Is your office supply budget out of control?

Office supplies. Sounds pretty trivial, right?  But anyone who’s strolled the aisles (real & virtual) at Office Depot et al. can tell you how expensive these things can be. Exploding office supply expenses can start with some very bad habits like these:

1.  Lack of organization.  When things are strewn about in one or several places, employees can assume you’ve run out of something if it’s not readily found.  One colleague discovered the same thing in his office recently, where storage was spread out in various credenzas and one small closet.  Someone moved some of the labels to one of the credenzas.  Labels are commonly used items and that location makes them readily accessible by everyone.  The problem was that a stash of labels was also stored in the office supply closet.  Failure to combine all the labels in one place made it easy for someone to assume they’d run out of a particular size and re-stock; boxes of labels, by the way, can easily run $25+ each!  He solved this by consolidating all types of labels in one place and (here’s the other key) communicating their location to everyone.

2.  Too many favorites.  Some offices have very spoiled employees.  Sally likes gel-filled pens; Henry likes Bic medium point.  Aurora prefers blue ink and Vicky likes black.  Mechanical pencils are the preference of Patty and Sandy. Indulging everyone’s preferences makes for a large inventory of writing instruments – in this example – and the price tag can get out of control. Consider as well that pens are usually sold in boxes so how many of the 12 gel-filled pens will Sally use at one time before they dry up?  Select standard supplies and commit to purchasing only those, and especially when on sale or you have a coupon J  Employees are free to bring their favorite pens from home if they prefer something other than what you offer.

3.  Growing legs.  Ask a group of 100 people if they consider themselves to be honest, and every single one will answer affirmatively.  Ask if anyone’s a thief and you’ll get indignant looks as your reply.  Yet how many times have you ‘borrowed’ some pens, or notepads, or paper clips for a non-work project that’s coincidentally not performed at your place of business?  We’re not talking about the pen that absentmindedly goes in someone’s purse; the systematic, premeditated pilfering of supplies is the issue here and the cost adds up.  Consider keeping a small stash of expensive supplies in a central place and store the excess in a more secure location.  That will help you gauge the rate of use.  A related issue is the copier.  Some offices have a standard number of copies they’re allowed per month and pay extra when that target is exceeded.  Most employers don’t have a problem with someone copying receipts for a personal rebate or other personal information from time to time.  Reproducing volumes of materials for individual projects that have nothing to do with company business is unfair and adds up.  If your copier meter goes through the roof and you haven’t experienced a big influx of business to explain it, betcha dollars to donuts someone’s up to something.

4.  Stockpiling.  This is a variation of #1 and #2 above.  Some individuals believe in preparation and when they rely on a particular supply to get their work done – and its absence could set back their productivity – they might be tempted to stockpile.  The attitude is commendable: the employee wants to make sure he or she can do the job you expect.  But what starts with an extra packet of graph paper, morphs into other specialized supplies; next thing you know, organization falls by the wayside and you re-stock items that haven’t really been used, they’ve just been diverted.  Be prompt in your replenishment of supplies.  Every business experiences budget constraints and sometimes it seems that you run out of every expensive supply at the same time.  If you determine that you’re close to running out (more on that in a minute), by all means replace your stock so that productivity can continue.  This avoids the wasted time in speculation and waiting around that happens when something critical is gone.

Just about every single office supply company offers coupons or other purchasing incentives.  Don’t wait to run out completely so that you’re dashing to the store at the last minute.  Chances are you’ll pay top dollar and not receive any discounts.  Make a short list of the commonly used items in your office and watch the advertisements.  Sign up for email lists of specials.  A planned approach to supply ordering will maximize your savings and your sanity.

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