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Where cities buy their pencils can be good for business and community: new government-backed office supplies contract has big impact on local economies.

A new government-issued office supplies contract awarded to Independent Stationers, a leading office supplies provider, gives cities and other public agencies exclusive access to reduced pricing and substantial savings for office supplies.

The contract is administered by U.S. Communities, a nonprofit government purchasing cooperative sponsored by NLC and other national organizations. U.S. Communities reduces the cost of goods and services for participants by aggregating their purchasing power nationwide. Public agencies that are participants in this cooperative have an opportunity to benefit from the new contract and its many features, not the least of which is a fiercely competitive pricing structure for office supplies.

Under the new contract, local office suppliers who are members of the Independent Stationers cooperative will fulfill orders placed by public agencies.

Fueling Local Businesses and Economies

Speaking about the new office supplies contract, Cathy Muse, purchasing director for Fairfax County, Va., said, "Many jurisdictions want to protect their own and keep dollars in the community, and are using national cooperatives to benefit their local communities. Everyone pays the same price under this contract. Participating agencies can take advantage of the pricing you can get from a national cooperative, but benefit directly from a local supplier."

Muse calculates that under the new contract, her agency stands to save as much as $86,000 annually on the purchase of more than 3,400 items.

The strength and vitality these government contracts inject into small businesses is of paramount and critical success to communities, explained Muse, highlighting the need for "our suppliers to reflect our communities" and the importance of making procurement processes "more accessible to our small, minority-owned businesses."

Of course, there are valid concerns and questions to consider. While the new contract gives smaller businesses an added edge over their larger competitors, do they really have the capacity to provide the same, timely level of service to clients?

As Independent Stationers is backed by a group called United Stationers, a national network and wholesaler with leading edge capacity in distribution, Muse offered some further assurance for purchasing agencies and local suppliers on the question of capacity.

"This means the local vendor doesn't have to do it alone," Muse explained. "Many local dealers have had long-standing connections to United Stationers as a supply source and this contract will help to make United Stationers more visible to the buying community and their direct suppliers."

Customer Service That's A Little Closer to Home

Independent Stationers has been in business for 33 years, starting with four independent dealers. Over time, it has grown.

"Now we're a network of over 280 dealers, representing over 500 locations with as many as 1,900+ sales people," said Janet Eshenour, director of marketing with Independent Stationers. "Many of the dealers are small business, women-owned, minority-owned and other socioeconomic statuses, as well as family-owned businesses."

Eshenour explained how the very nature and practice of Independent Stationers lends itself to benefits for U.S. Communities participating public agencies.

"We're a cooperative; we're dealer-owned and we're continually adding new dealers. We go to the major suppliers like 3M or HP and negotiate with them so we get the best products and the best pricing for our members, which they, in turn, pass on in savings to purchasing agencies."

The new contract also offers the added benefit of increased personal interface and relationships between purchasing agencies and local businesses, Eshenour said.

"Our dealers are entrepreneurs and have vast knowledge of the office supply industry and its products--they know it, live it and breathe it. They offer exceptional delivery and customer service. They've been around for a long time and know their success depends on the level of service they provide."

The jobs and dollars that are kept in the community through small businesses, such as the ones represented by Independent Stationers, will certainly impact local economies, but the broader community stands to benefit in other ways too. According to Eshenour, many of the dealers are very active in their communities and sponsor or support local charities and initiatives.

"They want to do good for the community," she said.

The Bigger Picture

Public agencies have the opportunity to benefit from various contracts that offer savings on more than just office supplies. Other contracts cover photocopiers, playground equipment, furniture, even roofing.

Working together with its national partners and sponsors, U.S. Communities is able to offer contracts that engage local dealers who pass along national manufacturer discounts to participating agencies.

Details: For more information about U.S. Communities, visit www.uscommu or contact Marc Shapiro, NLC program director, at or (202) 626-3019.

While at the Congress of Cities in Denver, visit the U.S. Communities booth (#1046) in the NLC Pavilion and the Independent Stationers booth (#1043) in the U.S. Communities Pavilion.
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Title Annotation:Independent Stationers
Author:Shapiro, Marc
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 15, 2010
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