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When Chris and Lynn Semmler bought an office and stationery supply business in Nuriootpa back in 1996, the world was a very different place. The internet was in its infancy and phones were barely mobile, let alone smart.
Back then, the former bank at old “post office corner” was home to all office essentials and customer service was king.
Fast forward 22 years and today’s Office National Barossa is a modern, purpose built space on Railway Terrace, evolved to meet the demands of a fast-paced digital era with a second generation of Semmlers at the helm.
For Chris and Lynn’s son, Anthony and his wife, Joanne, customer service still reigns supreme since taking over the business 18 months ago.
The couple admit the leap to ownership was a big challenge and although they had been working within the company, they were not fully prepared for what lay ahead.
Their journey is far from conventional, both having come from completely different backgrounds.
Anthony was a manufacturing jeweller for ten years and Joanne a veterinary nurse before spending a couple of years as a podiatry assistant.
On moving to the Barossa from Adelaide in 1999, Anthony immediately began in the warehouse of his parents’ business before ultimately working his way into a management role, whilst Joanne spent some time working in the retail area and then in the service department for around 8 years after the new building opened in March, 2003.
A three-and-a-half-year stint in a related industry in Queensland, when their sons, Darcy and Isaac were little, allowed the couple to gain more knowledge.
“We just wanted to break away to do something different and Anthony wanted to do something other than work in the family business to get outside experience,” says Joanne.
“I’m really glad we did that and we were both able to work for someone else with different expectations,” adds Anthony.
Looking back at their first 18 months of ownership, they agree it was quite the eye opener.
“When mum and dad started out, it was the only place to go, people shopped locally, had no reason to go anywhere else. You were the only one here for everything. Pre-internet, customers didn’t have the same options as they do today,” Anthony explains.
Whilst there was a transition plan in place, Anthony felt a little unprepared for an industry which faced such rapid change.
“We found it somewhat overwhelming when we first took over but have worked our way into the role of managing.”
Joanne adds, “We knew we had to evolve as a business reasonably quickly but didn’t feel we were completely equipped with the skills necessary to take us to that next level.”
The duo has since worked tirelessly to take the upper hand and Anthony can say he now has a better understanding of the meaning of ‘management’ in this fiercely competitive world of retail and its online challenges.
They now have a team of dedicated road based representatives which allow for even better customer service.
“Whilst it is a digital, online world, you can’t replace that face-to-face service…We understand and recognise its value.” – Anthony Semmler
Anthony loves encouraging young staff members within the team of more than a dozen employees.
“Just their infectious enthusiasm and motivation can be quite inspiring,” he says.
“I like seeing the development of people like that and if they have the motivation to progress further in our business we provide the opportunity, there is no restriction here.”
It’s this ability to inspire and mentor which Anthony has taken beyond the walls of business into the wider community.
He has volunteered for the Nuriootpa Football Club as committee member and managed his son’s team, even though he never played a game of footy in his life.
“There’s an irony in that I guess!” he laughs.
Now that his boys are focusing on cricket, Anthony has joined that committee.
But it’s his ‘big brother’ role with the Barossa Community Options Men’s Friendship Group that Anthony feels is particularly worthwhile, especially for Greenock’s Mark Kernich with whom he is partnered for monthly outings.
“Corporate volunteering they call it, it’s about giving back at that community level.”
Although he is reluctant to call himself a mentor, Anthony’s natural leadership within a business that prides itself in “selling solutions” is proudly leading the way and he and Joanne feel they are now keeping up with today’s demands.
The stationery supply business of yesteryear is far from staying stationary – it’s building, changing and diversifying.
“We are moving into so many categories and there’s no restriction, it’s not just a stationery business anymore, it probably hasn’t been for a long time.
“We can supply anything that goes in an office and then some…selling our expertise and resolving issues.”
Joanne says their business is about looking after others, working together and recognising needs.
“That’s what we are looking to achieve, making sure we are solving their workplace issues to allow their businesses to grow.”
“I think we are very fortunate to live in a prosperous region. You need to make the most of the opportunity that this presents. As a business, you are doing yourself and your region a disservice if you are not being pro-active. There’s plenty happening out there,” he says.
“It’s hard work but it’s exciting.”