Office supply firm wants to sell its customers less


Can saving Mother Earth also mean saving money?

Corporate Express, a Jessup-based stationery and office supplies company catering to the corporate market, thinks so.

The company, which carries a line of office products made from recycled materials and promotes environmental responsibility, shows customers how to reduce waste and save money by letting office stockroom shelves go bare.

"Why order boxes of orange felt-tipped pens when no one's going to use them, and they're probably going to get thrown away?" says Richard Nelson, president of the mid-Atlantic regional office. It serves customers from Richmond, Va., to central Pennsylvania.

Going "stock less," says Mr. Nelson, saves a minimum of 10 percent on stationery and office supply budgets. Office supplies often account for one of the largest expenses after labor costs. And, with some customers spending as much as $500,000 annually on such supplies, savings can be significant, the executive says.

The "stock-less inventory system," as Corporate Express calls it, works this way:

Customers order what they need in the way of office supplies by 5 p.m. on any business day, and the company guarantees that the order will be delivered the next morning. Emergency orders can be filled on the same day in many cases.

The company estimates that 25 percent of its mid-Atlantic customers now use the system.

"You not only can save a lot of money, but reduce a lot of waste," Mr. Nelson says.

Waste reduction can vary from eliminating reams of paper reports that could be shared through computers to scaling back on the number of times employees use a pen once, toss it in a desk and head to the supply drawer for another.

Of course, showing customers how to be more efficient in using and ordering office supplies can result in spending on those supplies being reduced. But Corporate Express, which had national sales last year of about $621 million, figures that showing customers the system builds long-term loyalty.

Interest in the system has increased since the company assigned one of the senior sales managers, Ken Kaplan, to show customers how they can save money on office supplies. Mr. Kaplan conducts costs analyses for customers. He often recommends closing the door on the old stockroom.

"It's when you start seeing carbon paper and boxes of the old brass clips in the stock drawers that you know a company is in trouble," Mr. Nelson says.

But once company executives are convinced that cost savings are at hand, the move to the bare stockroom often is swift.

And what about the people no longer needed in the stockroom?

"We encourage the company to find another place for them," Mr. Nelson says. "You don't want to see anybody losing their job over this."

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