Leveraging a winning combination that has sustainability and technology at its core, Complete Office Supplies (COS) continues to dominate in its field. As Australia’s largest family-owned office supplies business, boasting a turnover in excess of $120 million annually, its continuing growth and success boils down to one key philosophy: superior customer service rules all
COS offer an all-in-one solution for all office consumables, from paper and toner to coffee and bathroom products, for corporate and government agencies.
Founded 40 years ago by Dominique Lyone, an Egyptian immigrant whose family fled to Australia after the 1967 Six Day War, its humble beginnings saw the business established first as a local office stationery business in Western Sydney. Back then, the top selling item was typewriter ribbon. “Today, we sell more hand towels than toner,” laughs Belinda Lyone, General Manager Strategic Sourcing and Marketing at COS.
Hand towels are one of the company’s more unusual product lines within the office supplies space, alongside toilet paper, technology, coffee and just last year, fresh milk. Belinda says they are always tuning in to their customers’ needs in an attempt to deliver them convenient solutions, which is why COS added dairy produce to its extensive range of 21,000-plus products.
“Traditionally, office product companies didn’t sell coffee or toilet paper, but we have learnt that we do have to keep an absolutely open mind. We’re working on new categories at the moment and the under-lining thinking is always: what is the office buying and is there any reason they couldn’t be buying it from us?” Belinda explains. “Last financial year we identified that our customers were buying fresh milk every week. Initially we thought, is it something we could source competitively, so that it would make sense for the customer to get it in one delivery and on one bill?”
Evidently, it was. Milk sales are shaping up strongly and have proven to deliver convenience to key customers and diversification to the business.
Being a family business, sustainability is always at the forefront of the way they operate, Belinda explains. “An overriding consideration for us as a family is the understanding that we are in this game for the long term, so decisions need to be made with a long term view point,” she explains.
“To this end, we have a policy to ensure that no single customer is worth more than five percent of our business, and that is about preventing a knockout punch. We don’t ever want to be in a position where if we lost a customer, we’re at risk of losing the entire business. That wasn’t always the case – we have had times where one customer could have been worth 30 percent – but going forward, this strategy serves our sustainability goals.”
Together with her sister Amie Lyone, Head of Operations, and the rest of the six-person executive team, COS works globally to find strategic suppliers, with an aim of selling products that help make people more productive or more healthy in the modern office.
Dominique Lyone remains very hands-on as CEO and while Belinda looks after sourcing and marketing, Amie manages operations, including warehousing and distribution functions, as well as their customer support centre.“I’m responsible for the service level our customers experience and that means it’s up to me to make sure we deliver in full, on time, and that any touch point they have with the business is a positive one,” Amie says.
One of the keys to COS’s success over 40 years in the industry has been its willingness to continually innovate and put the customer first, Amie explains.
The introduction of technology to the product range is a prime example of this – as is its customer service team, which includes a call centre and a live chat team.
As a family operation that was established in an era when customer service meant face-to-face visits, Amie says delivering impeccable service remains at their core of the business.
“Within our service centre today, live chat is the latest way our customers interact. That’s growing significantly in popularity. We still have customers who call and email, and occasionally we still hear a fax come through. But the majority of our conversations are happening via our website, where consumers are utilising live chat,” Amie says.
“That team sits in our customer experience division and they are trained as our product experts, which means our customers are getting live interaction with a person. They know who they’re speaking to any one time. We even have a photo of the person on the screen, so they can see they’re talking to a real person.” This adds a personal touch to their ecommerce platform, which Belinda is proud to confirm is cutting edge.
When building the digital service offering, it was “no longer about what are our competitors doing globally,” she shares, “but what more a conversation about what is happening in ecommerce generally”.
“Online shopping has exploded and ecommerce in the B2B environment was behind. We looked for inspiration by trying to see what are other big, successful retailers doing online, so we could make sure the customer experience of buying online at a personal level is translated into buying office supplies.”
The team then took it one step further to consider the B2B aspect of ensuring reporting, approvals, progress management and business features were offered, without sacrificing the customer experience.
With a large and diverse government and corporate customer base, COS takes its responsibility to deliver on its promises very seriously, and this extends all the way through the supply chain. “When we’re managing suppliers and the product coming in, the main thing for us is transparency. We need to know when it is arriving so we can ensure that when we make a promise to the customer, we can deliver it,” Belinda says.
“We do place a lot of emphasis on performance and we can’t perform if our suppliers don’t perform. If they have a strong technology platform across how they manage their inventory, that does help us to deliver a better service.”
Promoting transparency and maintaining an ethical supply chain is also “really important to us” she adds.
“As a family, we’re conscious of our impact on the planet and we keep that as a core focus. We have an ethical sourcing policy and we’re pretty clear with our expectations surrounding child labour and the use of natural resources,” Belinda says.
“Any supplier we choose to consider does have to review and acknowledge where they do and don’t comply with our policy. From a global point of view, we’re literally visiting the factories in China on a regular basis and if I see something that sets off a red flag, I’m not afraid to move on to another supplier who is more aligned with us.”
It’s clear that a sustainable approach flows through every part of the business.
[boxout] The Lyone Foundation
With family values at its core, COS established the Lyone Foundation as an initiative to support Australian people. A generous 15% of all profits pour into the foundation, which means that when a customer chooses COS, “they know that 15% of the money we make from the order is going to charity”, Amie says.
In one of their recent projects, they supported an indigenous childcare centre in far north Queensland. “One of the challenges for indigenous children is arriving at school with literacy and numeracy skills. We were able to help fund a centre where children under the age of five can go for free, with their guardian and an indigenous elder on site, to provide a fun place where they have access to pre-school learning to get ready for ‘big’ school.”
Staff are invited to join the charity selection committee if they wish to be involved, and both Amie and Belinda sit on the board of the Foundation, which primarily supports Australian causes. “We’re a success story of immigration; our dad came here from Egypt in the 60s, didn’t speak a word of English, didn’t finish school,” Amie says. “If it weren’t for charity when he arrived, we wouldn’t have survived, as he lived off food stamps and they helped him find a house. It was really important to our dad to give back to the country that gave him his start.”