones such as AT&T, Boeing and Comcast
— that aren’t medically oriented but they might require masks,
protective gloves and other items, too. We want to be a partner that
brings solutions to the customer.Vanderbilt University, for instance,
buys office products from our company already. We will try to sell them
medical supplies, too.
business environment like for a minority-owned company? Is corporate
America more willing to do business with firms such as yours today?
are still companies out there who want to talk the talk, but do not
walk the walk. It’s part of doing business. But I think that’s in any
world. If you really want to make a sale, you have to stick with it and
be persistent. It’s not just a diversity issue.
recently became president of the Tennessee Hispanic Chamber of
Commerce. How do you see that group aiding with business development?
have more than doubled our membership over the last eight months. And
we have formed strategic alliances with groups that represent the
Tennessee contractors and others. Our Chamber is embracing all these
other organizations.We are also working with Conexion Americas, which
works with Latino families on social development, housing and other
needs. We are more focused on economic development, but to achieve
(that) you have to advance socially as well.
As the economy slows, are your customers buying fewer office supplies, cutting back on purchases overall?
definitely, we have felt the contraction. We know that our products are
still needed, but they’re needed in less quantity.How do we go forward?
I am a firm believer in strategic alliances and networking. I learned a
great lesson recently. We just landed a piece of business from HCA (the
hospital company). That came about through our involvement with the
Tennessee Minority Supplier Development Council. We still had to
compete on pricing, quality and service, but we were one of the two
finalists and we got some of the business just a couple of months ago.
What do you project for 2009?
have been very fortunate that our company does not carry a lot of debt.
We are functioning very well. We have a line of credit, but we try not
to use it. We are not cash-strapped. So, that helps.Nowadays, it’s
impossible to forecast sales accurately and pretend you know what
you’re saying. We probably will end up close to what we made in 2008,
maybe a couple of million dollars more.Adding medical supplies will
help, but realistically in anything you launch there is a cycle. And it
will take us a good six months to start seeing results. Everything
takes time, especially when you are dealing with large corporations.
TENNESSEE HISPANIC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
President: Tera Vazquez
Luncheon: Help becoming a minority supplier, contractor
Speaker: Cheri Henderson, president, Tennessee Minority Supplier Development Council
Time: Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.
Place: The Boundry, 911 20th Ave. S.
More info: 615-578-2477 or http://www.hispanictn.com