NATALIA PEREZ, MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS INTERN
Founded in 1995, Bentco Office Solutions, owned by Edward Bentley, exists with the mission to offer the community a minority-owned, fully-certified office supply and office furniture company. The Bentco team strives to provide each customer with the personal touches needed to run their business as smoothly and successfully as possible. With 42,000 office supply line items, Bentco carries some of the most popular name brands in office furniture.
Bentley founded the company in 1995, when he heard about government contracting for minority businesses. Eventually, he scored a diversity partnership with Steelcase, an industry leader in the furniture industry. However, while this partnership connected his small business to a much larger network of dealerships, it was 2009, and our country was in the thick of a deep economic recession.
“We struggled a bit because furniture just wasn’t selling at the time,” Bentley says. “We still managed to get some jobs and worked with EPB and some other companies here in Chattanooga. We weren’t exactly where we wanted to be, but we were still here and that’s always a good thing.”
Bentley’s work motto has always been to get the job done, and to get it done right the first time. Despite the economic climate, Bentco furnished dorms and student living quarters, offices, call centers, libraries and more, and built the reputation of consistently providing quality work and products.
A Nurturing, Client-Focused Culture
Bentley, who has been working with office products since 1973, knows the industry inside and out.
“I’ve always had a knack for building things and putting stuff together,” Bentley says. “It’s paid off. My number one thing is to make sure that my client is happy. If the client is happy, then I'm a happy man. I might think I've done the best job, but if my client isn't happy, neither am I.”
Working with a small team of 10 employees, made up of installers, manufacturers and admin, Bentley says that the team actively fosters a nurturing, diplomatic and supportive atmosphere. He believes that everyone should be able to safely and openly express their feelings about any situation, and he wants his employees to feel cared for, supported and respected.
“Employees that have a lot on their mind can't get the job done,” Bentley says. “So I’ll say, ‘Let me help you get that off your mind. I’ll carry your burden with you.’”
Bentco has mainly serviced corporate and small companies, and believes in providing all of them with a good return on investment. He feels that investing in any furniture product is a commitment, it’s most likely going to end up with you for years.
“I think my favorite client would be the one who understands quality versus just purchasing an item,” Bentley says. “I like clients that understand the value of the product they’re investing in.”
Navigating the Pandemic
Bentley parallels his experience in navigating the business world post-COVID with the economic turbulence of the 2009 recession, when he struggled to sell even a chair. He didn’t know what to expect, he couldn’t make solid future plans and office furniture was seemingly the last thing anybody purchased.
Currently, Bentley’s had to let go of most of his team to other jobs, as there hasn’t been a consistent workflow in the past eight months, which was devastating for him.
“We've been terribly impacted. It was a direct hit. We had projects in the works since 2019, and a lot of them were supposed to start in April, but every single client cancelled. We had seven major projects that were totally scrapped and taken off the table, and it’s impacted our bottom line tremendously.”
In the last several months, Bentco’s been able to work on some small projects for Unum and the University of the South, and maintained a great working relationship with EPB. Bentley’s community has also been a strong source of encouragement during this time.
“It means a lot when people reach out to check in and provide support in any way,” Bentley says. “Our community is stronger when we all come together and merge our resources. We need that right now. We’ve all taken a hit.”
Despite this year, Bentley is deeply thankful for the relationships he's made, people he's met through his business that he wouldn't have otherwise, his connections with government contractors and for the lives he's been able to touch. Specifically, the young black men he’s been able to work with.
“That’s one of the things our community is needing so badly, the visibility of very successful black businesses,” Bentley says. “I say it that way because that's what's going to encourage our young men and women to keep pressing forward, to educate and make something of themselves. I take every chance that I get to encourage them. Even though the struggle is real, you don't give up. You keep pressing forward.”