Stationery and Office Supplies Limited's 23 Beechwood Avenue head office.

When there is a problem, you either complain or create a solution. That solution can evolve into a namesake and transcend the decades once you have the team and support behind you to continue that journey forward.

This week's corporate profile looks at a company which not only furnishes the offices of Jamaica's major corporate businesses, but also manufactures the Seek brand of exercise and other books which are products that is used by nearly all schoolchildren in Jamaica.

David McDaniel was working with a stationery company as a salesman in Jamaica's nascent days after its Independence from Great Britain and collapse of the West Indies Federation. At the time, he noted that customers could not get the goods they wanted and that the service wasn't matching the expectations he wanted them to have of the firm. After speaking with his two partners Richard Hing and George Hew, Stationery and Office Supplies Limited (SOS) was formed on July 23, 1965, less than a month after Dr Martin Luther King Jr was presented with the keys to the City of Kingston.

McDaniel served as the firm's first managing director out of a 600-square feet location at 18 Melmac Avenue in St Andrew.

"People were requesting things from the company I used to work with, which was a stationery company, and they didn't have it. That's why we really started the company. We wanted to give services and products to people in general who wanted things. We found there was a lack in service of people getting what they wanted when they wanted it," said McDaniel in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

In 1969, the company moved its head office to 7 Haining Road to facilitate its expansion. Some of the firm's recognised customers then, and even now, included Red Stripe and J Wray and Nephew. In 1970, Hing and Hew sold their stake in the business to McDaniel and his wife Marjorie, who became the sole shareholders of the firm.

The firm stayed at its Haining Road location until 1997 before moving to its current location at 21-25 Beechwood Avenue, where it operates out of a 35,000 square feet warehouse and occupies nearly an acre of land.

"There were restrictions on imports because the Government needed you to have permits to bring this in or that into the country. It is still being done now, but I think, with people understanding what the country needs, they have been relaxing up some of the rules and regulations on imported goods which has made life easier in the last 20 years," McDaniel explained about the difficulties the company faced in the early days.

At the time, the company used to distribute for many local manufacturers who produced office furniture. This included office chairs, metal desks, and cabinets for storage. However, the market began to shift with many local firms unable to produce partitions or stations which customers demanded for the evolving office.

This led the company to the importation of the Fursy's System Office Furniture in 1995, with SOS as its exclusive distributor. SOS has continued this and currently represents for Torch Furniture, Image Furniture, Sentry Safes, Gardex Fire Resistant Cabinets, and is an authorised service agent for Fellow Shredders. It's even added AIS Inc and the Evolve Furniture Group recently.

"I think the biggest moment that I can personally recall was when we installed our Fursy's office system with National Continental Corporation, which is now CBC. We have come from drawings on graph paper to Autocad and have come a long way. It was an experiment, and I must say Mr Butch Hendrickson was really great in going along with us. He was the first person that we supplied this office furniture to, and it has stood the test of time in that the furniture is standing after all these years," Marjorie added as her most memorable moment during her time in the business.

As the company grew it moved from one van to seven Kuri's and eventually more than a dozen delivery trucks to move its products across the island. It opened its Fairview, Montego Bay, office in 2010 to meet the growing demand from that side of the island as well.

"If we didn't have family coming into the business we probably would not have continued the business. The technology and younger generation are what have grown the business to what it is now. It is just because it's a family-related business and the story of this business. When I say family, we have direct family, but staff members have been with us for 25 to 30 years. Without them we would not have been able to make it to where we are now," McDaniel added on the impact of his three children in the firm.

Kerri McDaniel-Todd joined the company in 1992 with Allan McDaniel and Kelli McDaniel-Muschett joining in 1998 and 2000, respectively. All sit on the company's board of directors and carry out critical roles in the company's everyday running.

"Invariably, we would supply a company here in Jamaica and they were happy with the results. They were opening up a branch or expanding to the other islands and the first people they would call are the people who supplied the goods initially for their home market in Jamaica," Marjorie added on the company's ability to service numerous firms across the Caribbean.

In June 2017 SOS launched its prospectus at $2 a share and was able to list on the Junior Market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) as it raised $95.05 million to grow the business stronger. This was accompanied by the May 2018 acquisition of the Seek brand for $80 million, which pushed the company's sales past the $1-billion mark in the same year.

"Well, it was the cost of money. Borrowing money from a bank or institution costs money, and we were definitely encouraged by our younger generation to go public. I think it has really worked out extremely well for us. It's one of the best decisions we ever made. It gave us that cash flow which didn't cost anything, made us more visible to the Jamaican market as our name became a more household name. It was a larger group of people that heard about us and they were interested in us, and it helped business to grow significantly over the past five years," said Marjorie on the decision to go public.

In October 2021 Allan was promoted to the role of managing director as he took over from his father who also demitted the role of chairman to Stephen Todd. While he noted that he was grateful for the role, he is really focused on continuing to grow the business as usual.

"We always try to pivot to wherever the business takes us. If you stay stationary, you're not going to go anywhere. Seek opened us up to the back-to-school market, which opened up a new revenue source for the company. In terms of furniture with the call centres, that's just the way to go. The corporate world was there, but Jamaica was focused on getting all these larger call centres. It was only common sense to follow that trend, especially since our suppliers were providing those products as they were whether it be partition stations or benching units," Allan said.

Allan aims to make Seek a Caribbean brand once the company reaches the capacity to do so. The firm acquired 10 additional book manufacturing machines from D&K's Printing and Office Supplies in June, which has opened up new revenue streams for the company and expanded their production capacity. The company's Seek sales doubled during its already historic second quarter. For the first six months, SOS earned $847.70 million in revenue and $173.67 million in net profit for the period. Its assets stood at $1.09 billion with $119.64 million in cash. Its stock price is up 154 per cent year to date at $16.23, which gives it a market capitalisation of $4.06 billion.

As he looks to make his impact at the company for the next generation, Allan continues to look back at how SOS can make an impact at the grass roots level. The firm started the SOS Scholarship Programme in 2017 to assist two first formers every year all the way until they graduate with the necessary tools. The first two recipients recently worked with the firm during a summer break as they became more accustomed with the firm.

"We were looking at different avenues of how we could give back, and when my son started at Campion he got a scholarship to go there. I had a lot of contacts there because of him, and I started speaking to people there and realising how much of a struggle it was for even Campion. I decided and brought it to the company and said I'd like to start this programme. We missed one year because of [the novel coronavirus pandemic], but right now we have eight kids and we're trying to do two every year for every new first former coming in. The truth is that we'd like to do more as best as we can," Allan explained on the social initiatives.

"We fortunately had the cash flow to be able to continue to order regardless of the time or COVID-19. Our inventory allows us to supply to anybody anything they want now. Based on the supply chain disruptions, and it taking anywhere from three to six months to get products here, we have been able to just stock products. What has benefited us admittedly is the fact that we've been selling to a lot more distributors than we ever did before. For us, this is great as it almost allows us to have another salesperson out in the field because they're still selling our products," Allan added on the company navigating the supply chain disruptions.

When asked what he'd say to other budding entrepreneurs, David said, "If you want to start a business and you want it to grow, you need good service, good quality products, and remember that your customers are the ones that pay the bills. Without your customers, you don't have a business to run. I have customers which we started with 55 years ago and we're still dealing with them.

Stationery and Office Supplies Managing Director Allan McDaniel
Chief administrative officer and Company Secretary Marjorie McDaniel alongside husband David
Allan McDaniel observes a worker aligning the Seek covers to paper.
Allan McDaniel showing paper which can be customized under the Seek segment.
Allan showing the final Seek books after being cut.
From left: Managing Director Allan McDaniel, Director of Special Projects Kerri Todd, Director of Purchasing & Administration Kelli Todd, and Chairman Stephen Todd
Allan McDaniel showcasing SOS's latest warehouse of furniture and other products.
Co-founder and director David McDaniel(Photos: Karl McLarty)
BY DAVID ROSE Observer business writer

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