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 user 2009-03-10 at 11:37:02 am Views: 44
  • #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.

    What’s the
    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.

    Phone: 615-221-0330
    President: Tera Vazquez

    Coming soon
    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