Inside Supply Management Magazine

Making Office Supplies a Strategic Purchase

October 29, 2018

Procurement specialists in mid-level companies — those with 20-200 employees — are often relegated to being professional pencil pushers. They may be called the office manager because they keep the office humming.

“I've found that those in this position want to streamline the day-to-day operations so they can level up their contributions to the business and become more of an office hero than a pen-getter,” says Chris DeMeo, vice president, global sales and marketing — Staples brand products at Staples, based in Boston. “However, they are saddled with outdated and manual processes for ordering supplies. Plus, they are wading through what, at times, seems like a sea of too many products that all do the same thing — and there's no curation.”

The notion of curation — assembling and aggregating purchases — is important, DeMeo says: “It’s because it simplifies purchasing and allows procurement specialists to focus on more important tasks.”

He believes leaders should empower their office managers or their procurement teams to identify solutions that address challenges like outdated processes. Such solutions include:

Procurement through subscription services — the notion of auto-restock or auto-replenish based on established demand patterns. “For example, you know that every 20 days, you need toner, a certain amount of copy paper and particular writing instruments to keep everyone clicking along,” DeMeo says. So you set up a process to automatically restock these items.

Supplier consolidation. Leaders should give procurement specialists authority to look at the suppliers they're working with, DeMeo says. “There once was a time when people thought that if they split all their purchases, they could save money,” he says. “The flaw in that is you might save more money on each item, but how much time have you wasted tracking down and ordering from 15 different suppliers? Giving the value of time back to your office manager helps him or her be more of a voice of your business because the office manager is interacting with customers in a way that no one else in your organization is.”

Standardizing orders — for example, buying one type of pen that gets the job done rather than fulfilling many different special requests — can save an organization money that can be used elsewhere in the business. “That's the outcome of rogue spend — you're being wasteful with money that you could otherwise invest in other places in the business,” DeMeo says.

That standardization can extend to workspace design and suppliers. “If you think about storage — whether a banker's box or file cabinet — if it's all the same, it's like Legos: It's consistent and it all fits,” DeMeo says. “It reduces visual clutter, which people find distracting.”

Additionally, procurement specialists looking to increase value and save money should consider private label-brand office supplies — if they don’t have a brand preference, DeMeo says.

“Value can be defined many ways through the procurement lens, whether it's buying more efficiently, consolidating purchases or standardizing minimum order sizes — scrutinizing not only the process, but what is purchased,” he says.