Office supplies encompass a wide range of materials that are used on a regular, daily basis by businesses of all sizes. The standard set of office supplies utilized by even the smallest company or home office includes pens, writing paper, notebooks, sticky notes, scissors, erasers, staplers, CDs, binders, file folders, labels, tape, basic reference materials (such as dictionaries), envelopes, and toner cartridges, to mention only the most common. In addition, equipment such as printers, copy machines, and fax machines are often included under this umbrella term.
Despite the growth of technologies that promised “paperless offices,” in the early twenty-first century most offices are still filled with paper and all the accessories needed to keep paper organized. In fact, a paper shredder is a common item in offices. Still, although offices are not yet entirely digital, there is a growing move to electronic office supplies. For example, it is now possible to send and receive faxes entirely via the computer and Internet without a paper fax machine. The benefits of Internet fax service include greater mobility, less paper, increased privacy, more office space, and fewer incidents of lost faxes.
Whether electronic options or standard supplies are used, there is still a cost for office supplies and services. Although the cost of office supplies is relatively small when items are purchased separately, in the aggregate this cost can amount to a substantial quantity. Consequently, small-business owners should make sure that they pay attention to office-supply costs and keep all receipts of such purchases because office supplies are a legitimate business deduction for tax purposes.
Entrepreneurs and business managers also need to take care to ensure that they get what they pay for. Most companies engaged in selling office supplies and equipment are scrupulous and reliable, but fraudulent suppliers do exist. In 2014 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shut down a company that had been invoicing small businesses for overpriced office supplies they had never ordered. To avoid such scams, experts urge small businesses to proceed methodically, especially when dealing with a new supplier. “Prevent supplier swindles by adopting a written purchasing policy, which includes a list of your approved vendors,” advised Scott Clark in Puget Sound Business Journal. “A specific credit check procedure must be completed for a new vendor to be added to this list.” Small-business owners should also insist on written confirmation of all supplier claims and demand an opportunity to review sample goods before placing an order.
Office superstores and online or catalog supply houses have emerged as the most efficient and inexpensive way to purchase various types of supplies for small to medium-sized businesses and home offices. The convenience of being able to find virtually any office supply at one location is one of the primary reasons for the popularity of the superstores. In addition to convenience, these stores offer merchandise that is competitively priced because they are able to purchase their goods at bulk rates. Some of these savings are usually passed along to small-business customers, especially if the stores are operating in a competitive environment.
Many small (and large) businesses are choosing suppliers who offer products made from recycled materials. This trend toward “green” procurement can be seen in all types of paper products (including computer paper, envelopes, tablets, and file folders) as well as big-ticket items such as office furniture. In the latter case, remanufactured, refurbished, or reused furniture has emerged as a particularly attractive option for cash-strapped start-ups and growing businesses because used items typically cost 30 percent to 50 percent less than new items.
Environmental consciousness has also led to other changes in office supplies. For example, in 2008 TheGreenOffice.com was the first office-supply retailer in the industry to refuse to sell office products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), such as vinyl binders, because of the potential environmental dangers of PVC substances. The market for green office supplies continued to expand. According to a Business Wire report, in 2016 the market-research firm Technavio forecasted that the demand for environmentally friendly office products would be a major factor driving growth in the U.S. office-supplies market. One Technavio analyst noted, “Innovation through product recycling has become one of the core focus areas for all stationery and office supply manufacturers.”
Clark, Scott. “Don't Let Fraudulent Suppliers Rip You Off.” Puget Sound Business Journal. 14 July 2000.
DeBare, Ilana. “Movement Wants Fewer PVC Office Products.” SF Gate. 7 September 2008. Available from: http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-09-07/business/17161175_1_pvc-polyvinylchloride-office-products .
Federal Trade Commission. “FTC Stops Deceptive Office Supply Scam That Targeted Small Businesses and Nonprofits.” 31 July 2014. Available from: https://www.ftc.gov/newsevents/press-releases/2014/07/ftc-stops-deceptive-officesupply-scam-targeted-small-businesses .
Murray, Jean. “Office Supplies and Expenses on Your Business Tax Return.” The Balance. 5 June 2016. Available from: https://www.thebalance.com/office-expenses-supplies-taxes398957 .
“Preference for Green Products to Create Opportunities for the Office Stationery and Supplies Market in the U.S. through 2020, Reports Technavio.” Business Wire. 25 August 2016. Available from: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160825005031/en/Preference-Green-Products-CreateOpportunities-Office-Stationery .