Finding her own niche

Missouri Office Systems & Supplies zeroes in on profitable growth

Virgie Dillard, 56, had a successful corporate career before the seeds of entrepreneurism took root. Before launching Missouri Office Systems & Supplies Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1993, Dillard set record sales as supply department manager at Missouri Typewriter Co.-now Missouri Information Solutions. That experience and success convinced her she should be in business for herself.

“The main purpose for starting my business was as a retirement vehicle,” says Dillard, president and CEO. “My research told me that there were few female minorities in the business equipment area.

I saw the opportunity to create my own niche.”

Dillard’s employers believed they, too, could benefit if she started her own business. By forming an alliance with a minority entrepreneur, they would have access to specific contracts. However, even with her work experience and a detailed business plan, she was unable to borrow start-up money from conventional lenders, so she used the $10,000 limit on her credit card and borrowed $10,000 from her husband to get started. She launched Missouri Office Systems & Supplies Inc., specializing in computer hardware, packaged software and business supplies.

After opening, she discovered that establishing reasonable credit terms with vendors was difficult. However, her former employer charged her only 1% interest to use its million-dollar credit line with IBM to buy the equipment she needed for a particular resale. The gamble paid off. After one year, the business grossed over $300,000.

Business continued to grow until she was forced to hire an additional salesperson in 1997. That year, sales hit $1.2 million; they reached $2 million in 1998. Today, she employs four full-time employees. The company targets commercial businesses that buy in bulk and want service contracts.

“We don’t really cater to walk-in business,” explains Dillard. “I would be in competition with superstores and be required to keep too much inventory on hand.” Her current client roster includes the Kansas Speedway Corp., North Kansas City Hospital and the James B. Nutter Co.

Being her own boss has been difficult but rewarding. The company has appeared on the Top 25 Minority List in the Kansas City Business Journal for the past three years and was the recipient of the Small Business Administration’s Supplier/ Distributor of the Year Award in 1997.

“Starting a viable business isn’t easy but the rewards are great,” says Dillard.

Missouri Office Systems & Supplies Inc., 7140 Wornall Rd., Kansas City, MO 64114; 816-363-5151; www.8asup plier.com.

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