Office supply companies off 17 to 25 percent

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Published: May 11,2009

One of the industries that one would expect to struggle in foul economic times would be office supplier. According to a few local office supply companies, however, business is not that bad.

While some companies may be doing better than others, Paul Maczka of Barefield said that the overall office supply industry has definitely been hit by the economic downturn. “Sales at the ‘big box’ retailers are off in the 17 to 23 percent range,” he said. “Office supply purchases seem to be an easy target for companies looking to cut expenses even though they represent a very small part of most companies’ budgets.” But even in the hard times, some companies such as Butler Office Supply are doing well. Bob Smith of Butler Office Supply said, “As a whole, our sales have not diminished. In fact, our sales are up from last year.” This may be a factor from the way that the industry in Mississippi is hit. It seems to be a common belief amongst the office supply companies that Mississippi is slightly better off than other states due to the companies that are dependent on office supplies here. Decidedly, the fact that most of Mississippi’s economy is driven by government, healthcare and education makes it less prone to the damage.

How are these supply companies being affected, though? Smith expresses that professional practices don’t seem to be as affected and tend to buy on schedule, but some industrial companies sales are dropping, though not enough to really have a percentage effect on sales. Maczka states that his company has seen cuts, of variable sizes, from most companies. “The reality is that most companies purchase only the office supplies that they need to conduct their business. Therefore, if they are doing less business the chances are that they need fewer supplies.” The example presented by Mazcka was “Our clients in the healthcare industry continue to have a need for office supplies. On the other hand, some of our clients in the furniture industry have had less of a need.” Within the actual products sold by these companies, there seems to be a large diversity on which items are being purchased less. While Butler Office Supplies mentions that they see less capital purchasing, like furniture, technology, etc, Barefield sees more small things being changed, like paper, pens, binders, and file folders. It seems as though all companies are finding ways to be a bit more cost conscientious. Mazcka mentions little things like changing from expensive gel pens to standard Bic pens. He also states that there has been an increase in the sale of remanufactured toner cartridges as well as in cleaning and break room supply sales. “Customers tell that they can save money by purchasing things like coffee from us.”

Most office supply companies are offering ways for price or even environmentally conscious companies to save. Both Barefield and Butler offer “green” catalogs for their customers. These products include things such as recycled inkjet products or toner, recycled paper, refillable pens, as well as low emitting products. These products contain no VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) including soaps, solvents, and cleaners. It seems that there is no need for any drastic changes in office supply companies’ towards handling he economy. But there are definitely small steps that have been taken in order to save a little, as well as being easier accessed by various customers.
In the end, compared to this time last year, office supply companies all seem to be somewhat in the green. Both Butler and Barefield mentioned everything as being near to last year or a little a head. With company mergers, like Butler Office Supply and Jackson Office Supply, and companies opening new locations, this industry seems to still be on the ball, and prepared for what may be headed their way as the economy takes it’s ups and downs.

Contact MBJ staff writer Leslie Galloway at leslie.galloway@msbusiness.com .

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