In 1978, Ed and June Miller opened The Miller Company, a copier business that originally operated out of a garage.
“Mom and dad started it out of my great aunt Jenny’s garage,” says Ed and June’s son Scott Miller, CEO of Miller Company, Inc. “She loaned my parents $10,000 to start the business. Prior to that, dad was a school teacher at Valley High School.”
Through the years, the company expanded and moved three times. Currently, they are located in a 25,000-square-foot facility in Bluegrass Industrial Park. Just before COVID-19 hit last spring, they had finished a beautiful $250,000 renovation of their lunch-and-learn room, their showroom, and their Google lounge for employees and customers. They had planned to host a 200-person March Madness party, which unfortunately was canceled.
“That was the beginning of the end,” Scott says. “We’re still waiting for people to come look at our renovation.”
Though they have always been a copier company, primarily representing Sharp Electronics, they have also done business with a number of other manufacturers. In the last three years, their main thrust has been technology as they focus on solutions in phone information technology (IT), cabling, security, and wide-format printers.
“Cannon, Sharp and HP are our primary vendors at the moment,” Scott says. “We have hundreds of them in the IT world, which is what has kept us in business during the pandemic.”
They are one of the area’s largest independently owned copier dealerships and IT service providers. Although their copier business suffered a nearly 80% hit in revenue for hardware sales, IT is up 2,000%. Through the years, Scott has tried to keep up with technological changes. When Scott joined the company in the early 1990s, the fax machine had just been introduced. Before long, the facsimile became about 35% of the company’s revenue stream. By the time Scott took over in 2005 as president, the fax machine had all but died when people began scanning and emailing documents rather than faxing them.
“The turn of the century is the year the copier business slammed headfirst into what I call the Microsoft and the HP freight train,” Scott says. “Copiers just copied. That’s all they did. In 2000 they put this port inside of them and called it a printer. They didn’t work, so that’s when we dipped our toe into the IT world.”
Knowing that IT was the wave of the future, they hired their first Microsoft Certified Desktop Support technician. Over time, they have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology. Next, they plan to tackle cybersecurity, since hackers are getting better all the time.
“Your cell phone connects to your computer and all of your other devices, and everything in your life resides on the cloud,” Scott says. “That much bait is just calling for somebody to try and come take it from you. We’re going to be the ones who will prevent that from happening.”
Scott, who had always been into video games and technology, never had an ambition to sell copies for a living. In fact, after graduating in 1988 from Vanderbilt with an economics degree in business management, he had a job lined up and was set to go to Southern California with a couple of his buddies and work for a fledgling little company called Intel Corporation. When he told his Mom about his plans to move out west, however, she didn’t take it well.
“She freaked out,” he says.
He understood why. In 1978, his sister died of leukemia. It was a devastating loss, and his mom couldn’t bear the thought of losing another child – this one to long distance. A combination of guilt and an appealing offer made Scott change his mind.
“They bribed me to stay by offering me a company car and nice salary,” Scott says with a chuckle. “Even though I’m sure I drove my father crazy because he was old-school in how he ran the business, I’d seen what was coming with Apple and Intel.”
Scott bought an i486 processor, played with it and learned Windows. Three years later, Scott was assigned to modernize and computerize the corporation.
“I put a computer on everybody’s desk,” he says. “They were all linked together. We got rid of our accountant and we were on our way.”
He admits that it was a struggle initially, trying to get everybody on board.
“I was 24 years old and everyone working at the company was in their 30s and 40s, and had been doing it their way for 10 years,” he says. “This young whippersnapper tells them they have to key in all this stuff into that box on their desk. It was rocky for a while.”
In 2015, Scott bought the business from his father and his vision came to fruition.
“That vision worked until 2020,” Scott says. “Now we have to come up with a new vision.”
Though it’s been a rough year, they have gleaned lessons from the pandemic that they are using to improve efficiency, customer service, and training for their 40 employees.
Scott and his wife Kimberly have four grown children – Peyton, Chandler, Spencer and Haleigh. Peyton, who graduated from the University of Kentucky, now works for the company in sales, heading up the Canon wide-format division. Twins Chandler and Spencer attend Western Kentucky University, and Haleigh goes to the University of Cincinnati.
About a decade ago, Scott told Kimberly that he wanted to leave a legacy.
“I didn’t want to be remembered for being a really good copier company guy that didn’t do anything for anybody,” says Scott, who started a gifting program through which the company sponsors charities and invites their employees to nominate organizations that could use some help. Their first donation was to Simmons College, a private, historically black college in downtown Louisville.
“It was a sad situation,” Scott says. “They had nine or 10 big pieces of broken equipment that they couldn’t afford to fix so we gave them 15 of our best copiers.”
They also donated production equipment and printers to St. Patrick, and Campbellsville University. They have donated to 25 different companies throughout the past five years, in addition to organizations that are near and dear to Scott’s heart, such as March of Dimes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The Miller Company has given to causes such as God’s Harvest, which helps prisoners transition to normal life, as well as organizations that beautify the city like the Waterfront Botanical Gardens. Several years ago, Business First magazine gave them one of Louisville’s top philanthropic awards, listing the company as a top-10 corporate donor in the under $10 million per year category.
During the pandemic, gifting for the company has involved allowing clients to defer payment if they are unable to make ends meet.
As they look toward the future, Scott suspects they will be doing more residential work, simply to accommodate those companies whose staff is working from home. In those cases, the homes should be as efficient and secure as they are in an office setting.
“If it’s not, when the employee taps into their work setup, they’re going to open up a hole for hackers,” Scott says. “If you’ve got a personal computer that’s shared with your kid or you don’t have the right antivirus software on it, your virtual private network may not be secure.”