Last updated by at .

Article: Web and Marketing Firm Exists Sans Offices

PR Newswire has a really cool update about Web and Marketing firm Synergema, which is embracing the idea of a “Green” offce by having no office to speak of:

“Working from their homes, our employees aren’t using many of the resources than they would if they were out at an office for the day,” Steiger says. “By not making them come into an office and effectively double the use of the various resources, we’re saving money and also impacting the environment.”

From there, the ripples flow outward. The absence of a central office eliminates the need for trucks to deliver office supplies, which saves fuel. Meetings are conducted via videoconference, reducing the need for airline flights or auto trips to headquarters.

Perhaps the ones who benefit the most, though, are Synergema’s employees, Steiger says. “Our people don’t have to get in cars to come to work, so it’s not necessary for them to be stuck in long traffic tie-ups to get here,” he says.

And since the average American worker spends around 100 hours a year commuting — more than the 80 hours many get for vacation — giving that time back to the employee makes a huge difference. “That keeps them happier, and happier employees are more productive. Because they are driving less, they save money on fuel, insurance and auto maintenance,” Steiger says.

This, to me, is insanely cool. I’ve always loved working from home, and it’s boggled my mind how many companies are resistant to the idea of their employees saving time, money, supplies, and overall angst by being able to do their job in the comfort of their own home. Obviously the approach doesn’t work for everyone, but Synergema seems to have hit on a format that works for them, and I say congratulations.

One of the reasons we’re in the web-based office supply business is because the concept is green all around. We offer quality supplies shipped using existing methods to get them to your door faster. No getting in the car and going to some big-box store, which itself has to be built, maintained, powered, have their waste dealt with…to say nothing of THOSE employees who have to shlep themselves into work every day. If everyone kept an eye to the environment the way some companies are starting to, we’d not only have a happier workforce, but a happier planet as well. Corny, perhaps, but true.

Big Box News: Office Depot Gets a Lifeline

Bloggingstocks.com is reporting that long-foundering big-box dinosaur Office Depot is receving a cash injection from private investers to the tune of $350 million. According to the article:

With the recession and stiff competition — especially from behemoths like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) — the fortunes of the company have been rough. So, Office Depot has worked aggressively to restructure the operations, such as by closing down stores and slashing headcount. So, the cash infusion will certainly be helpful.

Stiff competition, eh? Yeah, I’m pretty proud to be a part of that. As much as it makes me smile a little on the inside to see a dastardly company reap what it sows, I do feel a little bad for the employees who are out of work whenever a big-box store shuts down. Hopefully soon the companies behind these outdated relics will realize the easier, cheaper, greener way to go and transfer to an online format. Though by then it will probably be too late. Sorry, Office Depot. We were here first.

Blurb: Manage Expenses Strategically

As part of a larger Reuters article on ways in which businesses can better manage their funds, I came across this useful tidbit:

Office supplies. Cancel unnecessary subscriptions and services. When re-ordering supplies, look for discounts and consider items that do the job without the frills. Perhaps you can reduce costs on items such as paper with the efficient use of e-mail.

Not the most mind-blowing of observations, but it highlights an important element of what we do: find people the best office supplies at a price that works for them. If you’re flush with cash and want only the highest name-brand items, we’ve got them. If you’re trying to trim your budget and just want something no-frills that can do the job, we’ve got that too. By not being propped up by huge vendors the way some big-box stores are, we can afford to be flexible and meet your needs, rather than just trying to sell you the priciest widget we can.

Just another reason I love my job.

It’s official: Georgia ends contract with Office Depot

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, after a back-and-forth legal dilemma lasting many months, state officials in Georgia have made it official: the state is ending its relationship with Office Depot over deliberate mispricing.

State officials recently terminated a multimillion-dollar contract with Office Depot after the company repeatedly overcharged and mispriced items for state employees, the head of purchasing confirmed Tuesday.

The company does about $40 million a year with the state and had been Georgia’s sole office supplier since March. Employees at the state’s 129 agencies used purchasing cards to buy everything from printers to desks on the company’s state of Georgia Web site.

Brad Douglas, commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, said he found mismarked items on the site months after the company was notified there were problems.

“This supplier simply failed to perform,” he said.

Officials at Office Depot refused to answer questions, instead providing a brief statement saying the company has “worked continuously, and in good faith, with the State of Georgia.”

Good faith, Office Depot? That’s not how I remember it. Filter this blog by “Big Box News” and see how many articles are about Office Depot doing something shady. Oh wait, I did it for you. And that number is 10 stories in the past 3 months. That’s a lot of time to be in the news for something most people consider boring. (I personally find the sale and discussion of office supplies quite thrilling, thank you very much.)

Regardless, this is a step in the right direction. The more people who cease to deal with a dishonest corporation, the less likely that corporation is to stay in business. Simple economics, but apparently too far over the heads of Office Depot. I still don’t understand what’s so hard about “treat people the way you want to be treated” as a rule for a business. Some people never learn, I suppose.

Blurb: Using Social Media to Drive Sales

SmartBrief.com has a tiny piece mentioning that a lot of Office Supply companies are using social media to help boost sales:

Traditional retailers such as Office Depot, Staples, Macy’s and Nordstrom are finding success with using social media to boost sales, according to Brett Hurt, founder and chief executive of Bazaarvoice, which manages user-generated ratings and reviews for manufacturer and retailer sites. Among the firm’s products is BrandVoice, a service for manufacturers to place real product reviews on retail sites.

Hrmm. Is that so? Social media driving sales? This is breaking news! Tell your friends! When you get to our twitter page, tell them you read about it on our blog.

Home Office Ideas: The “Command Center”

Over at CommercialAppeal.com, there’s another interesting take on the home office that I find quite interesting. Rather than a separate room for a home office, they recommend the “command center” be a small, dedicated space somewhere in the home where the “family manager” can handle the countless tasks, responsibilities and decisions that need to be made every day. From the article:

Basic equipment for the best home office or command center should include a laptop or desktop computer, printer, scanner, copier, fax machine and telephone. It’s OK if you don’t have a computer. The most important thing is to have a designated place (other than the kitchen counter/coffee table/dinning room table) to take care of the day-to-day activities.

The article goes on to say that by using some simple office supplies such as a plastic storage box for supplies, a Rolodex and/or cork board for organizing information, and baskets and boxes for storing documents, you can create a small, dedicated hub for all your home office (or just home-business; even if you don’t work from your house, just being there can accumulate a lot of paperwork these days.)

This article is interesting to me because it flies in the face of a lot of other home-office planners that say the best way to conduct business from home is to have a private, shut-away space that is “office” without being too much “home.” This approach instead has your command center seated as an island in the sea of daily life; a place where anyone can stop off to replenish supplies, coordinate tasks, and generally make sense of day-to-day home management.

It’s an interesting concept, and I imagine it would work much better for some people than trying to wall off their home office from the rest of the house.

Do you have a home office plan or tips that have worked for you in the past? Let us know in the comments.

Article: Continued Slump Seen for Office Depot

Over at GoErie.com, the web division of the Erie Times News, columnist Malcolm Berko has some dire predictions for Office Depot. In addition to their nefarious dealings, which we have covered at this blog in great detail, there are also a lot of elements of this once-great company that call its future into question. Some of Berko’s highlights?

1. Nearly 80 percent of its customers are small businesses and the economic slowdown is forcing these firms to reduce purchases, become more efficient and to search for less expensive products.

2. Office products are a lucrative $350 billion market and are attracting the attention of big box merchants. But, ODP has failed to acquire the scale advantages or supply chain efficiencies to compete with these lower cost providers.

3. Office Depot’s management really “stinx.” Proof of the stink is the ignominious failure of management’s multiyear plan to improve profitability, remodel stores, expand inventory of private label merchandise, streamline operations, improve efficiency of store employees, and increase working capital.

Since the article is primarily focused on the big-box world, I won’t fault Berko for not mentioning the upswing in reliable, affordable online retailers. A common oversight, but one that big-box giants are going to be hard pressed to ignore for long. In the meantime, as much as it warms my heart, this article is nothing new. It’s just nice to see more and more people taking notice of how these corporate mega-stores are losing ground in the ongoing race for your office supply dollar. Soon we won’t have to talk about them at all.

Press Release: Avery Launches New Online Mailing Center

Avery Dennison, makers of fine labels and mailing products, have put out a press release today with some interesting info:

Today, Avery Dennison Office Products announced the Avery(R) Mailing Center, a one-stop shop for addressing and shipping products, tools and services. The new Avery Mailing Center provides small businesses and home office professionals with quick access to the tools and resources needed for day-to-day shipping and mailing needs. Additionally, Avery Dennison has aligned with Stamps.com(R) and PhotoStamps.com(R) to offer complete Internet mailing and shipping solutions along with personalized postage through the Avery Mailing Center.

As a fellow online provider of office solutions, I’m jazzed to see respected companies teaming up to help out the small business or home office user. Soon you won’t just be able to get your supplies from the internet, you’ll be able to conduct a bigger and bigger percentage of your business itself there. I salute you, Avery, for making it easier for people to get ahead in these troubled times. We’re honored to carry your products.

Big Box stores finally coming around to the idea of “value?”

A recent article at Forexyard addresses the idea of “value” for the consumer being the highest priority for shoppers right now. This means not only the lowest price, but quality products and reliable service. It also states that, begrudgingly, Big Box retailers are coming around to this idea. I say too little, too late.

Analysts expect Staples and rivals Office Depot and OfficeMax Inc to play the “value-for-money” card prominently to woo recession-weary customers this season.

But “value” does not necessarily mean offering cut-rate goods.

“Simply lowering price doesn’t stimulate demand,” Piper Jaffray analyst Mitchell Kaiser said, adding, “it’s going to be all about offering quality products at a reasonable price.”

Companies agree.

“Fitting the right price points and giving customers a great value will be more important in the current economy,” [President and COO of Staples, Inc. Michael] Miles said.

Really, Staples? You’re just now figuring out that maybe customers want more than a low price tag? Not that any of the Big Box places are notorious for giving a great deal, but it’s always been true that service and selection are some of the areas where they just can’t compete with the online guys. Now that the economy is rough and their profits might suffer, they’re turning to the idea of providing actual value? Sounds like a cop-out.

To me, if value to the customer isn’t your priority from day one, then you’re in the wrong business. There are lots of places to buy pens; if your end goal is to sell them then great, do that. But if you want customers that respect your brand, your store, your ideas, and the way you treat them, and ones that keep coming back to you for all their needs because they know you are going to meet them, then value needs to be at the forefront of your mind from the second you open your doors, metaphorical or not.

I’d like to see the Big Box guys get their act together, I really would. Competition is healthy and there will always be demand for instant satisfaction, where you can walk in and walk out with what you need. But until they can do that with a reliable degree of value for the customer, I’m not exactly terrified of my company’s future.

Question: Can I use any ink I want in my printer?

Short answer? Yes you can.

A lot of manufacturers try to bully you into buying official, name-brand ink from them at exorbitant prices by claiming that you will be voiding your warranty or have to pay more for maintenance if you use anything other than their ink. Well, it was recently brought to my attention that not only is this claim ridiculous, it’s also illegal.

Under the Warranty Improvement Act, United States Code Annotated, Title 15 Commerce and Trade, Chapter 50: Consumer Product Warranties 15, Section 2302:

(c) No warrantor of a consumer product may condition his written or implied warranty of such product on the consumer’s using, in connection with such product, any article or service (other than article or service provided without charge under the tears of the warranty) which is identified by brand, trade or corporate name; except that the prohibition of this subsection may be waived by the commission if:

  1. The warrantor satisfies the Commission that the warranted product will function properly only if the article or service so identified is used in connection with the warranted product, and
  2. The Commission finds that such a waiver is in the public interest.

So basically, unless the manufacturer can claim (and prove) that using a third-party product, like printer ink or toner, is doing some kind of harm to the device, than anything else they say about it is forfeit. And guess what? No one has yet come forward with that kind of proof.

Not only does this mean you can use any ink or refill kit you want without fear of your warranty being voided, but the company can also not threaten to remove or discontinue support, break a lease, or basically do anything else about it, either:

The Supreme Court (IBM vs. The United States) held that IBM could not threaten customers with termination of their data processing equipment leases just because they did not use supplies manufactured by IBM. Such practice constituted a “tying agreement” and was found to be to violation of the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Law.

So there you have it. Buy whatever ink you want, to your heart’s content (though remember, buy from your friendly neighborhood online store, not those other guys). This goes for computer parts, replacement parts, and just about anything you might need to buy. You learn something new every day!