Superior Suppliers?

Online versions of our favorite office-supply stores: Do they make stocking any easier?

Purchasing office supplies used to be a no-brainer: Once someone started in on the last pack of pens or legal pads, you knew it was time to hop in your car and head to the nearest office-supply store to replenish your dwindling stock. However, now that the industry has grown to include not only traditional office-supply stores, but also their online counterparts, choosing the best place to buy office supplies is no longer a black-and-white decision.

This month, we take a closer look at office-supply giants Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot to get a handle on your purchasing options in this increasingly Internet-oriented business world. One thing is clear: The great divide between the Internet and real-world versions of these stores is narrowing.

"We're going for a seamless integration of our retail stores and our online site, meaning that someone could walk in our stores, go to an electronic online station and order products or business services from Office-Max.com," says Steve Baisden of OfficeMax. "If they can't find that favorite red pen in the store, for example, they can order it online in the store and have it delivered to their business the next day." OfficeMax is not the only retailer heading in this direction. "The Internet is going to be a tool for our customers to run their business online, not just to buy products. So the integration of the services in addition to the products we sell is a great focus," says Monica Luechtefeld, executive vice president of e-commerce at Office Depot.

At press time, however, Office Depot announced it would be closing 67 stores nationwide, along with three in Canada. "They're stores that are by and large not in great locations," explains Luechtefeld. "They [sell to] customers whom we're going to [service] through our catalog, mail order and sales force. We're not leaving [those] customers-we just won't be servicing them in a retail store."

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This article was originally published in the May 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Superior Suppliers?.

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