Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce
Feature Stories

Local ties: Innovative Office Solutions

After Innovative Office Solutions merged with a longtime Sioux Falls office supplies business, chief operation officer Julie Owens began making monthly trips here from her Burnsville, Minnesota, headquarters.

Since then, she has become familiar with Sioux Falls and how the business community operates. That means sometime soon Owens may make an appearance at a Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce event, accompanying Innovative’s Dakota sales director Jerry Sjoberg, a frequent participant in Chamber events.

It would be another way to emphasize something that Innovative has stressed since it merged with Brown & Saenger in 2018: Growing into a larger entity does not mean moving away from core values and community engagement.

Instead, it is a way to strengthen both the support of staff and of clients. Owens was reminded of that importance when her firm first began doing business in South Dakota, before merger talks even began.

“We had started doing business with the state of South Dakota and their office supply contract, so we had experience in the state and were looking for opportunities,” she said. The merger with Brown & Saenger was Innovative’s first in South Dakota, and they chose to partner with a firm that had close similarities to its own beginnings.

But no merger—marriage if you will—can be rushed into if it is going to be successful. For Sioux Falls firms that have chosen to find a partner, community and employee well-being take precedence, and those who directed the merger are proud when not a single staff member loses their jobs.

A shared vision

When Jennifer Smith founded Innovative Office Solutions in 2001, her vision was to make workplaces more productive, where people would love to work and could make a difference.

Although Smith died in December 2021, the family-owned company’s commitment to her ideals remains unwavering. Her husband, Brooks Smith, moved from chief financial officer to chief executive officer and president, and the Smiths’ two grown children and their spouses also work at Innovative.

During his 50 years in business, Lyle Dabbert, owner of longtime Sioux Falls office supply firm Brown & Saenger, became familiar with Jennifer Smith and her father, who also had worked in that industry. When Dabbert made the decision to sell his firm, which dated back to 1889, Innovative was the perfect fit.

“Lyle and the Smith family knew each other over the years,” said Joel Eisland, branch manager in Sioux Falls with 25 years of experience.

Thomas Henderson Brown and Eugene Sanger founded their business in 1889 to serve the printing needs of a small community. As Sioux Falls grew, Brown & Saenger expanded operations with it, increasing their offerings and eventually moving from a downtown location to West Russell Street.

In almost a quarter-century, Innovative had seen even faster growth, but its acquisition of Brown & Saenger in 2018 was its first step outside the Twin Cities area.

“We started as an office supply company just like Brown & Saenger, and we expanded into furniture, with 40 percent of our business in the furniture area,” Brooks Smith said.

“More recently we added janitorial products, and we also do industrial, which would be products to take care of your building or workplace. We do breakrooms with coffee and snacks and things like that. We try to encompass the whole workplace area from the front to the back.”

Innovative has 13 offices scattered across Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Michigan and now South Dakota. Sioux Falls has something no other Innovative location has, however, and that is a second building on West Russell Street where Innovative offers branded solutions. If it can display a logo—such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, signage—Innovative can provide it.

“We offer creativity with embroidering products or if you want Yetis, you want wine glasses, you want to hand out spatulas,” said Jerry Sjoberg, the Dakota sales director.

Innovative currently employs about 350 people in its 13 offices with 51 of those working locally.

In every community, Innovative has taken an active part in civic engagements and volunteer events. That mirrors Brown & Saenger, which became a founding member of the local Chamber of Commerce in 1907.

In the Twin Cities, Innovative supports the InSports Foundation, which the Smiths’ son, Max, began as a college project. Its goal is to help involve children and teenagers in athletics at all levels, removing the barriers that can come with economic and other challenges.

“Our mantra is to get kids in the game,” Sjoberg said. “No kid should be left behind. Every kid should have the opportunity to experience things. … Our InSports Foundation generates a lot of money that we donate back to communities we serve.”

In Sioux Falls, partnerships have been formed with Great Life Golf & Fitness and Great Life Cares, and Innovative is involved with the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. It has brought kids onto the Sioux Falls Storm indoor football field to allow them to play, and it does the same with other sports teams in the city.

Innovative participates in an incentive program with the Boys and Girls Club of Sioux Falls and the Sioux Falls School District. When students correct behavioral issues, volunteers with Innovative reward them with a trip to Great Shots, often giving many of them the chance to try something new.

The ability to continue a strong connection with Sioux Falls suited the former Brown & Saenger staff perfectly, Eisland said.

“We were pleased when we were acquired in 2018, and the entire staff of Brown & Saenger was hired and kept on,” he said. “We too love to be involved with community–the Community Blood Bank and volunteer opportunities like Supply One Student backpacks, drives, those things help employees get involved and stay involved. Our company inspires people by what they do and who they do it with.”

Businesses becoming bigger while maintaining local connections