By Jim Schroeder
As a pioneer of modern office equipment sales, the former owner of Office Equipment Co., Ray Edmonds has seen the best and the bulkiest of office technology. He has passed that knowledge and expertise to his son, Garrett Edmonds, who now manages the business.
When Ray purchased OEC in 1969, it was located on First Street next to the old Havre Hotel, and the struggling office business sold expensive, oversized mechanical calculators that were as big as a table, heavy typewriters and awkward adding machines besides a multitude of basic office supplies. But Ray had little knowledge and experience with the office equipment he was selling and the troubles started.
"The first six months were the worst six months in my whole life," Ray said with a grin. "It was a learning process because of the calculators, typewriters and furniture, and I had to learn it all from the first day I walked in."
In 1970, Ray was forced by the new, fast-paced world of modern electronic equipment to leave the age of bulky, mechanical office equipment.
"That's when office machines became very aggressive, and from 1970 to 1975 there was a new product every week on the market," Ray said. "But if you compare the equipment of 1975 to how it's now, it would be like the difference between a grade school and kindergarten."
In October 1975, the original OEC was nearly burnt down in a fire that originated at the Havre Hotel. The office supply business relocated to 631 W. First St.
By 1980, Ray was selling handheld calculators, and by 1985, the new facsimile machines now called fax machines had become popular. In 1995, Edmonds started selling computers and computer accessories, which was a major change from the mechanical machines that OEC originally sold in the late '60s.
Office Equipment Co. relocated again in 1997 to its current location at 200 Second St., which nearly doubled the store's space to 4,000 square feet and gave the company more selling space then it ever had.
Ray originally moved from his hometown of Great Falls to Havre with his wife, Virginia, in 1963. Ray had been transferred from Great Falls to Havre by the Supersave grocery store chain, for which he worked as a general manager.
"It only took me and Virginia a few months and we knew it would be our home," Ray said. "The people and community is what we liked."
The couple eventually had three children.
When Ray was offered a transfer to the Great Falls Supersave store in 1965, he decided to quit the grocery store chain and worked as an assistant cashier for the Citizens Bank of Havre until 1969 when he bought out the four owners of Office Equipment Co., which had opened in 1965.
Ray attributes the success of OEC to the friendly support of the Havre community and the local organizations and events that OEC has sponsored.
The current owner of OEC, Garrett, became involved with his father's business when he was 8 years old and he would help Ray stamp the OEC logo on adding machine paper rolls during the weekends.
At age 15, Garrett started working for his dad at OEC during the fall and winter and would work for the Beaver Creek Golf Course during the summer. By the time Garrett was 18 and graduated from Havre High School in 1990, he had opted to work full time for OEC and learn his father's business.
"I chose to go that route because I liked the idea of eventually owning my own business at that time and I really enjoyed that type of work," Garrett said. "Eventually I knew that down the road that Dad would retire and that seemed to be the right choice."
Garrett purchased OEC from his father in 1998 and remodeled and expanded the store earlier this year.
"(Ray) instilled in my head the importance of shopping local and taking care of your customers," Garrett said. "Customer service, selection and competitive prices sums up what's made us today.
"The biggest change would be the fact that we continued to grow in size and volume and we expanded our product line as well," Garrett said. "As we continue to grow there is the possibility of another store in the future."
Garrett and his wife, Terah, have three children, who are too young to become involved with the business. Garrett said the business could possibly pass on to his children down the road.
"It started out as a business that was in a struggling state and since then it's been a thriving profitable business with the addition of more employees and an expanding store. And we want to continue to grow for the community," Garrett said.