The Making of a Dynamic Duo
After a two year stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Alan I. Elkin graduated with a degree in business from the University of Colorado. Alan worked as a sales representative with the Burroughs Business Machine Company upon graduation and with the 3M Company from 1956 to 1960, selling copying equipment. In 1961, Alan came to Baltimore to be a branch manager for the Victor Comptometer Corporation.
While in Baltimore, Alan met Lois Shanman, a mathematics graduate of Goucher College, who was at that time, the first female manager of a regional computer test center for IBM. In 1962, Lois and Alan were married.
July 10, 1964
The Beginning of Advance
As successful managers for their respective organizations, Lois and Alan had a burning desire to start their own company. Living only off of their savings for the first two years in business, Lois and Alan officially opened Advance Business Systems & Supply Company on July 10 at 22 East 21st Street in Baltimore.
Sharing a modest 1,200 square foot office, Lois and Alan handled everything from sales and taking phone orders to packing and delivering supplies. Products sold included copying supplies, ribbons, carbons and duplicators.
With a singular focus on customer satisfaction, Advance’s customer roster soon flourished, leading to explosive growth in services, employees and office space.
1967 - 1970s
Expansion and The Showroom
Developments in photocopying technology, including the first plain paper copier in the late-1960s, led to still more expansion. In January, 1967 Advance moved its location and eight employees to a 2,000 square foot office at 1951 Greenspring Drive in Timonium. With the new space, Advance added sales, service, leasing and rental of copying, mimeograph and electronic stencil equipment.
Over the next few years, Advance continued to grow in both office space and employees. By the mid-70s, some 45 employees carried on the simple ideals Lois and Alan established-several of whom are still with the company today.
Advance carried multiple copy machine lines including Minolta, Toshiba, 3M, Old Town and Mita. Demonstrating these large machines to prospective customers was at times a challenge. In an effort to literally “bring the equipment to the customer,” Advance created the “Curbside Copier Showroom”-a modified Winnebago equipped with copy machines for mobile demonstrations.
Advance Enters the World
As the fax machine emerged in the ’80s, Advance’s growing reputation for customer service placed the company in the fast lane and Advance decided it was time to invest in some advertising.
Playing on Alan and Lois’ mantra that day or night, when a customer needed them, they’d be there, Advance launched the “They Need Me” campaign. The series of spots featured Alan and Lois coming to the call of a customer at seemingly inopportune times stating that they “would rather lose sleep than lose a customer.”
The spots were a hit. As a result, business continued to boom and in 1986, Advance moved to its current headquarters, a then 24,000 square foot building at 10755 York Road in Cockeysville. Advance was now 72 employees strong. With a solid foundation in the Baltimore marketplace, and increasing demand from Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Advance opened a second location in Annapolis in 1988.
Advance Grows 25% Overnight
In 1990, Jeff Elkin, son of Lois and Alan, joined the company. A business administration graduate from Emory University, Jeff started his career at Legg Mason. Once at Advance, Jeff worked within several divisions of the company including sales, marketing and administration. In 2000, Jeff was named Chief Operating Officer and has been instrumental in not only the company’s growth, but also its expansion into electronic document management.
With its television commercials growing in popularity, Advance launched a second campaign in 1993, establishing the company’s famous tagline, “We Live and Breathe This Stuff.”
Anticipating the coming digital tidal wave, Advance took on the products of Savin/Ricoh in 1997. At the time, Savin/Ricoh was leading the charge in research and development for digital network copier technology. Because of this, Advance decided to dedicate an additional 10,000 square feet of office space to Savin/Ricoh products alone at 10927-29 McCormick Road in Cockeysville.
In a strategic, if not historic, move in 1998, Advance acquired two Baltimore branches of office-equipment supplier Monroe and Gestetner. With the acquisition, which essentially grew Advance 25% overnight, came new customers and employees-a majority of whom are still with Advance today.
Advance Goes West – and Wide
With continued growth in both sales and staff, Advance doubled its Cockeysville headquarters in 2002 with a state of the art office addition and two level parking garage.
After 40 years of success in the Baltimore metropolitan region, Advance Business Systems puts down roots in Frederick and opens its third location on West Patrick Street.
Two years later, Advance purchased a Frederick-based copier dealer, Service Concepts, and assumed the handling of sales and services for all of their customers. With the new acquisition, Advance decided to operate two offices-the original on West Patrick Street, as well as the former Service Concepts location.
In 2005, after much demand from its architectural, engineering and construction customers, Advance took customers beyond standard sized office paper into the world of monochrome KIP wide format copying, printing and scanning. Three years later, Advance added Canon color ink jet plotters to its wide format line.
In 2006, 2008, 2009, and again in 2013, Advance’s 175+ employees rated it as one of the best places to work, making Advance a finalist for Baltimore Business Journal’s Best Places to Work award.
In 2007, Advance partnered with Canon to become Baltimore’s leading independent dealer of Canon multifunctional copiers, printers and color wide format products. That same year, Advance combined its two Frederick locations into one, newly expanded office at 7190 Crestwood Blvd, Suite 400. The new location featured on-site sales, service and support teams, a state-of-the-art showroom and video conferencing capabilities-all fueling the company’s growing presence in Frederick and Washington counties.
Today, Advance has grown to become Maryland’s largest independent document management company, providing custom solutions in the greater Baltimore area for network digital MFPs and copiers, printers, scanners, wide format equipment, electronic document management, fax solutions, and paper shredders.
With annual revenues approaching $40 million, Advance continues to receive national recognition and awards for their commitment to providing outstanding service-not just during “normal business hours” but during evenings, weekends and holidays. Advance is also a manufacturer’s certified service training center, one of the few in the entire U.S.