The new U.S. Communities office supplies contract awarded by Los Angeles County to Independent Stationers gives purchasing officials in public agencies across the United States exclusive access to office supplies at substantial savings. The contract, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2011, is administered by U.S. Communities and gives participating public agencies the benefit of a fiercely competitive pricing structure supported by local office suppliers who are members of the Independent Stationers cooperative.

Competitive strategies, bottom line

During a time of economic struggle and uncertainty across the United States, saving costs in any area of business is a welcome, even mandatory, measure to keep organizations thriving. Jeff La Porta, a purchasing agent at Harford County Public Schools in Maryland, says the competitive pricing offered through the new Independent Stationers contract is a good fit and a necessary measure. La Porta's office manages purchasing for more than 50 schools in Harford County. He values the savings through the new contract and also sees its advantage to smaller office supply dealers as a way to inject more healthy and fair competition into a market dominated by larger players.

"Competitive pricing is really what we're about and strive for in purchasing," La Porta says. "A contract like this puts other companies on alert. It tells them they need to become more competitive in their pricing and in their service delivery."

Beyond cost savings, the contract will have ripple effects on small businesses, which in turn can impact local economies. According to a California State University study in June 2009, small business accounts for 99.2 percent of all employer firms and drives the economic engine of the state. Clearly, government-issued contracts are a critical factor affecting the success of small businesses.

Fueling local businesses and economies

"Many jurisdictions want to protect their own and keep dollars in the community, and are using national cooperatives to benefit their local communities," says Cathy Muse, purchasing director for Fairfax County, Va.

Speaking about the new office supplies contract, she adds, "Everyone pays the same price under this contract. Participating agencies can take advantage of the pricing you can get from a national cooperative but benefit directly from a local supplier." She calculates that under the new contract, her agency stands to save as much as $86,000 annually on the purchase of more than 3,400 items.

The strength and vitality that government contracts inject into small business is of paramount importance and critical to success of communities, explains Muse, highlighting the need for "our suppliers to reflect our communities" and the importance of making procurement processes "more accessible to our small, minority-owned businesses."

In fact, Guernsey Office Products Inc., a local dealer in Dulles, Va., has recently hired five new drivers, two sales representatives and an inside warehouse technician to support, in combination with other Guernsey resources, the Fairfax County Schools procurement department.

"As we look forward to additional business from local government agencies, we will be hiring at least another dozen employees, anticipating about 20 new full time employees and eight additional vehicles. The process has been exciting, and the potential of what we're doing here is enormous. We are proud to serve as the dealer selected for the initial U.S. Communities conversion," says David M. Guernsey, president and CEO, Guernsey Office Products Inc.

Meeting expected levels of service

Of course, there are valid concerns and questions to consider. While the new contract gives smaller businesses an edge over their larger competitors, do they really have the capacity to provide the same, timely level of service to clients?

Even while anticipating the benefits of the contract for purchasers, La Porta is firm on expectations. "We are going to expect the same level of service we've been accustomed to," he cautions. "As usual we want to be able to go online, find a product, click a button and have it delivered the next day. It's going to be important for this contract to maintain that level of service."

Even so, La Porta imagines the new jobs and functions in areas like delivery and order processing that could result from the contract in order to maintain that level of service, and how this will ultimately impact the community. "This model has potential for a lot of growth. As it grows, it will affect the local economy," he adds. "We want to see the business grow."

Muse offers further assurance for purchasing agencies and local suppliers on the question of capacity. Independent Stationers is backed by a group called United Stationers, a national network and wholesaler with leading-edge capacity in distribution. "This means the local vendor doesn't have to do it alone," Muse explains. "Many local dealers have had long-standing connections to United Stationers as a supply source, and this contract will help to make United Stationers more visible to the buying community and their direct suppliers."

"Independent Stationers has been in business for 33 years — we started with four independent dealers. Over time, we've grown…now we're a network of over 280 dealers representing over 500 locations with as many as 1,900-plus sales people," says Janet Eshenour, director of marketing with Independent Stationers. "Many of the dealers are small business, women-owned, minority-owned and other socio-economic statuses, as well as family-owned businesses."

Eshenour explains how the nature and practice of Independent Stationers lends itself to benefits for U.S. Communities' participating public agencies. "We're a cooperative; we're dealer-owned; and we're continually adding new dealers. We go to the major suppliers like 3M or HP and negotiate with them so we get the best products and the best pricing for our members, which they in turn pass on in savings to purchasing agencies."

The new contract also offers the added benefit of increased personal interface and relationships between purchasing agencies and local businesses, Eshenour explains.

"Our dealers are entrepreneurs and have vast knowledge of the office supply industry and its products — they know it, live it, and breathe it. They offer exceptional delivery and customer service," she says. "They've been around for a long time and know their success depends on the level of service they provide."

The jobs and dollars that are kept in the community through small businesses, such as the ones represented by Independent Stationers, will certainly impact local economies, but the broader community stands to benefit in other ways too. According to Eshenour, many of the dealers are active in their communities and sponsor or support local charities and initiatives. "They want to do good for the community."

About U.S. Communities

U.S. Communities is the leading national government purchasing cooperative, providing world-class government procurement resources and solutions to local and state government agencies, school districts (K-12), higher education institutions and nonprofits looking for the best overall supplier government pricing. Visit www.uscommunities.org.

In addition to the premier office supplies contract available to governments and non-profit entities, the U.S. Communities family of contracts include photocopiers, playground equipment, furniture, even roofing — to name a few.