Office supplies encompass a wide range of materials that are used on a regular, daily basis by businesses of all sizes. The standard set of office supplies utilized by even the smallest company or home office includes pens; writing paper; notebooks; Post-It notes; scissors; erasers; staplers; computer diskettes and CDs; binders; file folders; labels; tape; basic reference materials (dictionaries, etc.); envelopes; toner cartridges; to mention but the most common. In addition, equipment that is used in most office environments—printers, copy machines, fax machines, etc.—is often included under this umbrella term.

Despite the growth of technologies that had promised us a future in which we would operate in "paperless offices," most offices today are still filled with paper and with all the accessories needed to keep paper organized. In fact, a paper shredder is a common item in offices these days. Although the cost of office supplies is relatively small when items are purchased separately, in the aggregate this cost can amount to a substantial quantity. Consequently, small business owners should make sure that they pay attention to office supply costs and keep all receipts of such purchases, since office supplies are a legitimate business deduction for tax purposes.

Entrepreneurs and business managers also need to take care to ensure that they get what they pay for. Most companies engaged in selling office supplies and equipment are scrupulous and reliable, but fraudulent suppliers do exist. For this reason, experts urge small businesses to proceed methodically, especially if dealing with a new supplier. "Prevent supplier swindles by adopting a written purchasing policy, which includes a list of your approved vendors," stated Scott Clark in Pugent Sound Business Journal. "A specific credit check procedure must be completed for a new vendor to be added to this list." Small business owners should also insist on written confirmation of all supplier claims and demand an opportunity to review sample goods before placing an order.

Procurement Options

In recent years, office superstores and catalogue supply houses have emerged as the most efficient and inexpensive way to purchase various types of supplies. The average client of these superstores is the small- to medium-sized business, as well as the home office market. The convenience of being able to find virtually any office supply at one location is one of the primary reasons for the increased popularity of the superstores. In addition to convenience, these stores and catalogues offer merchandise that is very competitively priced since they are able to purchase their goods at bulk rates. Some of these savings are usually passed along to small business customers, especially if the stores are operating in a competitive environment.

The proliferation of Internet shopping has opened up a new avenue for office supply procurement as well. Most large office supply chains not offer online shopping sites through which a business may order supplier for pick-up or delivery.

Finally, many small (and large) businesses are choosing suppliers who offer materials made from recycled materials. This trend towards "green" procurement can be seen in all types of paper products (computer paper, envelopes, tablets, file folders, etc.) as well as big-ticket items like office furniture. In the latter case, remanufactured, refurbished or reused furniture has emerged as a particularly attractive option for cash-strapped start-ups and growing businesses because they are able to garner savings of 30-50 percent by pursuing used items. According to some experts, furniture recyclers now represent almost 10 percent of the $13.6 billion commercial furniture industry.


Atkinson, William. "Buyer Demand for Green Office Products Blossoms." Purchasing. 13 July 2000.

Belyea, Kathryn. "Purchasing Exec Urges Peers to Embrace E-Buying." Purchasing. 13 July 2000.

Clark, Scott. "Don't Let Fraudulent Suppliers Rip You Off." Puget Sound Business Journal. 14 July 2000.

Cullen, Scott, and Ellen Gragg. "Top 20 Trends, Office Innovations, and Products of the Past 20 Years." OfficeSolutions. July-August 2004.

Jeffress, Charles N. "Ergonomics Standard Good for Business." Business Insurance. 23 October 2000.

"Quiet Revolution: The working environment will be revolutionized over the next decade and office products companies need to get their strategies in place if they are to survive." Office Products International. July 2004.