Every time Shawn Stearns walks through the showroom at Modern Office Connections in Murphysboro, he sees a pair of vintage photocopiers. The forerunners of today’s multi-function copying and printing systems, these machines serve as benchmark — a visual indicator of the advancements in both Stearns’ company and industry. The copiers — considered cutting edge in the 1970s — also remind Stearns of the values and philosophy upon which the company was founded.
Stearns did not start Modern Office Connections. That happened about 40 years ago while Stearns was still a student. Originally known as Modern Paper Company, the business focused on selling the rolls of thermostatic paper required to make copies. The company sold some of the equipment also, solely as a means of driving paper sales. The copiers back then only copied. There weren’t any options for enlarging, printing in color or even collating. Users simply got a black and white copy.
“You couldn’t do two-sided copies and you could almost grow a beard waiting to make a copy,” Stearns explained with a laugh.
Stearns, who started with the business right out of college, said the technology has changed great deal in the 30-plus years he has worked there, as has the business.
“When I came on board as the first employee, we changed the name to Modern Copier,” he said, adding that the entity soon bought a company which sold cash registers and then another copier company.
When Stearns acquired Modern Copier, the company name was changed once more, this time to Modern Office Connections.
“We began to diversify because I knew that if we didn’t keep up, we weren’t going to be around long. We knew we had to stay on the cutting edge and we’ve tried never to stop,” he said.
Today, Modern Office Connections still sells and services copiers, as well as thousands of other office needs including credit card processing, point of sale systems and merchant services as well as everything from furniture to pencils.
“Many people don’t realize that we offer credit card processing, but it’s a good portion of what we do. We basically let our customers actually tell us what they want,” he explained, sharing how the business began offering office supplies. “Customers began saying if they got all of their paper from us, it would be nice to be able to get paper clips and everything else, too.”
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He says the company now has an online catalog with more than 40,000 products, offering everything for an office setting except computers.
“We’re basically a one-stop shop and we are proud that we are one of just a couple of locally-owned office equipment companies left in the area,” he said.
Stearns said that Modern Office Connections prides itself on local customer service.
“If one of our customers has an issue or some type of problem, they have somebody local to call,” he said. “The call is not going to go to voicemail or require lots of prompts. It’s nice that they have someone on Walnut Street that they can call when there is a problem,” he said.
Stearns said Modern Office Connections employs nearly a dozen people and services most of Southern Illinois. He said the company’s goal is to serve customers in the region like neighbors.
“When you call, you’re talking to a live person right here,” he explained. “It’s a local person that is vested in the community. I think that’s what makes us different than everybody else.”
He added that he takes that devotion to the area and its people very seriously. He personally has chaired the Murphysboro Apple Festival committee for a number of years.
“I understand that what sells the next machine or what gets the next order for us is how we treat you today. We want to nurture relationships and help people find the solutions that they need. Our bottom line is based upon service. That’s always been our way and always will be,” he said, undoubtedly thinking of those two old thermostatic copiers.