How to Shop Smart for Essential Office Supplies and Technology

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

You need certain products to run your business, and you need to make solid purchasing decisions that protect your bottom line. And you need the products to work and to last.

“Price and quality go hand in hand,” says interior designer Danielle Tarango, owner of Danielle Tarango Design in Laguna Beach, CA. “I’m a small business, and every dollar really does count.”

But skimping isn’t the answer. Kevin Michael Gray, founder of ApproveMe and WP E-Signature in Los Angeles, CA, says, “For the more expensive items that you plan on having around for a really long time — computers, hard drives, cinema displays, etc. — top of the line makes sense. For everything else — staples, pens, paper, etc. — we try to save money.”

Your goal should be to find quality and value. Start by trying some of these tips for making smart buying decisions on a few mission-critical office items:

Paper: Paperless office? Impossible! Paper is still crucial for most businesses. Store brands often offer a range of quality options. For example, you can purchase less expensive store-brand paper for basic general printing or a higher quality store-brand paper for final presentations to give to clients.

Shop Smart Tip: Choose store brands that provide the quality you need at a price you want. Bonus points if those brands carry a satisfaction guarantee.

Computers and Tablets: Even the tiniest enterprise needs some kind of computer or tablet. The key to making a smart decision is blending your needs and wants, as well as your budget. “Think about what, when, where and why you’re using the machine,” says Jorge Vergara, consumer PR manager for Intel Corp. “If you’re a mobile user and want to get things done on the go, you could opt for a thin and light form factor, like a 2-in-1 or an Ultrabook™. But if you’d rather have features like a bigger screen and local memory, yet still need some mobility, you can go for a traditional laptop or a portable all-in-one.” Then consider the software and apps you need to run your business and select memory and processor options that fit your budget and your business needs.

Shop Smart Tip: Consult online tools to compare systems and research what you need to consider before buying, and take advantage of any price match policies a retailer might offer.

Printer & Ink/Toner: Tarango relies on office equipment like her Epson® WorkForce® Pro to ensure profitability. “The features and benefits of the hardware are the determining factor in setting a general range in pricing for a new printer, and then I look for the best price for a unit that has all of the features I need,” she says. But while the printer itself is a one-time investment, it's the ink that’s a recurring expense. “Ink quality is very important for my business because printing in true color is imperative for my clients to get a true representation of the items that I’m specifying for their projects. Generally, this means I use printers that have individual cartridges for each color versus multicolor cartridges. Replacing up to five cartridges at a time can be very costly, so I always look at the cost of the replacements before I purchase a new printer, to ensure it makes sense financially and I get a long-lasting product.”

Shop Smart Tip: Consider total cost of ownership with anything that requires replacement parts or refills.

Stapler: Carrie Aulenbacher, the supply manager for Lake Erie Logistics in Erie, PA, can’t live without her stapler, which is why she made sure she saw the product in action before a recent purchase. “My tip for saving money is to be sure and have a quick demonstration to help avoid jams,” Aulenbacher advises. “Without the demonstration, I was doing 'stapler surgery' multiple times with letter openers, flashlights, needles, etc., in order to clear jams that could have been avoided with proper reloading.” That wastes time and staples. She also made sure her new tool would use regular staples, not the more expensive cartridges some electrics require.

Shop Smart Tip: “Many people staple something, only to pull it out five minutes later to fax the sheet,” she says. “With a $15 cartridge, that’s a waste! With a box of regular staples, we can afford to pull staples frequently, which happens a lot in our type of work.”

Whiteboard: “As a small tech start-up, whiteboards are how ideas are created. They are the new napkin,” says Jeff Zelaya, manager of Reston, VA–based Triblio. The company uses a combination of options to cost effectively outfit creative space. “We still use individual boards, but we have an entire whiteboard wall in our main conference room because it was a lot more cost effective and gives us a lot more flexibility in how we can use the space. We are no longer limited to fitting our ideas onto a 20-by-10 board, which is great when brainstorming new ideas with a growing team.”

Shop Smart Tip: Save money by purchasing dry-erase paint kits that create wall-size surfaces affordably.

You never want to scrimp on items that are vital to your business, but you always want to be fiscally savvy, says Gaylyn Finn, a small business consultant in Bowling Green, OH. “The effort and time it takes to create sufficient sales to earn $1 of NIBIT (net income before interest and taxes) is far more than the effort it takes to save $1 in expense.”

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