Cuts Force Teachers to Scrounge for Supplies

The Athens Banner-Herald is reporting a story that is at once tragic and heartwarming: teachers in the area are being forced to pay for supplies out-of-pocket, and many of them are having to go without. Or WOULD be having to go without, if not for a special program put into place:

During the past five years, teachers from Clarke, Madison, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties have been able to stretch their supply budget by taking advantage of the Teacher Re-Use Store, a clearinghouse run by the Athens-Clarke Solid Waste Department’s Recycling Division.

Local businesses, like Merial, a veterinary pharmaceuticals company, and the University of Georgia, donate items that otherwise would end up in a landfill and the store invites teachers to go “shopping” for supplies.

“It’s kind of like a huge yard sale, but everything is free,” said Suki Janssen, waste reduction administrator for the Athens-Clarke Solid Waste Department, who runs the store each year at the recycling center on Hancock Industrial Way.

I have to say, this is a pretty excellent program. It’s recycling in the truest sense of the word, and I definitely approve. And hey, once the Re-Use Store has freed up a little budget money, send those teachers on over our way. We’ll take care of them.

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.

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.

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.

Big Box Watch: Plummeting Stock Roundup

Seems like all is not well in the land of the big-box retailer. According to a few articles passed my way this week, looks like almost everyone is in trouble.

First up is Staples, most recently seen violating overtime laws, which according to reported a record 33% drop in stock price from last year, despite claims of increasing sales. Like everyone, they are quick to cite the failing economy, and I will not deny them that. However, they also cite a lowering of demand for office supplies, which anyone who is in the industry can tell you simply isn’t true. No matter how many people you lay off, you still need enough pens for everyone who is left.

Also on the chopping block is Office Depot, which stock market blog Seeking Alpha lists as a stock to dump if you’re still holding on to any. Though it has recovered from its “economic crisis” plunge, OD stock is nowhere near where it used to be. And with long-term prospects not looking good and intense competition from online retailers, analysts are thinking this is as good as it’s going to get for the big-box chain. A last, dying gasp? Maybe.

All in all, it’s not a good time to be clinging to old business tactics. There’s a reason companies like this are called “dinosaurs”, and it’s not just because they’re old. They’re also lumbering, not too bright in many areas, and tend to get killed off by change.

Article: Porsche Consulting Debuts the “Lean Office”

In an interesting article from The Financial, they talk about Porsche Consulting (yes, that Porsche), who have developed an innovative strategy for, of all things, dealing with office management and workflow. Using design tricks they learned from the automotive assembly line, they’ve come up with some interesting solutions:

In order to make their office “lean” the consultants turned to the same methods that they also use for external customers in order to optimize their own workflows. The Porsche Consulting employees first analyzed the amount of time they spend walking around the office, the capacity of meeting rooms and the use of individual workstations. Then the optimization process began.

So, several small instead of a few large meeting rooms were set up. This arrangement allows work groups to implement their respective projects faster because the waiting times for available meeting rooms have been reduced and it is easier to call meetings on short notice. Through modular shelving systems and lockers with an integrated post box, work-related walking distances have been shortened and space saved. Just as on the Porsche production line the availability of office materials is controlled by a “just-in-time” system. This ensures that the most important office tools are available at all times at each workstation.

It’s one of those articles that makes you want to slap your forehead and say “duh.” Why has it taken so long for us to realize this? More meeting rooms means less wait time. Modular, mix-and-match furniture means the office can be quickly reconfigured to optimize workspace and flow. Simple concepts, elegantly implemented. I guess there’s a reason this is coming from Porsche.

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!

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!

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.