Women in Business Q&A: Buffy Simoni, President of Paper Mart

This year, Paper Mart - a 4th generation owned & operated family business - is celebrating 95 years in business! At the helm of Paper Mart is President, Buffy Simoni, 4th generation daughter of the Frick family. From humble beginnings, Paper Mart began in 1921 in a garage behind the Frick family's home in rural Los Angeles. Today, Paper Mart operates out of the largest building in all of Orange County and employs hundreds of people. Buffy holds a degree in Arts Management, which is all about bringing together people with big ideas and creating something wonderful. For Buffy, working with the team at Paper Mart is no different. "We’re trying to provide something that adds beauty to the world for our customers, whether it’s a fun craft or a stylishly wrapped package." Paper Mart stocks more than 26,000 items, with a specialty in retail, food, and industrial packaging supplies.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I grew up in a family who were passionate about business in general and Paper Mart specifically. I remember many family dinners where my grandfather advised and discussed details of operation and strategies with my father and my uncles as we kids listened in. The value of entrepreneurialism was woven into the fabric of family from an early age and taught me the importance and the responsibility of hard work.

I was also very involved in theater as a young woman. I loved the art and enjoyed the team aspect of theater. Everyone works together through arduous hours of rehearsal and production to create something wonderful that would have been impossible to achieve individually. From those experiences, I learned the power of a good team. I believe absolutely in the strength of the collaborative process.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Paper Mart?

As an entrepreneur, I draw on the range of skills and experiences learned in many different professions. The diversity of my work history gives me insight into many facets of life experience and allows me to better understand the needs of the broad range of customers we serve.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Paper Mart?

Highlights and challenges go hand in hand and are a part of growing any business. I took over a company that was over 90 years old, so in some areas we had well established routines that were taken for granted. Change is hard, no matter how positive, but we reached out to our customers and employees to better understand where we were succeeding and where the opportunities lay for improving our product offerings and our internal processes. We have seen a strong positive reaction to the changes I’ve made, in employee satisfaction, in customer demand for our new products, and in the bottom line.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

Understand what is your unique space in the market. The E-commerce world can be crowded. It’s vital that you have clarity on how to bring an experience that is different or better. At Paper Mart, we built our company on providing quality packaging solutions at low prices. What we do differently, and the reason our customers are so loyal, is that we also provide excellent service, which customers don’t always find online. That model of low prices and high quality service has set us apart in our industry. Finding your own magic formula is key to jumping into ecommerce successfully.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

The power of owning your decisions. With a legacy behind you, it is easy shy away from making hard or bold choices for fear of failure. Of course, failing to take a chance or hesitating too long often leads to more dire situations than action. It’s vital to do your research, gather the data, and then move forward with confidence.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It’s so hard to do, especially when family members are involved in your work life as well. I focus on being present in the place I’m in at the time. When I am in the office, I try to give all of my attention to the projects at hand. That allows me to give the same attention to my life when I’m at home with my family. There is a delicate balancing act involved but you have to weigh the needs of all the competing demands on your attention and try to balance your choices.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Sadly, I think women are still not consistently treated equally as leaders in the business world. The number of female CEOs has increased significantly in my lifetime, and more women are at the highest level of their industries. The dynamic has improved exponentially. The respect issue should be in the past. But I could list many situations when, after having introduced myself, a new potential supplier or business partner will primarily direct conversations to the men in the room, rather than me. It’s amazing that there are still professionals out there who respond like that, consciously or not.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Early in my career, I had wonderful mentors who guided me in my professional life. I was given so much support in striving for excellence and in learning to be my own champion when facing daunting challenges. I am also very fortunate to have had guidance from family members who led Paper Mart before me. They have given me lifetimes of experience and wisdom.

What do you want Paper Mart to accomplish in the next year?

This year I’m looking to expand our natural material packaging offerings. I feel strongly about the environmental impact of our products and I know many of our customers do too. It’s exciting to me to be able to offer more natural and reusable products and I’m thrilled with the response we’ve been getting. It’s motivating me and our team to continue to innovate in this area.

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