Companies in the channel continue to grow, and Carolina Business Equipment (CBE) is no exception. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with John Eckstrom, president of CBE.
Tell us about the history of CBE.
When the company started back in 1975, I was just old enough to drive — and not even at night, just during the daytime. The point is, I had nothing to do with the foundation of the company, but it sure has been a pleasure leading the charge for the last 24 years. CBE was a startup in 1975 and its beginnings were centered around service. In fact, both founders were both from the service side of the house, but customer service was paramount too. This was, and continues to this day, to be our underlying focus. Influenced by that beginning, we have operated for years with the constant self-assessment from every engagement of “Will it amaze?” That is our aim.
When I came to CBE, we had one location in Columbia, South Carolina, and we had 18 employees. We now have six offices in three states, with our base still in Columbia and offices in Charleston, Florence and Hartsville, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and our most recent addition in Rockingham, North Carolina. These expansions have not only been in footprint, but in product offering. CBE has been a leading provider of outsourced IT services for close to a decade.
There has been a lot of M&A in the channel lately. What has CBE been up to?
There were three acquisitions over the last two years. The most recent was SOS in Rockingham, North Carolina. Laverne Schultz, the former owner, was interested in not only maintaining the base he had worked so hard to develop but to also offer services that they were just not able to provide. He felt Rockingham had been an underserved area, and that if he could team up with the right organization they could make a real impact on that part of North Carolina. I’ve known Laverne for a dozen years or more, and he kept coming back to the idea that CBE was the best choice by far for a company to team up with. The issue was the potential hesitation regarding an expansion into North Carolina after a busy year of expansion already on the books for CBE. Laverne called a mutual friend and current CBE employee, Jim Buck, who had been with CBE for about a year and asked if he thought CBE would be interested in expansion into North Carolina. Jim encouraged him, so he then reached out to me and the rest went pretty fast. Now the former SOS team is part of the CBE family and we could not be happier.
The opportunity is truly a mutual blessing. While we were not on the deliberate hunt for expansion going north, it was on the radar for the coming year. Bringing SOS into the CBE family did not take care of our 2019 objectives; it merely got us off to a faster start. We are very pleased that we can now offer our resources to the business region in south-central North Carolina. The good thing is that CBE works well there too.