by John George
Two years after merging, EMSCO Scientific Enterprises and SUPRA Office Solutions are plotting their next move — literally.
The combined company, which operates as separate divisions, is planning to build a $10 million headquarters for the business within the West Parkside Industrial Center that it now calls home. The move, expected to be completed over the next 18 months to two years, will allow the Philadelphia company to grow its staff of 20 to 100 employees.
Lin Thomas, chairman and CEO of SUPRA and EMSCO, said its proposed 70,000-square-foot headquarters on eight acres will provide space for the company to consolidate its warehouse, loading docks and offices at one location — an improvement over the 20,000 square feet it occupies in separate parts of its current building in the industrial park.
“We really are in disjointed space here,” Thomas said.
Charles “Ken” Carter, president of SUPRA and EMSCO, agreed a change of address is in order.
“Building a new headquarters is a necessity because of the business we are currently doing and deals we are close to closing,” Carter said. “If we close just a few of those deals we’ll be out of space. We need a state-of-the-art facility to serve our customers.”
The minority-owned company — which consists of SUPRA selling office products and furniture and EMSCO selling scientific products — expects to generate revenues of between $25 million and $30 million over the next 12 months.
SUPRA’s four partners — Thomas; Carter; Derrick Suswell, the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer; and Ismail A. Shahid, the executive vice president for sales and government affairs — all share accounting backgrounds.
Thomas and Carter first worked together at an accounting firm started by Thomas, who later joined a corporate client in the office products business. Suswell, who had initially worked in the accounting firm as a student intern, was recruited by Thomas, to work in the accounting department of the office products company.
Shahid’s dad had been a client of Lin’s accounting firm. Shahid worked at the office supply company as an intern and later, after attending college, was hired full time. One year following the passing of the founding and major shareholder of the office supply company, Thomas, Carter, Suswell and Shahid together founded SUPRA Office Solutions Inc. in June 2011.
SUPRA’s customers include Universal Companies, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pennsylvania, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Jewish Family and Children Services, and Dow Chemical.
EMSCO, founded 1980 by former ARCO Chemical Co. executive Evalind Minor, sell laboratory and research supplies and equipment, chemicals used by pharmaceutical manufacturers, and industrial chemicals. The company has well-established strategic partnerships — but also sometimes competes — with larger wholesalers and distributors such as Avantor Materials Inc., Corning and VWR Inc. (Avantor of Center Valley, Pa., is in the process of acquiring Radnor-based VWR.)
Carter said when SUPRA was first founded, the partners envisioned growing by acquiring businesses. About three years ago Shahid, through his contacts, learned Minor and her business partner Rod Clifford Sr. were looking to sell EMSCO so they could retire. “We talked with them, but initially we said no,” Carter said. “We wanted to wait and focus on our industry and see if the opportunity would come back later. Eight months later it did. A deal [EMSCO] had fallen through.”
Suswell noted over the past decade the office supply industry has shrunk.
“Some of it has to do with technology,” Suswell said. “We are selling less toner and paper as companies put more and more information on thumb drives.”
The acquisition of EMSCO provided a way for SUPRA to enter a new business line using its already established infrastructure. The acquisition also allowed it to generate additional revenues from many hospital and university clients that were already SUPRA customers.
“The synergies were there,” Carter said.
Among the new clients EMSCO has brought in? Temple University, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Bristol Myers Squibb.
Shahid said the new headquarters will allow EMSCO to offer much-needed warehousing services to its university clients, particularly those nearby in and around the city.
The new site, like the old site, is on Parkside Avenue in an area classified as a HUBZone, a Small Business Administration program that provides enhanced federal contracting opportunities for small companies that operate and employ people in historically underutilized business zones.
SUPRA, shortly after the merger, hired Patrick Oates to lead the business development efforts for EMSCO.
Oates had spent more than a decade in product development and marketing at several pharmaceutical companies including GlaxoSthKline, Sanofi Aventis and Wyeth.
“I was looking for an entrepreneurial activity,” Oates said. “I’d been through all the M&A action and was looking for an opportunity to grow something.”
Seated around a conference table with SUPRA’s four partners, Oates said: “These guys are all accountants. When they sit around and talk numbers it blows my mind, but I’m the guy who can talk about things like immunotherapy. We complement each other.”