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How My Family's 96-Year-Old Business Stays Current

Buffy Frick Simoni, president of Paper Mart

As any entrepreneur can tell you, keeping up with the times to maintain success is one of the most challenging aspects of leading a business. Whether you're providing products or services to other businesses or marketing directly to consumers, times change and buying habits evolve along with them. Companies that endure and thrive over long periods of time have to change not only how they do business but also the direction of the business itself. Adapting to maintain success and continued growth over the course of 96 years is no small task, but that's exactly what my family has done through four generations of leading our company, now known as Paper Mart.

We began nearly a century ago when my great-grandparents founded California Towel Supply out of their garage behind the family home. It was very much a mom-and-pop organization, with my great-grandfather, G.A. Frick, working as the salesman and deliveryman and my great-grandmother, Emma Frick, doing the bookkeeping and washing. When the Great Depression hit, the business survived in part because of their ability to pivot and focus their efforts on the restaurant and hospitality industries.

My grandfather, Robert Frick, took over leadership of the company in 1946 and grew the business by changing its direction again, this time to focus on distributing consumable products such as paper towels, tissues and shipping supplies. Through the paper towel era of the business, he saw room to grow into a broader janitorial supply company. He purchased a chemical manufacturing company so we could begin selling cleaning supplies and later a paper company so that we could manufacture and sell our own paper towels and tissues.

In the mid '60s, my father, John Frick, took the reins and officially changed the company's name to Paper Mart. Sticking with the lessons he learned from previous generations about adapting for success, he moved away from our company's traditional practice of driving business via salespeople and moved to a mail-order catalog model as that way of doing business began to take off in other industries. My uncle, Tom Frick, joined the company in 1970 to help refocus the company again, growing the distribution of packaging supplies in our primary source of revenue. Paper Mart thrived on that business model for decades, and it remains a major part of what we do to this day. They focused most of the company's energy on continually improving our capabilities to provide better and faster service for our clients until the next big change happened in the mid-'90s.

Entering the digital age

It seems crazy to think about it now, but the internet and e-commerce didn't play a major role in the business world until around 1995. My uncle and father took a chance and made a major investment in this still-unproven technology that year and launched an online store at the same time as other pioneers such as Amazon and eBay. They saw the potential to streamline their mail-order operation with e-commerce to make our service faster and more convenient and adapted to the times. It would be hard to imagine our business today without online ordering, and the early risk our leadership took gave us a head start that helped us expand into a company able to do business nationwide. By the time, I stepped into the leadership role in 2014, Paper Mart had grown into a thriving e-commerce business with a wide range of products for both businesses and consumers.

Throughout the company's history, we've changed and grown with the times by paying attention to what's working best and adapting our strategies to stay ahead of industry-wide trends. I'm proud to be the fourth generation of my family to lead the company, and I'm grateful for the lessons the previous three generations have taught me by paying attention to where the market is heading, investing in new capabilities when we need to head in a different direction and looking for new and more efficient ways to serve our customers. I look forward to continuing that tradition until the fifth generation of the family is ready to take over.

About the author: Buffy Simoni is the president of Paper Mart, the largest discount packaging supply company in the United States, with an emphasis on retail, food and industrial packaging items. Now in its 96th year of business, Paper Mart is a fourth-generation owned and operated family business that currently lists more than 26,000 items for sale.

Edited for clarity and brevity by Nicole Fallon. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Email your pitch to Shannon Gausepohl at

Image Credit: Paper Mart