Janesville company discovers niche repairing old-time typewriters

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Monday, April 16, 2012
— In the back room of J&G Office Products, Greg Quinn worked over a vintage Remington typewriter.

“The carriage doesn’t move, and the back space doesn’t work,” Quinn said.

He had already removed the machine’s ribbon, spools and retaining clips.

A Madison man who found the typewriter at a flea market had driven it to Quinn’s shop in Janesville for refurbishing.

Unable to find all the necessary parts, Quinn used heavy fishing line to fashion a draw band for the typewriter’s carriage. He replaced the cotton ribbon with a new nylon ribbon that he manually wound onto the spools.

He wasn’t confident he could fix everything.

“Unless we can creatively design a part for it or make it work through some of the tricks of the trade, there’s a possibility we may not be able to fix this machine’s back-space linkage,’’ he said.

By the time he’s done with the typewriter, Quinn guessed he would have at least four hours into the project and at a cost to the customer of about $80.

In the age of email and cloud computing, part of the J&G business strategy to serve a narrowing market segment.

“We have the niche of the typewriter business,” Quinn said.

They serve Rock, Green, some of Dane and a bit of Walworth counties plus northern Illinois.

“There’s really nobody in Rock or Dane counties that offers full service or takes the time to look at typewriters,’’ Quinn said.

“We also make courtesy stops to stay in contact with customers,” he said.

Quinn, 48, and his brother Jeff, 51, took over the business from their father, Charles Quinn, in 1998. The brothers had worked for years for their dad, who started the business in 1957. He learned the trade from Frank Lynch of Lynch Office Supply.

“We are office products, sales, service and supplies,” Quinn said.

In addition to typewriters, they buy, sell and service copy machines, fax machines, folding machines, paper shredders, electric calculators, dictation machines, laser printers and IBM wheelwriters.

Marion Matteson of The Fitzgerald Group, Janesville, is one of the customers grateful for a recent courtesy call from Jeff. Her typewriter ribbon had run out, and she couldn’t get it off.

“I sat down, got if off and saved her from a big bind,” he said.

Matteson was so appreciative she wrote a thank-you note: “I don’t know what I would do without your fellows!”

J&G works with large clients such as Rock County government that has hundreds of pieces of office equipment, smaller clients and individuals.

“We service our clientele in the workplace, at home, on site, in the shop and people can drop off or pick up,” Jeff said.

The Quinn brothers make house calls for those who can’t drive. A recent customer was recently widowed and doesn’t drive.

“Her typewriter’s correction mechanism wasn’t working on the machine, and she also had trouble installing supplies, which we did for her,” Jeff said.

The Quinns get requests to fix portable electric typewriters used by inmates at the Columbia Correctional Institution, Portage. The machines are shipped to their Janesville facility.

“We’ve probably looked at five or six in the last year,” Greg said.

J&G services local funeral homes with typewriters equipped with carriages wide enough for death certificates.

Keeping up with the latest models of office equipment is challenging, Greg said.

The brothers tap the skills they’ve acquired through the years and regularly attend equipment and sales training.

Jeff worked as an apprenticed under his dad, while Greg studied office machine repair/electronics at Blackhawk Technical College. Both are certified to sell and service equipment by a variety of manufacturers.

In three tool kits the brothers carry springs, electronic components, celanoids, fusers, belts, feed rollers, pickup rollers, spring hooks, screwdrivers, digital meters and scopes.

They take pride in owning and operating a small business.

“We offer that old personal touch,” Greg said.

“Where the client is not just a number,” Jeff added.

There is no receptionist or secretary.

Instead, they rely on paper file folders, a bulletin board and yellow Post-it notes stuck to the top of a small wooden desk.

On the desk is a nearly 50-year-old Swingline stapler.

It belonged to their dad.

Last updated: 9:56 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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