Every year businesses spend billions of dollars on office supplies. Supplies include many of the desktop products that employees will use on a routine basis. Items included in this category are staplers, scissors, paper clips, writing utensils, paper products, file folders, tape dispensers and more.
Although most of these products are inexpensive, it is easy to spend a lot in this category. Industry estimates show that the average office worker consumes $500 worth of office products each year. A small business with a staff of 15 could easily be spending more than $7,500 a year on office products. In today's highly competitive business environment this level of expense should not be left uncontrolled. Cutting expenses by 20 percent in a 15-person office could result in $1,500 in savings.
Options for Buying Office Supplies
There are several options for ordering your office supplies, each having both pros and cons. What works for one person or company may be totally wrong for another. You'll probably find that you get the best overall deal from using a combination of the following options.
Office Supply Stores. Brick and mortar stores offer immediate gratification. No waiting on delivery. This is definitely the choice when you need something in a hurry. These stores also offer the opportunity to see and touch what you're buying before you buy it. One of the problems with ordering office supplies online or from a catalog is opening the box and the item isn't quite what you thought it was and if you return, you have to deal with the time and cost of returns. Returns are not a problem when you buy it in person. Physical stores also offer real, live people to help you get exactly what you need. (Most now offer online ordering)
Bulk / Membership Stores. Store like Sam's Club and Costco offer basic office supplies at prices that usually can't be beat. They usually come in large quantities, which could be good or bad, depending on your needs. The selection is also usually limited to basic items, and only a few brands or styles are represented. If you live close to one of these stores and want to stock up on basic items, you can get some great deals.
Catalogs. This used to be THE way to buy office supplies. A representative dropped off a catalog and gave you a discount off the retail prices quoted inside. This kind of shopping still exists, and is quite convenient, but most now also offer an online ordering option or have partnered with another vendor that does. One of the big plusses with using catalogs is customer service. You still have a rep assigned to take care of you and often they have some room to offer deeper discounts to good customers. Many offer free shipping for orders over a specified dollar amount.
Online Stores. Office supplies are ordered with the click of a mouse and delivered to your door. What could be easier or more convenient? When it comes to product selection, online office supply stores are the hands-down winners. Most online dealers typically carry around 30,000 different products and buying office supplies online lets you generate a list of items you purchase regularly, so it's easy to re-stock your supplies. You'll search one time for exactly what you need, add it to your list and there it stays, allowing ensuing shopping trips to be as easy as the click of a button. Many offer free shipping for orders over a specified dollar amount.
Choosing a site for online ordering becomes a matter of personal preference but you can use the list below as a guide.
- Do they have knowledgeable customer service reps available when I call?
- Do they have next day delivery?
- Will they special order items not in their warehouse?
- Can I place orders online?
- Will they deliver to multiple locations?
- What is their minimum order requirement?
- What are their billing terms?
- Think total cost first and price second
- The vendor's return and warranty policies, delivery time, technical competence
- Product quality
Tips for Saving Money on Office Supplies
Use a List. Always use a list whether you're shopping at a store, through a catalog, or online. A list reminds you of what you need and keeps you from buying what you don't. Include product type, how many items are needed and how many the business currently holds. From this information, form a budget. This approach makes practical business sense, as shopping for office supplies without a list is like going to the grocery store without a game plan. The supply closet and pantry gets filled with a lot of items that will sit unused on the shelf. An inventory list keeps browsing to a minimum and going beyond the budget less likely.
Limit Who Can Order Supplies. It might seem best to let each employee order what they need, but that approach could lead to some nasty surprises when you get the bill, and some inconsistencies in the types of tools used. Having one person in charge of office supplies has several advantages: a vendor may give you a break on the delivery charge for a single, large order; you're able to buy in bulk when several employees need the same supplies; and you can make sure that your employees are ordering supplies consistent with your budget and business needs.
Look for Free Shipping. Many online and catalog suppliers offer free shipping for orders over a specified dollar amount.
Buy In Bulk. Buying larger quantities of items that you use a lot can save a lot of money. Usually the prices go down the more you buy.
Don't Buy Too Much. Buying large quantities of office supplies can be cost-effective, but don't buy more than you can efficiently store. Extra supplies won't save you money if they get ruined in the basement, you forget you have them or you can't find them when you need them.
Buy Quality. Sometimes when you buy what seems like a bargain, you end up getting what you pay for.
Replenish Your Supplies Before You Run Out. Buying ahead of time gives you a chance to comparison shop and take advantage of sales. Also, having to run out at the last minute to buy an essential item wastes time.
Buy Generic Store Brands. Office superstores offer private label items such as mailing labels, ink cartridges and shipping envelopes at discounts over name brands. Chances are they're made by the same manufacturers. Many of these establishments also have discount programs for businesses with 20 or more employees.
Squeeze All the Life You Can Out of Your Supplies. For example, laser-printer cartridges can usually be cleaned and refilled a few times before you need to buy a new cartridge.
Consider Stock Business forms While custom forms can be designed to your business specifications, stock forms are templates that any company can use, with space for a logo to give them a more custom look. Forms can be purchased through catalogs, direct sales, or distributors, as well as software companies who often provide forms that dovetail with their applications. When using computer-generated forms, be sure to have hard copies on hand in case the computer crashes.
Don't Pay Hidden Extra Charges. Many office vendors offer low prices, then, hit the customer with processing, shipping, or handling charges. Make sure this doesn't happen to you. You can find the same products at similar or lower prices without the extra charges. Also, be sure to look for vendors who offer toll-free phone and fax numbers.
Comparison-Shop Smartly. When buying office supplies and equipment, use shopping comparison sites. The Internet makes it so easy to shop around for the best deals without wasting a lot of time driving from store to store. To get the best prices, check out multiple comparison sites for each purchase. A few to consider:
Take advantage of rebates and rewards programs. A lot of the office supply stores have rebates on products, including high-dollar tech items such as computers and printers, and offer rewards/discounts for signing up for their programs.
Look for Overall Savings. No office products vendor is going to beat the competition every time. Each dealer offers extra-low prices on certain items in order to entice you to shop with them. Don't be lured in by short-term savings on one item. Try to save money on your overall bill by selecting a vendor whose overall prices are lower, allowing you to save on the total amount of your bill rather than on a single item.
Monitor and Control Your Spending. Finally, track your office products purchases by item and quantity. Only by knowing what you buy, in what quantity, and how often, can you gain full control of your office supply expenses. Answering these questions enables you to make decisions about when it makes sense to buy in bulk, when you are buying too much of one item, or when you are spending too much money. An easy way to get this information is to shop online. Online shopping generally allows you access to historical information about your previous orders, including item price, quantity and your total order amount.
Office Essentials Checklist
Whether you're equipping your first office or just re-stocking your current one, this checklist will help you determine and track which furniture, equipment, technologies and supplies you need to help your business run more smoothly.
| General Office Supplies
• Business Cards
• Postage stamps
• Printer cartridges
• Pencils and pens
• Printer paper
• Cleaning supplies
• Fax paper
• Self-stick notes
• File folders
• Stapler and staples
• Tape & dispenser
• Packing tape
• Desk Accessories
• Paper clips
| Office Furniture & Equipment
• Comfortable chair
• File cabinets
• Overhead and work lighting
• Client seating
• Fireproof safe
• Postage meter
• Office decorations
• Whiteboard & markers
• Paper shredder
• First-aid kit
| Computer Hardware & Accessories
• Desktop or laptop computer
• Keyboard & mouse
• Surge protector
• Digital camera
| Computer Software
• Word processing software
• Virus protection software
• Contact management software
• Web site building & maintenance software
• Payment processing software
• Accounting software
• Desktop publishing software
• E-commerce software
• Inventory management software
Office Supply Stores
Stores with Online Ordering
Free delivery on most orders of $50 or more
Free next business day delivery on orders of $50 or more
Free delivery for orders within OfficeMax trade area (20 miles from store), or for orders over $50 outside trade area.
Online Office Supply Stores
Buy Online Now
Free shipping on orders of $99 or more
Free shipping on orders of $49 or more. Order by 1:00pm for next day delivery.
Free shipping on orders over $45, excluding furniture
Many items qualify for free shipping with purchase of $25 or more.
Green Light Office
Free shipping on orders of $50 or more.
Discount Office Supplies
$3.95 flat rate shipping
Bulk / Membership Stores
Shop in store or order online for delivery or in store pick-up.
Shop in store or order online for delivery or in store pick-up.
Shop in store for office supplies and computers or online for computers.