By Morgan Bryce
On Oct. 10, 1946, Mr. and Mrs. Judson Salter, Cecil Stowe and Jim Thigpen came together to found the Alabama Office Supply Company. Providing office items like pencils, paper, furniture and Thermofax copying machines, the store thrived and quickly became an Opelika establishment. Seventy years later, the family-owned store is continuing its mission: to provide great customer service and quality products to its consumers both locally and across the state.
The business was originally located in the building that is now home to Jefferson’s, at 905 S. Railroad Ave. The Salters, Stowe and Thigpen split the duties, as Judson handled the business’s finances, Stowe ran the store, and Thigpen was the chief salesman. A little more than a year and a half later, Thigpen suffered a major heart attack and died, and Stowe wanted to leave the business, forcing the Salters to buy out the other shares and become the business’s sole owners.
The Salter’s daughter, Anna, married longtime Opelika resident Harris Asbury, who joined AOS in 1960. Harris, who had previously served in the U.S. Air Force and worked at a textile company for several years in Atlanta, said that there was a major learning curve when he first started.
“I came down here to work, and at first I couldn’t tell you the difference between a gem clip and a file cabinet … but I learned. It’s a repeat business, and I knew people from high school and called on them and got them to buy from us instead of buying something from out of town,” Asbury said.
Soon after his arrival, Harris took over the day-to-day operations. He said that he continued the business’s growth in both customer base and revenue, and in 1976, they moved to its current location at 201 S. 8th St.
In 1982, Harris’s son Wake joined the company, and assisted his father in the daily operations, until he officially took over for his father in 1995.
Wake said that the opportunity to work in his family’s business was a rewarding venture.
“It was hard at first, adjusting to it, but it’s been very good, very rewarding for me, to be able to take a business and grow it over the years like we’ve been able to grow it. Dad was always real easy to work with, and he gave me a lot of freedom to not only make mistakes but to take chances that I thought were good,” Wake said.
Under Wake’s leadership, the business has expanded to Montgomery, added on to its retail furniture selection, created an easily accessible and usable website for its consumers, and joined a national buying group, which Wake says give them an ability to compete pricewise with other, larger chain office supply stores.
With Alabama Office Supply’s diminishing need for retail space, Wake’s wife Joan moved her commercial and residential furniture and interior design business,Wakefield Home, to fill the void, providing the store’s visitors with an assortment of options in business and home décor.
This summer, Wake’s son Lucas, an accountant, joined the company, making him the fourth generation in the family to work in the store.
Weathering the often stormy economic seas and dealing with larger, chain competition stores has proven unable to slow down Alabama Office Supply, and Wake said he believes that the business’s longstanding tradition of excellence is a significant reason for that.
“I think people trust us. We’ve been here for a long time, and people know if we say we’re going to do something, that we’re going to do it,” Wake said. “And we provide a level of service that’s way beyond our competition and I’ve been able to build up a lot of relationships over the last 35 years with people that know what this business is all about.”
Harris, reflecting on having a business in Opelika, said the city’s growth and support of their business were the two biggest reasons for their success.
“It’s been so much fun to watch this city grow like it has over the years … and folks who have been customers of ours forever still buying from us,” Harris said. “I would speak very highly of Opelika to anybody who was looking for a place to live and have kin folks here. This is such a great place to live.”
To learn more about the products that Alabama Office Supply has to offer, visit www.alaoffice.com, or call (334) 749-3456.