Lucas CEO scoffs at 'paperless' office

FAITH IN HARD COPY

November 05, 1990|By Cindy Harper-Evans

David Kessler scoffs at the notion of a paperless society.

"I don't believe it will ever happen," says the new CEO of Jessup-based Lucas Bros. Inc., which touts itself as America's oldest office products center.

"I heard the idea of the paperless office and how it was the biggest hurdle the industry would have to overcome about 12 years ago," said Mr. Kessler, whose company sells more than $1 million in paper products each year.

"If you look at the office, it's wonderful having information on computers and cassettes, but everyone will eventually need that hard copy they can touch and they can feel."

Mr. Kessler, 61, enthusiastically discusses growth in the office furniture and supply industry, yet he says supplying office products at Lucas Bros. is almost incidental.

His principal challenge is "motivating, it's training, it's expanding, it's explaining," he said. "The product just comes with the territory."

Mr. Kessler is a 16-year veteran of Lucas Bros., which was founded in 1804 on East Baltimore Street and stayed there until the city's Great Fire of 1904.

Mr. Kessler said his plans for Lucas Bros. do not stray from the course set by its last president, Conrad A. Bruns, who retired last month at 64.

"I want to continue to build Lucas Bros. into one of the most viable vendors in the mid-Atlantic region," Mr. Kessler said.

Lucas Bros. serves a four-state region -- Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware -- and had roughly $60 million in revenues in 1989. About 90 percent of its sales come from long-term furniture and supply arrangements and 10 percent from its printing division, specialty advertising and retail stores.

He plans to expand Lucas Bros. showrooms into Washington and Northern Virginia, where the company has developed a respectable market share over the past decade.

The company's pride is the Office Supply Ordering System, which helps customers keep track of their furniture and office needs and costs. Marriott, the Rouse Co. and First National Bank are among its 500 major accounts.

"Today, with everyone being bottom-line conscious, this is very important," Mr. Kessler said, referring to the fiscal usefulness of the ordering system.

Mr. Kessler said competition from huge office products discounters isn't much of a threat to Lucas Bros. because discounters are geared more to the home-office market and to companies with fewer than 50 employees.

He added that Lucas Bros. is fairly well insulated from a recession because people always have to buy furniture for their offices.

"Our products are a necessity, but we don't sit around and wait for the phone to ring," he said. "We go out with a very, very aggressive posture."

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