It takes two

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The Australian OP industry sees a new retail chain enter the market.

Officeworks’ position as the sole OP superstore chain in Australia came to an end over Easter with the opening of the first store under rival retailer Harvey Norman’s Ofis banner in Albury.

Two Ofis stores are now open in Harvey Norman’s home patch of New South Wales, the second store in the Sydney suburb of Auburn where the first Harvey Norman store opened back in 1982.

Retail entrepreneur and chairman Gerry Harvey admitted that he had previously considered an office supplies retail chain, but saw an opportunity in the computer segment and followed that route instead.

Now he has turned his attention back to OP and Ofis will go head to head with Officeworks, the 114-store chain owned by retail and industrial conglomerate Wesfarmers since November 2007.

"We firmly believe that there is room in the market for two players," Ofis’ general manager Paul English told OPI.

The long-term goal is for around 100 stores in Australia. English says that six further stores are planned for 2008. After that, there should be around ten openings per year. He added that store locations will be dependent of the quality of the sites, but any site within Australia would be under consideration if suitable.

Typically, the store size will be between 12,000-15,000 sq ft and each will employ 20-25 staff. The two current stores are laid out in four distinct zones – print shop, stationery, IT and office furniture – and stock around 7,500 stationery and 2,500 IT products.

"We’ve had an incredible response from both customers and our suppliers," commented English. "They like the fresh look and the fact that customer service is a high priority."

There is no own brand yet and English confirmed that this is not something the company is focusing on at the moment.

Aimed initially at general consumers, small businesses and students, Ofis plans to start a delivery service soon and English says that a long-term goal would be to attract larger corporate accounts.

Currently, there is no online business, but this is set to change soon and is regarded as a "vital" component to the success of the chain.

English himself is no stranger to retail and to the Harvey Norman way of doing business, having spent the last ten years with the AU$4.5 billion (US$4.2 billion) retailer. Given Harvey Norman’s track record and infrastructure, there is no reason for the Ofis chain not to succeed.

The onus now will be on main rival Officeworks not to take its eye off the ball, something easier said than done with the Wesfarmers integration still in progress and a full strategic review planned for later on this year.