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More home work: office product sales are booming as workers stay home for a living.

Offices across Arkansas and the country may never be the same again as a revolution continues to reshape the business world.

The advent of facsimile machines, computer modems and other affordable communication links are giving some employees the flexibility to work out of their own homes.

The homeworker trend also allows companies to reduce overhead by down sizing office space and reducing travel budgets.

The five-year phenomenon has generated a retailing boon for office supply companies that are equipping these new residential work places.

U.S. sales estimates position the home office market at $15 billion-$20 billion in 1991.

About 34 million households have a home office today, and industry sources expect that market to number almost 40 million by 1994.

Little Rock retailers like Benton Brandon don't expect the homeworker trend to end anytime soon.

"The sky's the limit," says Brandon, president of Brandon House Furniture Co. "As far as a drop in demand, I don't see any in sight."

Examples of portable products proliferating in homeworker households include laptop and notebook computers, pocket electronic organizers and cellular phones.

More than 13 percent of homeworkers who purchased a personal computer in 1990 bought a laptop or notebook model, according to national statistics.

Nearly two million pocket organizers and reference products plus 1.5 million cellular phones were also purchased in 1991 by homeworkers.

One major impact of widespread interest in home office products is accelerated sales through a growing variety of retail channels, including a new breed of superstores.

Superstores, like the Office Depot Inc. location in west Little Rock, capitalize on the need for shopping convenience and wide product selection.

(James Duncan, manager of Office Depot's Little Rock store, was unavailable for comment.)

National statistics indicate that 5 to 7 percent of combined homeworker and small business personal computer purchases now go through superstore channels.

These stores can average 20,000 SF in major markets and see weekly floor traffic in the range of 10,000 customers.

Office Depot's entry in the Little Rock market prompted Today's Office to shut down its small retail operation on Shackleford Road nine months ago.

"We had to decide where our business future was," says Linda Honeycutt, supply manager for Today's Office.

Today's Office is devoting its attention to a traditional base of commercial business users rather than competing for the homeworker market.

On the surface, the decision to back down appears to be prudent, given Office Depot's volume buying power, thin markups and huge selection.

"When an Office Depot comes within a mile of you, they're going to kill you," laments one Little Rock retailer. "They're like the Wal-Mart of office products.

"They sell some products cheaper than we can even afford to buy them ourselves."

That's tough on small retailers, but great for homeworkers and other consumers.

National Perspective

About 38.4 million Americans performed job-related duties on a part- or full-time basis at their home last year.

That represents a 12 percent increase in homeworking compared to 1990, according to data compiled by LINK Resources Corp. in New York City.

LINK is a research and consulting firm that tracks the impact of computers, faxes, phones and other information products on lifestyles and workstyles.

The annual survey is based on telephone interviews with 2,500 randomly selected U.S. households.

The homeworker of today has changed a great deal in only a few short years, according to Thomas Miller, vice president and director of home office research at LINK.

"Nearly half own personal computers, and if they're self-employed, one out of 10 owns fax machines," Miller says. "Low-cost home office products are spearheading a real revolution in how we do our work."

The profile of the average homeworker is 39 to 40 years old, married, with an average household income of $50,400. Half of the average homeworker's children are younger than 18.

About 54 percent are men, partly because men are more likely than women to use computers and fax machines.

The fastest growing segment of homeworkers is telecommuters, which grew 38 percent to 5.5 million during 1991.

Telecommuters are company employees who work at home during normal business hours part- or full-time.

Time pressures at home coupled with growing concern about commuting delays contribute to growth in this area.

Moonlighting (part-time free-lancing by company employees) rose from 9.4 million to 10.5 million in 1991, primarily in response to the recession.

"When young children appear in a dual-career household, there is a tendency for one of the parents to supplement household income by doing some free-lancing from home," Miller says.

"Home office products make this easier to do than ever before."

Many company employees in the habit of bringing work home are now adopting home office products to improve their after-hours productivity.

LINK counted 10.6 million such high-tech, corporate after-hours homeworkers, a 5 percent increase over 1990. About 54 percent own personal computers.

True self-employment where the primary source of income comes from home-based activity grew by 600,000 households, a 6 percent increase over 1990.

Altogether, 11.8 million Americans fit this description, but only 19 percent of them reported they have ambitions to expand their businesses beyond the home.

"We haven't seen it peak out yet," says Todd Smithson, major account manager at The Future Now in Little Rock. "In fact, more and more people are going to the home office setup."

Moving the work place to the homestead also allows employees to accomplish the same amount of work and spend more time with family.

The attraction for single, working parents who want to stay home while continuing their professional career is obvious.

Worker efficiency also receives a noticeable jump start when the daily commute is cut out of the picture.

Low-Tech Products

The increased walk-in traffic is a sign that the wave of homeworkers is not diminishing. It seems to be spilling over into conventional office supply sales.

"We don't keep track of specific numbers, but there's no doubt in my mind that more of it is home office customers," says Jim Dailey, president of Dailey's Office Furniture in Little Rock.

The upswing of homeworker demand is impacting basic office products, too.

In the low-tech category, used office furniture is a hot item for dollar-conscious homeworkers.

"Used furniture is an expanding part of our business, and a lot of it is going into homes," Dailey says.

And some buyers are acquiring ready-to-assemble (RTA) office furniture to go with their used ergonomic chairs.

As the wave of homeworkers has grown, outfits like Sauder Woodworking Co. of Archbold, Ohio, are making hay with RTAs.

The popularity of RTAs in Arkansas and other states has made the 58-year-old firm one of the fastest growing furniture manufacturers in America.

Sauder's inexpensive lineup of tables, desks and hutches is a big drawing card for buyers who want to save cash by assembling their own equipment.

The market is also growing for homeworkers who are willing to pay a little extra for more ornamentation. That includes furnishings that blend in with home decor versus institutional blacks and grays of traditional office equipment.

"We've been able to bring in some style to it," says Kevin Sauder, director of marketing for the third generation family enterprise.

The business world is still reacting to the winds of change caused by the homeworker trend. This new lifestyle is bound to have a bigger impact in the days to come as well.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:home labor in Arkansas
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 8, 1992
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