Brummer Responsible for Engineering
Niagara Paper’s Phenomenal Success
By Rodine L. Dobeck

“When I started at Niagara Paper, the staff was made up of five, six people tops with $350,000 a year in sales. By the time we sold it, we employed 130 people and had $36 million in sales.” Michael G. Brummer is the speaker and the dynamic man responsible for this incredible growth.

Brummer developed Niagara Paper Company from a small local enterprise into a major regional independent fine paper merchant converter. “Prior to my becoming involved, there was no planning, goals or objectives, just the pride effort and determination of my predecessors. We developed this endeavor into a strategically focused organization which had a well-defined value equation and was a valued member of its industry within our trading area.” And all this without a formal education in business or marketing.

Niagara Paper was originally a family business, started by Brummer’s father in 1960 as an outgrowth of his father-in-law’s business. “My father was a truck driver for my grandfather, who was in the recycled produce container business. Niagara Paper was actually started as the result of an accidental purchase from an underwriters’ salvage auction. During high school and college, I worked on the physical side of it.

“When I graduated from college in 1974, I was looking to get a job, but I had a hard time, it was difficult to find work. I was talking to my dad and he had just lost a part-time salesman, so he offered me the position. I had a choice between selling cars or working for him, and that seemed like the better choice.”

At the time, “my formal education was a history major, not business or economics. However, I have found that the history major gave me the ability to understand the cyclicality of markets, regional growth cycles, and a logical way of problem solving
which in turn gave me a different way to look at business. I am able to look beyond what is happening now to see future strategic possibilities.”

Brummer applied this critical thinking to Niagara Paper, especially when the need arose for him to take a more active role in the actual running of the business. “When my father became ill, I felt that I had a responsibility to aid him as well as my grandparents during this trying period. At 25, I had to make the commitment to grow the business, and I worked very hard at it. I was a hands-on manager, who tried to do as much as possible in person. I traveled extensively for years.”

His first step was to strengthen the company’s positioning in the marketplace. “I guess you could call our marketing approach one of finding niches. We created just-in-time, precision customer sizing programs, 24-hour, 7 day-a-week service. We started what we called Paper Today, a retail paper and office supply store on wheels with empowered sales reps on the truck as opposed to just delivery of supplies. Eventually, we had that operating in four different cities at once. We redefined the way people did business in the geographic areas in which we operated.

     “From Buffalo, we initially expanded into Canada.” The logic for that? “If you look 100 miles from Buffalo, you can expand downstate or up into Toronto, which is one of North America’s leading graphic arts markets. Toronto seemed the better time investment, so we focused aggressively on Ontario and Quebec. Niagara Paper Company Ltd. Was the first US-owned paper distribution company in Canada.

“The other growth strategy we tried was to be one of the first and most aggressive companies to bring global supply into our strategic plans. I developed foreign supply relationships by utilizing research resources. I discovered who was manufacturing competitive products which we could utilize, and made it my business to contact these companies, and establish relationships.

“After a period of research and many product trials we finally focused our growth upon supply from the Scandinavian producers. In addition we brought in products from Western Europe as well as Asia and other parts of the world. We became a regional independent means of market access for new alternative suppliers in what was a tightly controlled franchise system at that time.”

Bummer brings to current clients his experience with Niagara Paper and the philosophy he has developed over the years. “I have the ability to go in and effectively and efficiently analyze business activity, how they can become more effective, and what actions will be necessary to achieve success. I can do this because I’ve lived it. I understand business ownership-I have personally guaranteed more money that I can pay, I have lived with the anxieties that come with ownership. Most other consultants have learned the process but not really lived it.”

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Michael Brummer & Associates Inc. | 168 Farber Lane | Williamsville, New York 14221 | (716) 479.7980