UChicago uses its buying power to support small businesses — and also helps small businesses grow by building their capacity to take on more and bigger contracts from the University and other customers.
For about a decade, Inter-City Supply had a small contract to supply UChicago Medicine with paper towels, soap, and hand sanitizer. When UChicago Medicine planned a major research project in 2014 that would require a 50 percent increase in soap orders, the purchasing team saw a chance to help the Chatham-based business grow.
They connected Inter-City’s owner, Jackie Dyess, with a pilot program from the just-launched UChicago Local initiative: an intensive three-day course to help small businesses build the skills they need to pitch themselves to large institutions. UChicago Medicine purchasing experts shared information about inventory management tools, best practices, and process efficiencies, all of which helped Dyess and her team reorganize Inter-City’s warehouse to accommodate more business and enable the company to purchase products directly from manufacturers. With those preparations in place, Inter-City was able to become a preferred supplier of janitorial products to UChicago Medicine — a contract that’s now worth about $900,000 annually — and later added the University’s building services vendor to its client list as well.
"The University introduced us to ABM Industries — they’re the largest cleaning contractor in the Midwest and typically only engage large firms. Thanks to that introduction, we now provide ABM with $800,000 in supplies annually for use on campus and in UChicago Medicine clinics," says Dyess.
Since taking part in the UChicago Local pilot, Inter-City has increased its staff by 50 percent and its revenues by 30 percent; the company now has 12 employees and annual revenue of $11.5 million. “UChicago Local opens a door for a company like Inter-City to be more successful and have that success trickle down to our employees,” says Dyess. All of Inter-City’s employees live on the South Side, where Dyess moved the company from the suburbs in 2005 with a vision of making an economic impact on the community.