Every year U.S. businesses spend billions of dollars on office supplies such as paper, pens, notepads, paper clips, and toner. Because many of the items purchased generally cost very little, it can be difficult to gauge whether or not you’re paying a fair price for them. But by doing your homework, which includes comparison shopping, you can easily save up to 20 percent a year on office supplies.
Consider the Source
The price of office supplies varies greatly depending on where you purchase them. As a general rule, office superstores like Staples and OfficeMax offer the lowest prices because they purchase their inventory in bulk, use warehouselike stocking to reduce overhead, and generate enormous sales volume to obtain further discounts from manufacturers.
Mail-order vendors bring competition to the marketplace by relying on catalogs, toll-free order lines, and reasonable shipping charges. By strategically positioning distribution centers throughout the country, these vendors can offer reduced shipping charges and provide delivery within one to three days of an order.
Local office supply dealers, which were more popular before the advent of superstores and mail order, represent a third option, but not necessarily the cheapest one. However, what these dealers lack in competitive pricing they often make up for with a broad selection, which makes them a good source for difficult-to-find items.
Larger business with more than 100 employees can often find good deals with contract stationers, which offer custom pricing for large orders and which, like office supply dealers, typically stock as many as five times the amount of items as an office superstore.
Small businesses that purchase office supplies in small quantities will find that superstores and mail-order vendors offer the lowest prices because of their ability to buy in bulk. In fact, such stores often take a loss on the purchase of such items, which they make up for by charging significantly more for higher-margin generic items and overpriced name-brand items.
If you’re an office manager who consistently purchases office supplies in large volume, be aware that you have the power to negotiate prices with a contract stationer on frequently ordered items. The reason for this is simple: such vendors know you’re likely to compare prices on commonly purchased items and don’t want to run the risk of losing your business.
The key to negotiating a purchase price is to accurately identify the type and number of supplies you’re likely to need on a consistent basis. Doing so will also minimize the chance that you’ll pay higher amounts for items not on your negotiated price list.
Once you’ve locked in pricing for your most frequently purchased supplies, attempt to guarantee prices on less frequently purchased items as well. If you’re unable to work out an agreement, you might find that the vendor is willing to offer a discount, perhaps as much as 25 percent, on items ordered through their catalog.
- Low prices on frequently purchased items like pens, pencils, and printer paper don’t always indicate good deals on less frequently purchased items like shipping materials and computer accessories.
- Consider warehouse clubs, which are a good option for discount pricing on commonly purchased office supplies. The greatest drawback is that warehouse clubs tend to have a very limited selection.
- Contract stationers usually offer the most comprehensive management reports, breaking down orders by department or product type.
Keep in mind: One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount your business spends on office supplies is to purchase them less often. You can reduce your office’s paper costs by copying and printing on both sides of the page and by using e-mail in place of printed memos.
For useful tips on how to find office furniture for less, check out Buying Budget Office Furniture.