FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Jeff Hallock
March 10, 2015
I meet a lot of people – some of whom are very successful and haven’t hit too many bumps in the road, they’ve always done well. That’s nice. Interesting. But what about the people who’ve hit bumps, been down, struggled – overcome adversity and not lost their humility. Case in point ,Jeff Hallock, President of Office Concepts Incorporated.
Born in Winnipeg, Jeff is eldest of three (he has two younger sisters) – to parents who met in Regina. Mom worked in banking, dad was an electrician who worked in facility maintenance. Jeff was a good student. He graduated from Oak Park High in Winnipeg and wanted to get into the workforce. He wanted money (to live on his own, dating, cars, and beer were priorities). He entered (and then left) the University of Manitoba Certificate in Management Program (he later returned to finish). Key learnings for him were business law and writing skills.
Jeff’s first job was at Jim Gauchier Chevrolet in Winnipeg – washing cars. In 18 months working hard, working his way up, but was denied his wish to move into sales. He quit. He sold Sharp photocopiers for a year – got fired because he wasn’t making his sales quota. A headhunter he met suggested he might be good at office furniture sales. He knew nothing about it, but went to the interview – got the job in 1991 at a Steelcase dealer. He said, “Mr. Brown, if you hire me you won’t be disappointed”. In his first year, he was 21, he sold $800K worth of furniture – lots of small orders. “I was never afraid to make cold-calls. I’d found my niche”. Jeff adds, “You need a mechanical aptitude – we are dealing with very complicated Leggo”.
He started Office Concepts in 2003 from his apartment's spare bedroom (now a large showroom, 25,000 sq. ft. warehouse and a fleet of trucks) – after several job moves. To Calgary as sales rep for Knoll (2 yrs.), Oggo Furniture (2 yrs.) – Jeff told me how much his dad helped him at the start, as a cheerleader, helping him not be a knee-jerk guy.
“Furniture is about 80% of our business, walls make up about 20% - and across that spectrum 75% is sale of goods, 25% is installation and services. We started with service, because that was all we had … ”
What has contributed most to your success? “Hard work, determination. When you start a business you have to put 100% into the business – and we all did. You have to be unprepared to fail.”
What has held you back? “Not having a major manufacturer for our first eight years – that limited our chances for large projects – which has changed. We are now in our 3rd year as a Haworth dealer”.
Jeff and Sandra met when they worked together at Oggo furniture. Sandra is office manager at Office Concepts. No kids.
Last words? “Everybody has nice products. We aren’t all things – we don’t focus on education, hospitality or government – our business is corporate and technology. A roster of clients and lots of competition, which is often a bidding contest. We are like a fire hall – a team attached to hose, especially when doing large installs. Furniture doesn’t install itself.”
I asked Jeff how he sees his businesses – office furniture supply and installation; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… business is good – and by that I mean ‘new business’ in 2015. Coming off fiscal 2014 – we doubled our business volume from 2013 – so far we are seeing some larger projects delayed but so far, none have cancelled. Though, we are getting 3-4 calls a week from people wanting to sell used/surplus furniture. Looking back to the slump of 2007-08, it was the service side of our business that saved us, so we expect that bodes well for us if we have a prolonged downturn, if that is the case.
Over the next five years?
… this industry will continue to be a ‘relationship business’. The planning and sales process will continue to evolve – using the latest software tools – which makes for a quicker/more accurate sales and ordering process. I expect we will see some dealer consolidation if we have a prolonged downturn.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… someone who has taken an interest in my needs. Loyal. People who provide service the way we provide it to our customers …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Jeff Hallock and Office Concepts, why do they do business with you?
… we do what we say we are going to do – EVERY time. We jump through huge hoops sometimes to get it done. Experienced staff who work hard.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… easy going. I give people a lot of latitude to make decisions. If you aren’t making some mistakes, you aren’t learning.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… the economy. Running a small business – there are 25 of us; I worry about everybody keeping their jobs. In 2007-08 we didn’t make any money, but everybody kept their job.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad instilled a ‘we can do whatever we put our mind to’ attitude. He used to say, “if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” He also said, “timid sales people have skinny kids”. Coming to Calgary. Help from a competitor, now retired, who has been a mentor.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… now I do. We have a home in Vernon – we are out there every weekend in the summer. Boating. Sandra has started golfing …
… I used to play lots of hockey … getting into golf again (broke 80!).
What do you read?
… business books, biographies. I’m reading the new Tony Robbins book – MONEY Master the Game. I’m not a big fiction guy.
… 2012 Yukon. And all those delivery trucks. We buy used and refurbish them - but we own them!
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