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Cole Papers: 100 Years Old and Still Growing

July 2nd, 2018 by Amanda Huggett

One of the most exciting things about our community is the entrepreneurial spirit and how many businesses, new and old, are present in Fargo Moorhead West Fargo. One company that has stood the test of time and is, in fact, celebrating their 100th anniversary this summer, is Cole Papers. We were going to tell you their story, but they told it to us so well that we wanted readers to hear it straight from the president’s mouth.

100 year billboard

“One hundred years ago, my wife, Nancy Cole’s grandfather Robert Cole, started Fargo Paper Company in a small office/warehouse in downtown Fargo over J.C. Penney. Three blocks away, my dad’s mother and her parents were busy opening the Gardner Hotel after returning from Saint Louis by train to bring some of the first furniture for the hotel. I am assuming that they probably knew each other. Nancy and I did not discover this early Fargo connection until after we got engaged and married in Washington, D.C. We moved to Fargo in 1980 after her father, Prentiss Cole, asked me to join the company.

Nancy attended college at SMU in Dallas and vowed she would never marry a “Texas boy.” I grew up in Texas on a cotton farm picking cotton on my knees as a kid and I never thought I would be marrying a yankee! In Washington, D.C., Nancy worked as a lobbyist for the National Cotton council in spite of never having seen any cotton. I was working as a consultant for a Big 8 accounting firm after seven years in the Navy in cryptology. We met at a Presbyterian singles group in D.C.

As one can see, our unlikely connection and background brought us together to live in Fargo where our ancestors were 100 years ago. Since we moved here, we have raised four children who have all worked at the company. Two boys still do: one is in sales and the other is in finance.

Cole Papers current leadership team

Shortly after moving here, we decided to open a branch in Sioux Falls and felt that we needed a name change. Thus, we hired a public relations firm and went with their suggestion of Cole Papers. Before opening the Sioux Falls branch, we had four other branches: Grand Forks, Minot, Bismarck and Aberdeen. After Sioux Falls, we added Mankato, St Cloud and Minneapolis.

Our 160 employees serve our customers across ND, SD and MN and the fringe areas of the adjoining states. We use our own trucks to deliver various products to several thousand customers. Our facilities maintenance, food service, cleaning equipment, packaging, printing paper and other consumable commodity products go to schools, nursing homes, prisons, motels, restaurants/bars, manufacturers, printers, etc. We also have a wholesale flooring and cabinet division that provides various flooring products to dealers, commercial flooring contractors and some large multi-family developers.

We are often told by some of our suppliers/vendors that we are one of the most unique distributors they have seen anywhere in the country. They talk about our family, friendly and faith-based culture that values people, assists and encourages employees continuing college and graduate education, and often tries to promote from within. These suppliers also comment about our part-time chaplain, our part time leadership development coach and the fact that we have helped pay for some of our mid or senior level managers get their MBAs.

To celebrate our 100-year birthday, we are holding events at each branch and in Fargo where customers and friends will be invited for ice cream, bar-b-que and live music.

We will continue participating in several national industry related organizations and buying groups. At the present time, we are focused on upgrading our software used to run the company. In addition, we are looking at some improved facilities in Aberdeen and Grand Forks as we prepare for the next 100 years.”

Chuck Perkins, President/CEO


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