by Claire Sykes
For more than 100 years, Borden’s has been a fixture on Arnold Avenue, the main street in downtown Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. It began with the Borden family, who opened it in the lobby of the local theater. It made sense then – it was a cigar store, part of a chain of 3,000 smoke shops representing the interests of the Consolidated Tobacco Company.
Over the years, it grew to become a full-line stationery and office-supplies retailer that sold cigars; necessitating an expansion. As growth continued, space was added until the building took over an entire empty lot. Then came the successful introduction of educational materials, art supplies and other new categories.
In 1972, the business was purchased by Edward Slater. The last of the tobacco products were soon gone from the shelves.
Edward’s son-in-law Barry Lubin came on board 20 years later, leaving his job as a marketing manager to go run the store. Eventually, he bought it.
In February, Borden’s moved a few steps down the street, to a space that’s the same size as the original theater-lobby cigar shop! Barry explains that the store’s smaller footprint is actually one giant leap toward future success. Here’s his story.
Ed Dealer: Tell us how the move came about.
Barry Lubin: The 7,000-square-foot building that housed our old store was sold. The new owner plans to subdivide it and put apartments throughout the upstairs. When we got computers, we didn’t use the clerical offices and stockrooms on the second floor anyway. It was empty, but we were still paying for it.
The 4,000-square-foot space two doors down was too big for anyone else, and the owner made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Our new space is street-level only and more open, yet compact. You can see everything we carry all at once. We save on overhead and have better cash flow to try new merchandise. It makes our business more viable going forward.
Did you have to edit product categories to keep Borden’s “right-sized”?
When we moved, we didn’t get rid of anything. We have less space for bulletin board sets, so we double up.
We have a full selection of educational, office and stationery supplies that keeps growing. Office supplies is our largest category, at about 40 percent. Teacher supplies is 30, cards and gifts are 25, stationery is five, and art supplies and “other” make up the rest. Delivery is 60-percent office supplies, and the remainder school supplies, whether it’s furniture or decorative materials.
Our biggest “hurt” is with supplemental books. Because we don’t have room for as many book racks, we can’t display them with each title facing out. We’re selling very few now, anyway, due to the internet, where teachers can buy just a couple of pages.
How do your product categories complement each other?
Teachers always need office supplies, and teacher supplies can be used in offices. The same with art supplies, which are used in homes, classrooms and offices.
The new store is longer and narrower, so products flow from the front to middle to rear, from paper to envelopes to pens and pencils, all the way back to classroom decorations. Our bestsellers are greeting cards – we have the full Hallmark line – art and craft supplies, and classroom decorations. Copy paper and printer cartridges are office-supply bestsellers.
In the old days I reordered by sight, and then counted and recounted. Now with our POS system, I can run a report very quickly to see what I need.
Where do you get ideas for new products to bring in?
We listen to our customers. If they ask for a particular product often enough, I think maybe I should have it on the shelf. A lot of things I can get tomorrow or the next day, and I tell them that. But if I don’t have that inkjet cartridge in the store – and they need it today and go somewhere else for it – then I just lost a sale.
Sales reps and trade magazines are other ways I get ideas. I haven’t been going to tradeshows recently – they’re expensive and time-consuming. With email now, I can get a new catalog whenever I want.
What services do you offer?
We provide laminating, copying, notary, fax, scanning, email, shredding and shipping. That’s a lot of essential services all under one roof. No other single store in town provides that. And, we offer them for a more reasonable price than do other places.
If we can get customers in the store for a service, they may buy something. Or, if they come ready to buy, they’ll see that we ship UPS, for instance, and the next time they need that service, they’ll let us do it for them.
These services have become a much larger part of our bottom line.
Borden’s has been around a long time. Is it the variety that makes it so successful?
As our slogan goes, “You can find it all at Borden’s!” And if you can’t, we’ll do our best to get it for you the next day.
We run the store as an old-fashioned enterprise, with staff that’s been here for many years. It’s great to be on a first-name basis with many of our customers.
Who are your customers?
We’re in the heart of a wonderful small beach town where business increases tenfold in the summer and doesn’t shut down in the winter. We still depend on walk-in trade.
We serve people throughout the tri-state area. We have one of the largest selections of educational products in New Jersey, and we’re partway between New York and Philadelphia.
We fill school purchase orders, and we have accounts with local doctors, lawyers and restaurants – our largest – and other stores and small businesses of all kinds. Those small businesses make it a point to buy local from another small business, not from a chain or some website.
How do you market your store to them?
Nowadays we use social media; Instagram and Facebook for most of our regular advertising. If I get a new product, I’ll take a picture of it and put it out there. We also have a large email list, mostly of teachers, that we use every few weeks to advertise our educational products and announce special sales. We still use the local newspaper, mostly for holiday sales. The local Chamber of Commerce sends out email blitzes that often include an ad of ours.
Who are your competitors?
Our main competitor is Amazon, and many chain stores around here also sell much of the same product as we do. But there are no other school-supply stores in the area. There are a few art-supply stores, but we’ve got a much better selection.
We fight our competition with old-fashioned and friendly service. That’s what differentiates us. And unlike the employees in some of the chains, our staff knows our stock.
Our store doesn’t look like a big box or chain store. That has its pros and cons. For instance, many shoppers think that we charge more for our products because we’re not a chain. This is not true!
You mentioned you have employees who have been there for years. How important are they to Borden’s success?
My staff is the backbone of the business. Right now, we have four full-timers and five part-timers, and after being together for as long as we have, we’re all family. On average, our employees have been here for 20 years, although one of them has been selling for us for more than 30 years. She was here before I bought the store!
We have very little turnover. During the summer, we employ teachers. Then once a month, a young woman who works full-time for the county comes in so I can take the day off to hang out with my family. I’ve got three boys, all in their 20s, and I’ve recently become a grandfather for the first time.
Congratulations! Life sure brings happy changes. How has Borden’s changed in the nearly 30 years you’ve been here?
In 1992, most retail was brick-and-mortar. The economy went up and down and everyone could do well. Since then, so many stores, big and little, have gone away. Borden’s is my heart and soul. I’m proud that we’re still here as a valued presence at the Jersey Shore, and I’m confident that we’ll be around for many more years!