‘Planet’-conscious company melds office supplies, environmental ethos

Repps Hudson, Special to the Jewish Light

For more than two decades, Charles “Chuck” Pass, 54, has been known as “chief executive honcho” of Pedro’s Planet, which he and his high-school friend, Pedro McMillian, founded in 1989. The office supply company, based in an office park at 11649 Liburn Park Road in Maryland Heights, employs 16, including a recently hired sales rep, and had sales last year of $5.5 million. It specializes in selling and delivering office supplies and — here’s the company’s niche — picking up paper and other recyclables at no charge. The trucks with the Pedro’s Planet logo on the side and the slogan, “Because good planets are hard to find,” Pass says, are the company’s best advertising.

Pass and his wife, Jennifer, live in Ladue; they have a daughter and a son. Pass grew up at Congregation Shaare Emeth; today he and his family are unaffiliated. He graduated from Maryville University in 1980 with a B.S. in psychology. 

We talked in a conference room that included a dartboard on the door, a motorcycle against the wall and a large exercise ball that Pass, in jeans and a polo shirt, sat on.

What did you do before starting Pedro’s Planet?

I worked in retail, the food industry and sporting goods. I had a business for three years with another partner. It was so competitive. We parted ways.

How did Pedro’s Planet come about?

I grew up with Pedro. We were having lunch one day. We were trying to figure out the future. He said, “What about the environment?” I said, “Let’s try something. I have a little retail background.” He’s the computer guy. He’s terrific with numbers, and I’m not.  

So you have a complementary partnership?

We do. I do the day-to-day stuff. 

Where did you start with Pedro’s Planet?

In University City, in a little store in what was the market place on Delmar [Boulevard]. We sold environmentally friendly products, from canvas bags to shampoo, toothpaste, compost – stuff like that. And a few reams of copy paper and office supplies. We had people coming in, saying they wanted to buy a case of paper and, by the way, could you deliver it? So we bought a van and just listened to the customers. We did a show one day. People wanted to see some recycled products. Somebody came up and said, “Hey, while you’re delivering supplies, will you pick up our waste paper?” 

You followed the customers’ leads?

We listen to customers. What they want, we try to provide, 100 percent.

How do you manage a company like this?

Computers help a lot. Instead of faxing or calling, now customers go online to order. About 60 percent of our orders are online now. Over the last five years, that has grown dramatically. 

How much do you recycle from customers? 

We did about a million pounds last year. We take just about anything. We recycle everything at the company, even the shrink-wrap that comes in. We compost our food here. For the customer, we do mainly paper, aluminum and plastic. We do e-waste too – computers, televisions. 

What’s the commitment to your customer about recycling?

We take anything as long as you’re purchasing from us.

They can buy paper from you, and you’ll take their e-waste (discarded electronic devices or components)?


That must be quite a convenience.

That’s why we are still in business. We differentiated ourselves. We started that from the get-go. A lot of other people don’t want to do it because it costs a lot of money. We don’t make money off recycling. We do it because we’re conservationists at heart. 


Do you and Pedro conserve in your driving?

He drives a Prius, and I drive a Mini [Cooper] and ride a Vespa [scooter].


You have a branch in Denver. Any plans for other cities?

We would only stay in the Midwest. If something came up for sale….We wouldn’t start from scratch, like we did in Denver. It’s a lotta, lotta work.

What do you see five years out?

Online is going to grow more. Unfortunately, there’s less face-to-face time. That receptionist is also the office manager. She’s paying the bills. You might meet her one day, and that’s it. You don’t get to know people. My relationships are with the 50-plus people. The ones who’ve just come out of college don’t even want a catalog. They just want to go online and see your site. I hope to hire somebody one day to run our website. 

What else?

Unfortunately, delivery. We have our own drivers now. But I see, down the road because of UPS and FedEx’s services have really gotten terrific, why am I delivering product to myself when expenses are just outrageous? I’m looking at outsourcing that, but keeping our own recyclers. Maybe I’ll have someone else completely deliver [paper and other office supplies]. 


How do you do things now?

I get product delivered to me every night at midnight. Then we send it back out. I don’t need this space any more. These wholesalers stock everything. Let them deliver it.


What about picking up paper and other wastes?

I work with a company here, Central Paper Stock [Co. Inc.]. I could leave our trucks there. We take everything to them every day anyway. Why are we coming back here and then back there? Our whole delivery system is going to change in the next two to three years.


How have customers’ attitudes changed?

It vacillates all over the place. There are people who say they want to recycle. But then people will have three screens up: Staples, Pedro’s Planet and Office Max. They’re buying line by line, who’s the cheapest. Even though no one offers the service we do, they are still shopping us to death. 

What does that tell you?

That it’s all about price. They want to keep us in there to, so we have to come back and say, “Can you buy a little bit more?” [Our competitors] are price marketing masters. They give the illusion they are better. They have all the money for marketing, and we don’t.