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Perpetual motion: changes constant in office products industry.


That could be the unofficial motto of the office products business. Technological changes come at such a rapid-fire pace, people in the business say it's nearly impossible to stay abreast of the changes.

Even if you're not in the business, the swift pace of change is hard not to notice.

One day, your office facsimile machine churns out familiar, waxy copies. Then, suddenly, there's a new, sleek contraption rolling out regular paper copies.

Plain-paper fax machines are just one of the many hot products practically walking out of office products stores, dealers report.

Barry Simon, president of Datamax Office Systems, a St. Louis-based company with locations in Pine Bluff and Little Rock, likens the fast-evolving fax market to the advent of the electronic typewriters and the rapid changes that followed.

Like the manual typewriters that quickly became outmoded, the thermal fax machine seems destined to suffer the same fate.

Of course, as soon as you get the latest model fax machine, technology betters you.

For example, Canon Business Machines Inc. is coming out with a machine that combines faxing, copying, scanning and printing functions. The product, which Simon sees as the wave of the future, should be available in about 30 days, he says.

Also catching on are color copiers and color laser printers. These machines are especially popular with advertising agencies and in-house marketing departments. Accordingly, office suppliers say equipment for laser printers is moving fast.

Environmental Concerns

At B.T. Buschart Office Products -- which has locations in Little Rock, Fort Smith and Springdale -- re-manufactured toner cartridges for laser printers are especially popular with environmentally minded businesses, says Lonnie Patterson, general manager of the Little Rock store.

Environmental concerns are cited as one reason for the growing popularity of paper shredders.

At City Business Machines Inc. in Little Rock, the statewide wholesaler of Destroy it shredders, sales manager Larry Barker says the machines are really selling.

"They can shred material and recycle it," Barker says.

Security is the primary reason for the popularity of the machines, he says.

Although Col. Oliver North and his aide, Fawn Hall, made shredding famous, companies handling a lot of financial and legal information, as well as those generating sensitive interoffice memos, are keeping the machines prevalent.

Another workplace trend is programming computers to interface with office machines such as the Risograph, a high-speed duplicator that is a technological successor to the purple-ink duplicators every school used to have.

"This is a really advanced model of that," Barker says. "It's a digital process that uses a paste ink."

Barker says Risographs have a lot of the same characteristics as copy machines, but they can handle a wider range of paper weights and can print in as many as seven colors.

While paper and plastic products with the natural environment in mind are popular in Arkansas and nationwide, a spokesman for an office products trade group says office environment issues are dictating many trends in equipment and furniture.

"Office workers spend about a third of their life at a minimum in an office sitting at a desk, and there's growing awareness that employees are more productive if the products and equipment they use support what they're trying to do rather than work against it," says Simon De Groot, communications director with the National Office Products Association in Alexandria, Va.

As a result, De Groot says products such as keyboard wrist rests and anti-glare computer screens are becoming commonplace. Keyboard wrist rests help prevent occupational injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Anti-glare computer screens cut down on headaches and eyestrain.

Helping focus attention on the need for a healthy workplace are growing workers compensation costs, De Groot notes.

"A relatively small investment in a well-designed, easy-to-adjust office setting is a short-term investment that may save major costs further down the road," he says.

Larry Walker, president of Today's Office Inc. in Little Rock, agrees that "healthy office" issues are a guiding concern these days when companies have offices designed.

"Companies are looking at issues like lighting," Walker says. "It's been proven now that people over 40 need twice the amount of light as those under 40."

Walker says chairs also are taking on more importance, with "active and passive" modes becoming essential for employees using computers.

Furnishings to accommodate today's technology are a thriving market niche.

"The old typical desk and/or credenza is 30 inches high," Walker says. "The new national standards are 28 1/2 inches high, so you've got to interface with electronics."

Technology continues to keep an entire industry on its toes.

A Sampling of the Hottest Products

* Plain-paper facsimile machines. Thermal models are already outmoded, as consumers go for upgraded models with better copy quality.

* Portable computers. Becoming more popular with traveling business people and college students alike. Students have discovered it's easier to input lecture notes directly into their computer while class is in session.

* Paper shredders. They're not just for the government anymore. Businesses handling sensitive financial and legal documents, in particular, find shredders a necessity.

* "Healthy office" furniture and accessories. With workers compensation claims soaring and companies downsizing, emphasis falls on making workplaces areas where employees stay healthy and productive.

* Risographs. The high-speed, high-quantity duplicator can interface with computers and churn out copies in seven colors.

* Sophisticated copy machines. Constantly evolving. The next wave, estimated to be on the market in about a month, combines a copier, facsimile, scanner and printer all in one.

* Laser pointers. Popular with presenters who want to jazz up their slide presentation and keep their audience alert.

* Programmable, financial calculators. Lending institutions are buying these up in an effort to comply with federal regulations requiring consumers to be presented all the financial specifics in loan agreements.

* Post-it notes. They're not just blank and yellow these days. They come in all colors, sizes and with special formats.

* Letter folders. Popular with small businesses and churches doing their own mailings of newsletters and bulletins.

* Cellular, portable phones. They've been popular in big cities for awhile. Now, even in Little Rock, it's common to see the phones perched on restaurant tables and used on city streets. Sales people and stockbrokers must wonder how they lived without them.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 17, 1993
Previous Article:Running with the big boys: the fortunes of P.A.M. Transport Inc. surge among state's trucking firms.
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