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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Dave Billian is president of the Billian Co., a computer supply business.
Business Spotlight

Changing with the times

Computer supply firm Billian Co. fills niche, values relationships

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Dave Billian, president of Billian Co., with long-time office manager Jackie Lacey.
Ribbons for typewriters and older printers in stock at Billian Co.

Billian Co.

Address: 2330 Beacon St., Fort Wayne

At a glance: Billian Co. is a retailer providing businesses with computer supplies, including toner and ink cartridges, both new and recycled. As they like to say, “We have computer supplies by the Billians.”

The company also installs access floors in dedicated rooms where computer servers are stored. The raised floors allow room for numerous cables and air-conditioning ducts.

Employees: Two full time, plus contractors as needed

Annual revenue: About $500,000

When was the company founded: 1950 by Al Billian

Biggest accomplishment in the past 12 months: “Keeping the newest products available for our customers,” President Dave Billian said. Long-term relationships with suppliers allow the small, family-owned business to have access to the latest business technology available.

What was your biggest mistake so far in operating this business: The business prides itself on its personal relationships with customers – sometimes at the expense of relationships with the companies those people represent, Dave Billian said. Sometimes a customer’s representative gets a new job and persuades his new employer to become a Billian customer. But Billian might lose the business of that person’s former employer if the retailer is not aggressive with sales calls to connect with the new customer representative hired in, who may have previously worked with suppliers other than Billian.

What are the key challenges facing your business or industry: Keeping up with and mastering the newest machines and the supplies they need, Dave Billian said. The store ends up as a kind of help desk for customers having problems with new technology. When a customer calls to say a toner cartridge doesn’t fit, for example, the staff might have to direct the caller to turn it upside down and try again.

Also, as some companies have moved headquarters or significant operations out of Fort Wayne, including Lincoln National Corp. and Navistar International Corp., Billian Co. has lost some business. Dave Billian believes the executives end up ordering from a company closer to the new location or a nationwide company.

What is your strategy for staying ahead of your competition: Even though it’s a small, locally owned business, Billian Co. offers prices on par with large, national chains, Dave Billian said. The store also can order hard-to-find items, which are typically shipped quickly.

What resources have you found most helpful in running a business: The company’s suppliers have the answers when its employees have a question about the products. Billian Co. sells brands including Hewlett-Packard, Canon, Brother, Dell and Epson.

What are your growth projections for the next five years: Over the past 60 years, the company’s size has remained consistent, a choice the owners made. They don’t expect to change in the next five years.

What is one thing about your business that people might not be aware of: “We’ve been around so long that we still have people buying typewriter ribbons from us and fax supplies,” Dave Billian said. When the business was founded by Dave’s father, there were only a few key-punch card readers in Fort Wayne – no computers.

If you weren’t running this business, what would you be doing: Dave Billian taught junior high school science for two years before he joined his father’s business. He left the classroom to soak up his father’s seemingly boundless technical knowledge and expertise. He’d probably return to teaching.

Source: Dave Billian, president Compiled by Sherry Slater of The Journal Gazette Business Spotlight profiles small businesses that are at least three years old and have 100 or fewer employees. To recommend a business, email the name of the company and the name and phone number of a contact person to lisagreen@jg.net or fax to 461-8893.

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