I would encourage you to take up the torch of examining the Office Depot story much more aggressively. The gross deception and manipulation of pricing in our industry is unfortunately a legacy that has developed, and has become much worse over the years, as the size and sophistication of the national account suppliers, and the customer contracts and demands, increased.
The typical independent dealer has almost been forced out of the game due to their lack of willingness, coupled with their lack of ability, to manipulate – and even understand – this critical element. These practices should not remain in the closet as the industry’s dark secrets.
For years, it was believed that companies like Boise Cascade and Quill practiced continual bracket creep pricing to inflate margins on acquired customers. Today, companies like Depot appear to have taken these previous simple practices and created matrixes and practices too complex for consumers to unravel to accomplish these goals. This approach has allowed them to "unfairly" respond to RFPs, outbidding competitors who play by a different set of ethical rules.
It seems to me that there are way too many facts/results which prove that Depot is engaged in inappropriate pricing and contractual behaviour, playing fast and loose, and getting away with it. We need the industry’s leading publication to dig into this situation aggressively, so the reporting does not come out as whitewashed.
Purposefully remaining ‘neutral’ on this story, giving Depot’s denials as much credibility as the reports from these investigations, is actually harmful. As Depot is forced to clean up its behaviour, other players will likely start to change their practices too, helping us return to being an industry with respectable business practices.
I also strongly encourage you to forcefully try to investigate the facts related to the Depot/US Communities relationship, as the circumstances surrounding this incestuous, shielded relationship need to be fully examined. I believe this is the biggest office supply contract in the world. As they often say, where there is (lots of) smoke, there is often fire. Given how little either organisation will reveal speaks volumes. Given the success of Depot/US Communities, we are now facing the proliferation of these style contracts (Staples/NJPA etc), again potentially creating an unfair and uneven playing field, perhaps shielding inappropriate, or corrupt, practices and relationships.
I generally feel that OPI takes a balanced stance, reflecting perspectives from both sides of an issue. Objective reporting does have to allow both sides their say, even though we often don’t want to hear what the other side says, especially as even seeing it in print seems to give it unwarranted credibility.
All that being said, I also believe that all reporting and perspective introduces bias, intentional or not. I enjoy your magazine and the knowledge it brings, and appreciate your accepting ‘letters to the editor’ like this.
Steve Danziger, AAA Solutions
San Francisco (CA), USA