In 1980, Specialized Mail Order, Inc. sold its first catalog – 84-pages printed in black and white on newsprint.
"We started out as a manufacturer's rep. We called our dealers and they told us they could not get enough literature from the manufacturers and could not compete against the mail order companies. They wanted someone to help them put out a catalog," said Ron Roos, president and founder of the Illinois-based SMO Inc.
Following up on that need, SMO leaders decided to print their own catalog to sell to material handling dealers around the county to help them compete. "SMO has been putting out material handling catalogs for dealers ever since then," Roos said. This effort has evolved into a 500-page full color catalog with matching website. SMO has fully embraced the role of conduit between manufacturer and dealer.
"We tell our dealers that catalogs are a self-liquidating advertising vehicle. The catalog allows them to keep their company's name in front of customers at all times," Roos said. "We have dealers that have sold millions and millions of dollars (of merchandise) from our catalog program."
The goal is to provide dealers with an economic way to compete in the marketplace via reasonably-priced paper and online catalogs, according to Roos, who said most of the manufacturers utilizing SMO's program have been with the company for 20, and even 30, years.
"It is very rare that a vendor would ever leave the program," he said. Based in Bensenville, SMO serves customers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Today, the print side of the business is still doing well, despite the boom of digital in recent years. "The Millennial (generation) will eventually force it out," said Roos. While print is in a "very slow trickle" down, Roos said SMO's Internet catalog is doing well. On both platforms, the need among SMO's customers remains strong. "They still need a vehicle to get to the customers.
It definitely has a niche in the marketplace," Roos said.
Roos sees a bright future ahead. Eventually his son, who has been with the organization 14 years, will take over the business. "We see the dealer as a vital distribution channel in the material handling market segment. There will always be a need for dealers that the mail order companies cannot fill," Roos said.
There is a certain unchangeable nature about material handling, he added. "In general, basic material handling materials stay the same," said Roos, describing the trucks, shelving and other basics manufacturers still rely upon.
"It's a stable product line. It's not like clothing. Things don't change that much in material handling," he said.
Roos said SMO's philosophy going forward also remains unchanged - "doing what's right to keep both parties happy." "So far it's worked well," he said. "We're confident in the future it will continue to work well."
Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen.