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Daughter follows dad's success to lead ABR

Customer loyalty is vital to a small business. Kathryn Murph proves loyalty to your customers is what makes them loyal to your brand.

Murph rests at the helm of Automated Business Resources as the president and has dedicated the past 23 years to servicing the copier needs of local businesses.

Despite her petite stature, Murph leaves a big footprint wherever she goes and has managed to maintain a loyal customer base.

ABR is a locally owned and independently operated copier dealership in Savannah. In an industry stacked with intense competition, ABR has survived more than 25 years, making it one of the last locally owned and operated copier dealerships in the Coastal Empire.

“We are probably only one of two locally owned copier distributors left in town,” she said.

They rent, sell, lease and repair multi-functional devices (copier, fax, scanner and printer in one), fax machines, copiers and printers with big names such as Kyocera, Savin and Konica Minolta.

ABR won the Small Market Top Performer Award in 2009.

Murph’s father, Dwight Alford, started ABR in Savannah in 1985 and hired his daughter two years later on a trial basis.

“I had just graduated from college in Atlanta with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but I wanted to find a job doing something competitive,” Murph said. “So my dad said, ‘come to Savannah and sell copiers.’”

Alford gave his daughter a one-year contract and told her to show him she could succeed.

“There were only two other women in the industry back then,” Murph said. “I quickly realized I liked the down and dirty side of sales.”

Her father kept her on staff as a sales rep and taught her how to run the business. Three years ago, Alford retired and handed his daughter the reins.

Murph never went to business school but said her psychology degree gave her an advantage in sales.

“I have the ability to work with all kinds of people,” she said. “I know how to sit and listen.”

Her ability to listen extends beyond the customers. Murph’s employees said their boss has an open door policy and is always available by phone.

Dodie Bailey has worked for Murph for three years as a sales associate and has worked in sales her entire career.

“Kathryn is by far the most available boss I have ever worked for,” Bailey said. “She is always there for her customers and her reps, which makes our job easy.

“Kathryn gives us the tools we need to be successful, and she knows how to bring out the best in her reps.”

Murph will also step in to help if needed.

“Last week, I tried and tried to deal with a difficult customer, and I had to hand it over to Kathryn and she took care of it,” Bailey said.

Julie Taylor has been a sales rep for ABR for five years and said she took over Murph’s former sales territory in downtown Savannah when Murph became president.

“When I showed up and told them I was the new sales rep, they said ‘no, we only do business with Kathryn’ and I had to convince them that Kathryn wasn’t going anywhere and would still be available,” Taylor said.

Taylor knows why customers are so adamant about working with Murph.

“I’ve heard stories from customers about how they ran out of toner at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning,” Taylor said. “They would see Kathryn walking down the sidewalk, and she would stop what she was doing and run back to the office to get them their toner.”

Bailey and Taylor agree that Murph doesn’t go out of her way just to make people happy.

“She does it because she knows what it takes to run a company,” Bailey said.

Aside from great customer service, Murph said she has specific rules she follows to run her business.

“You should never overextend yourself,” Murph said. “Right now we only do business 60 miles out in each direction, except east of course. My technicians cannot be efficient if I spread them out too thin.”

And, she said, it’s important to keep things simple.

“Make sure you are a specialist at what you do and don’t diversify,” she said.

But Murph’s No. 1 rule is what makes her so popular with her customers.

“If you tell somebody you’re going to do something, then make sure you do it,” she said. “Your word is all you have, and following through on your word is so important in Savannah.”

Murph admitted she learned most of her business theories from her father, and his model kept ABR going strong through the toughest recession in the company’s history.

While no one is recession-proof, her father helped make the company more resistant than others in the industry.

“My father is a brilliant business man, and he never believed in debt, so I inherited a debt-free company,” Murph said.

The lack of debt allowed Murph to help customers downsize their office equipment when money got tight.

“Some customers needed new products, but they couldn’t afford to upgrade,” Murph said. “So, we were able to come in and buy out their lease with another dealer and upgrade their products at a lower rate and still maintain our revenue.”

Murph also kept a watchful eye out to acquire new customers while other companies began closing their doors.

“About two and a half years ago, I noticed the Milner company out of Atlanta began to struggle with their service to our area, so I bought out their customer base in Savannah,” Murph said. “ABR was able to get rid of a competitor, and it gave us the opportunity to grow.”

ABR continued to grow and picked up a new product line with Kyocera.

“You have to be authorized to service a product,” Murph said. “Kyocera came to us because they were disappointed with the level of service from some of our competitors. It’s been a huge boost to our sales.”

But Murph said the copier dealership industry is extremely competitive and customers will take their business elsewhere at the drop of a hat. Not only does ABR have to compete with other locally owned businesses, but copier manufacturers pose a threat by offering lower costs to customers.

“Manufacturers have a larger inventory so they can sell copiers and printers at lower costs than us,” Murph said. “But their service is usually not very good because they do not operate locally.”

According to Murph, local service is important.

“Savannah wants to do business with local businesses and invest in our community,” she said. “When people hear that ABR employs 25 families in Savannah, they want to support them.”

Subcontract is not a word in ABR’s vocabulary, either. Every aspect of the company is locally sourced.

“We employ our own techs,” Murph said. “They stay local and all their trucks are equipped with GPS so they can arrive quickly to each customer.”

And customers note the quick service of ABR’s technicians is a selling point.

Terry Cook, director of information technology with The Coastal Bank, said he never waits more than an hour for one of ABR’s technicians.

“I’ve been doing business in Savannah for over 12 years, and I’ve worked with three or four other vendors and most of their technicians take about six to eight hours to show up,” Cook said. “Some don’t show up until the next day.”

The Coastal Bank maintains seven locations and 135 employees. Its assets total more than $500 million in business each year.

“Our printing capabilities are very vital to our business,” Cook said. “We have to be able to print out documents to put in front of our customers or we cannot do business.

“The service I receive from Kathryn Murph is far beyond anyone else in Savannah.”

Cook and Murph met in 2010 when a bank where Cook worked bought out a company Murph serviced.

“I couldn’t believe how efficient she was, so I moved all of our contracts to ABR,” Cook said.

While some businesses like The Coastal Bank depend on paper documents, many businesses are looking toward a greener approach. Murph knows she has to keep up with environmentally-friendly approaches to move ABR to the next generation.

“We offer software applications that add a new level of document management to create an electronic filing system,” Murph said. “These applications will also set printing devices to automatically print two-sided copies.” The software systems offered by ABR encourage scanning and eliminate unneeded printing from junk faxes.

“The new fax system automatically turns inbound faxes into a PDF so you only print out the faxes you need,” Murph said. “We also have a fleet of vehicles that use clean-burning diesel. And we have a toner recycling program.”

Murph is so dedicated to the future of greener technologies that she created a new branding campaign for ABR.

“We partnered with Spyhop Productions to make a series of film noir-inspired webisodes that will air on our website,” Murph said. “The films follow a whodunit theme and show our commitment to going green. The heroine of the film shows how our multifunctional devices save the day.”

Murph laughed about the storyline behind the new campaign, but she remained serious about her future business plans.

“My intention is to be really, really good at what we do.”

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