Midwest Single Source has been successful over the years because it's been willing to adapt to market changes and take risks, its founder said.
"You have to be constantly vigilant and reviewing all aspects of the business," said company president John Osborne.
And service is key.
"It needs to be a partnership," Osborne said. "Eighty percent of our client base has been with us a very long time."
Midwest Single Source sells office supplies and equipment, custom business forms, promotional merchandise and apparel — even the bottled water offered a visitor on a recent day.
Customers have access to a million choices of products and services, said Topeka division manager Sarah Strydom, Osborne's daughter.
Osborne moved to Wichita from San Antonio as a senior in high school. After graduating from Wichita State University with a degree in psychology, he joined the Army.
Eventually, he returned to Wichita and worked for Hilts, a janitorial and supply company.
He went on to work for Superior Building Maintenance as vice president for operations. Eventually, he joined Uarco Business Forms as a salesman.
Osborne said he may never have launched his own business, however, had he not been fired from Uarco after a dispute with the district manager.
He lined up form manufacturers to supply him and began his own company, originally called Forms Management. That was 1976.
In time, the company began selling office products.
"We had no idea what we were doing," he said. "It was a completely different business."
He had to deal with tons of parts numbers and inventory.
And he figured the same customer who bought business forms would buy office products.
"Well, that wasn't true," he said. "We had to prove ourselves all over again with the same client."
The company has refined that operation today, he said.
In the late 1980s, it purchased the former Beal Office Supply and Goldsmith's office products business, a move Osborne describes as "a classic acquisition mistake."
The two companies "didn't get along, and we owned them both," he said. "Those cultures collided. We were in a lot of debt. We lost customers and employees. It was a mess."
It took lots of hard work and cost cutting to make it through that time, he said.
Today, the company employs 45 in Wichita and five at the Topeka office.
It posted sales of nearly $14 million in 2010, up 2 percent from the year before.
For the past year, Osborne, 65, has been working on a succession plan to eventually turn the company over to the younger managers.
In the meantime, the company is working on the acquisition of a Kansas City company. An agreement has not been signed.
Osborne said he never wanted to have a huge business with lots of branches and employees.
"I'd rather be very, very good at what we do," he said.