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Is it possible for a company to get started in the Salt Lake area with three employees and no customers and have $3.5 million in sales within four years?

"Yes," according to officials of Yost Office Systems Inc., who have bucked the odds and become one of the office machine forces in Salt Lake City, Provo, Idaho falls and Pocatello.Bruce Newbold, who now is a vice president of Yost, was working in Idaho Falls four years ago when Ricoh, the Japanese office machine manufacturer, wanted to get a distributorship going in Salt Lake City.

Newbold, Gary Dickhaut, who currently is the service manager, and a secretary, Judy Armstrong, moved to Salt Lake City to establish the Yost Office at 396 Ironwood Drive. Armstrong since has returned to Idaho.

Yost now employs 45 in Salt Lake City. There are 17 service technicians, 17 sales specialists and 11 in administration and support. Newbold said every time the company sells another 75 office machines another service technician must be hired to handle the maintenance and repair calls.

Yost had its genesis from Pembroke's, an old-line office products company that operated a branch on Broadway between Main and State streets for many years. About 30 years ago, Willis Yost, who was working for Pembroke's, was transferred to Idaho Falls to operate a branch store.

About one year later, according to Newbold, Yost made Pembroke's an offer to buy the branch, and when the deal was completed the name was changed to Yost Office Systems Inc.

Five years ago Yost retired, and four of his employees negotiated a buyout. They are Bruce Jones, who is the president and was the general service manager in Idaho falls; Jack Larsen, a vice president, who has been with the company for 20 years; Wayne Griffith, who is the treasurer and controller and former controller for Anderson Lumber Co. in Ogden; and Newbold, who has been with the company for 10 years and was manager of the Systems Division of Pembroke's in Salt Lake City before he moved to Idaho Falls.

In Idaho, Yost represents IBM, Wang, Lanier, 3M, Savin, Panasonic and Ricoh, the first Japanese company producing office machines in America (the plant is located in Irvine, Calif.).

Five years ago, Ricoh had no U.S. distributorships and now has more than 400, Newbold said. Ricoh is the only line handled by Yost from its Salt Lake City office because Yost officials want to be certain they are servicing a single line to a high standard and not overextending themselves with several lines.> In 1987 Yost sold $3.5 million in copiers, facsimile machines, paper shredders, write-boards, overhead projectors, slide projectors, computer disks and office supplies. The company has added onto its building three times and now has 9,600 square feet of space.

A partial list of customers that have bought Yost office machines confirms that Yost is one of the fastest-growing companies in Utah.

Newbold said the customers include the U.S. Department of Energy, Westinghouse Electric, Valley Bank and Trust Co., Idaho State University, Ricks College, the University of Utah, First Federal Savings, the state of Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Also, Williamsburg Savings Bank has purchased several facsimile machines that help speed the loan process by quick transmission of information on the loan applicant.

Newbold said American Stores has a facsimile machine operation that in many instances requires a seller to have a facsimile machine so the giant store operation can simplify its purchasing program.

Facsimile machines that allow communication of documents over the telephone lines are the "hottest" office machines these days, Newbold said. They allow almost instantaneous communication of information. The sales staff is trained in the capability of each machine and what will fit a customer's needs.

One person's time is spent exclusively training a customer's employees how to use the machines.

Another interesting machine is a writeboard, a device used in executive offices, conference rooms and by professional sports teams. It allows someone to write on the board and then copies of the written material are made quickly for distribution to the participants.

Because of the boom in computers, Newbold said technology spille dover into office copiers and facsimile machines that resulted in reliable products at lower prices.

Even though the machines are reliable, they still need maintenance or repair. And because the new machines are so complicated with circuit boards and computer chips, the technicians Newbold hires must understand electronics rather than just have a couple of screwdrivers and expect to make some quick repairs.

Service is possibly the cornerstone of Yost's business and the secret of the company's four-year success. "Many companies have good products, but service is why one company is chosen over another," he said. "Studies show a company gets new office machines every 2 1/2 years, and we want them to be repeat customers."

Yost dispateches a technician to offices in the Salt Lake area within four hours for ordinary maintenance or repairs. If a machine has been sold to a company outside the area, Yost contracts with other Ricoh dealers to make the repairs and then reimburses the dealer.

If a machine needs extensive repair, a "loaner" machine is left with the customer until repairs are made. Each technician has a supply of parts in his vehicle, and when he runs out simply calls the company and a new supply of the part is put in a basket for him to pick up.

The not-so-common parts are kept in a warehouse and the numbers listed on a computer for easy access. If the part isn't available in the warehouse, it can be sent from the main Yost warehouse in Idaho Falls overnight.

Most of the technician training is provided in-house, but training to service and repair the bigger machines is provided at the Ricoh factory in Irvine. With more than 10,000 machines to service, the technicians are radio dispatched from job to job.

Newbold said his company sells preventive maintenance agreements that call for technicians to work on machines at regular intervals to keep them operating. The technicians have won many awards for their fast and efficient service.

Yost uses a computer to track a machine's use and alert the customer when it's time for maintenance. Ricoh officials have been so impressed with the system they are considering installing it in all of their distributorships as a preventive maintenance program.

Yost's success closely parallels Ricoh's. Ricoh began selling copiers more than 30 years ago, and its copier sales now total $2.6 billion; 70 percent of the company's total sales. Newbold said Ricoh's Irvine plant is helping the American economy because the profits are put back into the plant.

With more than 700,000 units installed in North America, Ricoh is the number one company in facsimile machines, and 535 of the Fortune 1,000 companies and 55 percent of the Japanese compnaies in the United States use Ricoh facsimile systems.

The future looks equally exciting. Newbold said he recently attended a Ricoh seminar in Anaheim, Calif., to get a preview of new products.

One idea is a facsimile machine, copier and laser printer all in one unit. Another is a facsimile machine and telephone combination and a personal computer and facsimile machine combination that turns a computer into an information transmitter.

But perhaps the most futuristic of all is a home-based facsimile machine that allows a person to call a store, give it a grocery list and then pick up the items in a few minutes.