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Big Box Watch: Bad business? Blame the economy!

The Nashville Business Journal just posted an article regarding Office Depot and their most recent disastrous financial unveiling. According to the Journal:

Office Depot Inc. on Tuesday reported a loss of $54.7 million, or 20 cents a share, in the first quarter, down from a profit of $68.8 million, or 25 cents a share, a year ago.

Total sales for the Boca Raton, Fla.-based office supply company for the quarter fell 19 percent to $3.2 billion.

The retailer attributed the loss to one-time charges related to its decision to close 107 underperforming stores during the quarter. Office Depot has 1,160 stores as of March 28.

…Company leaders said the battered economy and the resulting dip in demand for office products was a major factor.

“Resulting dip in demand for office products?” I don’t think so, Office Depot. Internet retailers of office products are doing just fine, thanks. Maybe it’s time to admit that the era of the big-box dinosaur is over when it comes to office supplies? Or maybe that the constantly increasing reports of wrongdoing might be having some effect on your business? Just a thought. But you go ahead and blame everyone else, I suppose. I’m sure we’re the crazy ones for not buying from you.

NOPA to President: We appreciate the thought, now please reconsider.

The National Office Products Alliance (NOPA) has put out a statement that has both praise and some suggestions for President Obama’s plan to trim some of the federal budget by purchasing office supplies “in bulk”. During a discussion of the ways in which he could save money, the topic of office supplies came up, and President Obama mentioned a discussion he had with the Department of Homeland Security during which he was advised that bulk purchasing could save over 50 million dollars. While this sounds good on its face, NOPA has some caveats. Their press release is reprinted here.

The National Office Products Alliance (NOPA) is taking exception to President Barack Obama’s remarks this week regarding the ability of the U.S. Government to save money by purchasing office supplies “in bulk.” Specifically, the President advised reporters that “Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security estimates that they can save up to $52 million over five years just by purchasing office supplies in bulk.” The remark was made during a discussion of the President’s recent request to all Cabinet members to save at least $100 million through efficiency actions.

In a letter to the President, the Association applauded his determination to ensure that government purchasing is as efficient as possible, but pointed out that “bulk” purchasing does not produce that desired result. Decisions to “strategically” buy office products from a single, large national source have proven unsuccessful and have many unintended consequences. These include displacing competitive small businesses, precisely what our Nation does not need in this challenging economic environment.

In addition, sole-sourcing arrangements are subject to abuse, as an awarded vendor’s pricing on thousands of distinct products is rarely audited and there are no competitors left to challenge the awarded company for the government’s business every day.

NOPA proposes that a better model for government purchasing of office supplies is to use the GSA Multiple Award Schedule that preserves ongoing competition among many vendors and creates ongoing opportunities for successful, innovative small business participation.

“We strongly urge you to move your Administration’s purchasing strategy in that direction,” said Bob Chilton, chairman of NOPA, in his joint letter to President Obama with NOPA president Chris Bates. The letter outlined specific practical reasons why “bulk purchasing” is inefficient, wasteful and fails to deliver “best value” to customers who buy industry products. “We also ask that you encourage your staff and all of your Cabinet Secretaries to give full consideration to our proposed alternative competitive purchasing strategy for office products. We believe it is the superior approach and will save government customers and taxpayers more while producing greater value,” Chilton added.

I can only say that I agree whole-heartedly with NOPA’s assessment of the situation. While it’s easy enough to throw out the term “bulk buying”, it needs to be taken into consideration whether or not you are getting your supplies from multiple, reputable vendors, which eliminates the potential for misconduct. No word yet on the reaction to the NOPA release (if any), but I have seen the story passed around on several major news sites.

A lot of people  think it’s a gag that Obama is trying to cut costs by bulk-buying office supplies (One pundit quips, “What does the government do? Send a guy down to the store every time it needs a ream of copier paper?”), but those of us in the industry realize the seriousness of the issue and will be following it with great interest. Stay tuned for more updates!

Big Box Watch: Whistle-blower files more claims of Office Depot overcharging

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has posted an article that David Sherwin, the ex-Office Depot work and whistleblower who was fired for writing a “nasty email” to his employers, has filed cases with even more states in his ongoing crusade to take Office Depot to task for overcharging government agencies.

Georgia is the latest state where Sherwin, who claims Office Depot overcharged state and local government entities by $100 million a year, has filed a complaint. In the last 10 days, he has filed similar complaints in Colorado, Michigan and Arizona.

Attorneys general in Florida and Missouri are investigating allegations of overcharging following complaints filed by Sherwin.

He said he wasn’t going to stop, and it sure seems like he meant it. Great work, David. Keep it up.

Ask an Expert: Going Green Can Help Your Bottom Line


Steve Strauss over at USA Today has put up a great list of ways to go green around the office that I thought I’d share. His tips and tricks include such staples as switching to better light bulbs, using timers and motion sensors to avoid leaving lights on all the time, and checking with your power company to see if you can get on a “green grid” of electricity provided by wind, solar, and so on.

Of course, with our focus on office supplies, I found this tip the most relevant:

Buy recycled office supplies. Paper, pads, sticky notes, file folders and even ink and toner cartridges can be purchased in recyclable versions, and often at the same price as similar “regular” items. Indeed, many recycled paper products are now roughly the same price as conventional paper due to increased demand and better production operations.

Check out the article for the whole list, and see how going green can not only save the environment, but save you a big chunk off your bottom line, as well!

Big Box Watch: Detroit latest to file Office Depot complaint

I’m actually amazed it’s been this long since we had some new Office Depot news, but of course, when it came it was not surprising. The Detroit Public School system is the latest to accuse Office Depot of overcharging on their contracts, as reported by the Detroit Free Press:

The Detroit Public Schools chief investigator is researching allegations that its office supply contractor, Office Depot, overcharged the district over the past three years.

The company is already under investigation in several other states and, according to the whistleblower, agreed to repay the city of Berkeley, Calif., approximately $289,000 after that city’s officials uncovered overcharges spanning the past 3 years.

DPS Inspector General John Bell contacted the whistle-blower involved in the Florida investigation immediately upon learning of this alleged scheme Monday, said district spokesman Steve Wasko.

“We are looking into its impact on DPS,” Wasko said Monday evening.

Office Depot released a statement today by email denying allegations that the company overcharged the Detroit Public Schools.

“Office Depot enjoys a good relationship with Detroit Public Schools,” spokesman Jason Shockley said. “We are not aware of any complaints from the Detroit Public Schools regarding overcharging and we have no reason to believe we have been overcharging them.”

This is one of the times where this news has really hit home to me. Everyone likes to think of the big bad government sitting around all rich and corrupt, so who cares if we overcharged them a few pennies?

Well, I lived near Detroit for a long time, and had friends go through the DPS, some as students and some as teachers. These schools need every penny they can possibly get, and to try to overcharge them for the basic necessities of pencils and paper is just despicable.

Hopefully it won’t be much longer before I get to report that Office Depot has finally collapses under all of this wrongdoing, and we can just put the whole mess behind us.

Good deeds for great causes has an article up right now regarding donating to charity, and it has an angle I’ve never thought of before:

“Charities need office supplies year-round to operate,” said Joyce Wagster, coordinator for the event and founder of The Adam Turner Foundation, which works with area hospitals and shelters to raise funds for children who have been abused or stricken by cancer.

“It’s great to write a check — I mean everybody can use it — but if it’s something we can find lying around someone’s attic, that works, too.”

Wagster says administrative expenses for her own organization can be “quite costly.”

“Just basic supplies like antibacterial soap or copy paper that most (companies) take for granted can be expensive to have to buy year-round.”

I’ve always been one of those people who likes to donate my old stuff to a good cause, but I never thought about the kinds of things you can donate to a charity itself. Most non-for-profit charities exist to provide your goods to people in need, but what about the needs of the people running the charity? Check the article for a list, and then consider picking up some supplies to help out one of your local charities. You’ll feel great, they’ll appreciate it, and hey! It’s tax-deductible. In case, you know, you haven’t filed your taxes yet. Like me.

Design: The Vanishing Standing Desk

Lifehacker shares a really cool find from their photo pool: a standing desk that vanishes behind the closing doors of an armoire.

I’ve never personally been all that enamored with the idea of a standing-only desk, as most of my work sees me sitting at least a portion of the time. I much prefer something like this pneumatic desk that’s like a crazy office transformer, turning from sitting to standing with the touch of a button.

Still, if standing desks are your thing, this is definitely a classy solution. Some glass bricks space out the shelves to make sure it holds all of the computer components properly, and the addition of some IKEA cabinet lighting means there’s plenty of light to see what you’re doing. And when you’re done, it buttons up to look like any other piece of furniture.

Again, I’ve never been concerned with people seeing my messy desk (sign of creative mind, or so I tell myself), but if you’re one of those people who hate clutter, this is definitely an elegant solution.

Article: 9 Ways to Geek Your Office

Just found this over at – it’s a slideshow of some pretty impressive office gear. While it’s a little more unique than the stuff we sell, things like this still hold a special place in my heart as a gadget lover. I think the perfect office is one that blends over-the-top tech like this with a full pantry of the basics; pens, paper, toner, that kind of thing. And while the best bet for, say, picking a reliable office chair is to find something comfortable and affordable, I’ll always drool over some of this stuff, like this Motoart B-52 Ejection Chair. Check out the E-Week article for more geeky pipe dreams.

Article: The Evolution of the Office Space posted a pretty amazing roundup of office layouts throughout the ages, and it really shows an amazing progression in how we’ve come to view our communal workspaces.

While the fundamentals of desk, chair, etc. are all there, it’s pretty cool to see how workflow, communication and technological integration have shaped the way we lay out our floor designs.

Most of my office career has been spent in one variation or another of #4, the “Cube Farm”, which, according to Wired:

[is] the cubicle concept taken to the extreme. As the ranks of middle managers swelled, a new class of employee was created: too important for a mere desk but too junior for a window seat. Facilities managers accommodated them in the cheapest way possible, with modular walls. The sea of cubicles was born.

From a row of school-like desks to the current fractal hubs of modern-day networking layouts, this article has a tidbit for all of them. Definitely worth a look.

Article: Professional Organizers help save time and money has an article up where individuals share testimonials they’ve learned from professional organizers. As that fits in with what we like to do around here, I thought I’d share it. The highlight that grabbed my attention?

• Organizing office supplies: Has prevented unnecessary purchases for my home and business.

• Organizing my garage business supplies: Has also allowed my employees to find supplies and not accidentally double order, wasting cash flow.

• Time is money: When I can find files, etc., I am more productive all day.

As we’ve shown before, just knowing where your stuff is can help save you needless expense and make your day a little easier all around. The right filing cabinet, a handful of binding solutions for all your loose papers, and so on can really spruce up an office, home or otherwise, and keep it running like clockwork. That article said it best: time is money, and the less time you waste finding the stuff you need to run your office and the more time you spend running it, the better off you’ll be.