Companies become Tallgrass Business Resources

By John Kenyon

CORRIDOR – The merger of two long-time office products companies will allow the newly formed entity to better compete in an increasingly competitive market.

Frohwein/Matthews Office Plus in Coralville and Pioneer Workspace Solutions in Cedar Rapids merged last week to form Tallgrass Business Resources. The new company will maintain all four of the originating firms’ offices and will retain the more than 45 employees in those locations. Frohwein has offices in Wilton and Davenport because of a 2004 merger with Matthews Office Plus.

According to the new company, the name Tallgrass refers to the merged company’s Iowa and Illinois market area that was formerly the heart of the Midwest Tallgrass Prairie. It also represents a commitment to green products, conservation and sustainability.

The companies both date from the 1920s. Frohwein is a fourth-generation family business founded in 1922, while Pioneer is a third-generation business that began in 1924.

Doug Parsons from Frohwein will serve as the new company’s president and CEO. He said the transition to one larger company, one seen increasingly in the retail sector, will better position the firm for growth.

“You have to get larger,” he said. “Profit margins are shrinking, so you need to find economies of scale and realize more efficiencies. You also need to cover a larger geographical area, and this allows us to do all of those things.”

Dave Parsons from Frohwein will be chief financial officer for Tallgrass. From Pioneer, Phil Wasta will be vice president, while John Wasta will be chief operating officer.

Carly Kleppe, marketing manager for the company, said Pioneer and Frohwein have been “friendly competitors” for seven years, sharing experiences and business practices. Once the two firms got through the 2008 flood, which damaged Frohwein’s Coralville location and affected the business of both firms, they began discussing a merger, she said.

With each of the four executives now part of a larger team, each can focus more on areas of expertise, she said.

She said from a customer perspective, things won’t change much. Both entities were on similar software and ordering systems, with Frohwein already transitioning to a next-generation system. As that firm’s customers are brought aboard the new system, Pioneer’s customers can transition as well, she said.

“It was interesting to find how similar the two operations are,” she said.

Doug Parsons said that because the two are Steelcase dealers – and are geographically closer than is the norm in that situation – the merger was probably long overdue.

“We’re hoping we can pass some savings along to our customers,” he said.

Another benefit is being able draw upon the expertise and knowledge of staff members from each entity.

“There are people at each company that have an incredible depth of knowledge, different types of expertise,” he said. “We’re more than the sum of our parts. With four locations in Eastern Iowa, it allows us to do more things than we could ever do separately.”

Notable clients for the two companies include Rockwell Collins, United Fire Group, GreatAmerica Leasing, the University of Iowa and Oral B Laboratories.