Indie office suppliers prepare for battle

There's strength in numbers. Just ask the folks behind the newest name in the office supplies business: BuroPlus....

There’s strength in numbers. Just ask the folks behind the newest name in the office supplies business: BuroPlus.

The new retail brand brings together more than 100 independent office supply stores formerly operating under the Bureaulab, Sopa and PSA banners. Each of the merchants is affiliated with Laval, Que.-based Novexco, an umbrella organization that allows the retailers to pool their buying, merchandising and marketing resources.

By adopting a uniform identity, the merchants are hoping to significantly increase their visibility, thereby putting them in a better position to take on category leaders Business Depot – which operates stores under the Business Depot, Office Depot, Staples and Bureau en Gros banners – and Grand & Toy.

‘We clearly had to move towards a common banner to create notoriety, a visible presence and a strong brand,’ says Robert Hattem, president of BuroPlus. He contends the move will also help the company save money, since it will no longer have to customize advertising and marketing materials for disparate brands. In future, a single campaign can serve all of the company’s stores in Eastern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

So-called ‘bannerization’ programs have been growing in popularity in recent years. Benjamin Moore Canada, for example, embarked upon a program last fall to provide 375 of its network of about 1,000 independent paint dealers with consistent advertising, signage, and fixtures. (See ‘Benjamin Moore touches up brand,’ Strategy, Nov. 8, ’99). The pilot program was successful, with participants reporting an average 18% increase in sales.

The BuroPlus banner is being touted as ‘Your Home Grown Network,’ playing up the fact that it’s independent and Canadian-owned in a category dominated by foreign players. (Business Depot has always been U.S.-owned. Grand & Toy was sold to U.S. office supply and paper products conglomerate Boise Cascade in 1996.)

The new banner will be introduced to customers through direct mail and 125,000 catalogues sent to those already on Novexco’s lists.

The lion’s share – about 85% – of BuroPlus customers are commercial businesses, with the remainder primarily in the small office/home office (SOHO) segment. Most of the company’s business is generated outside major urban centres, says Hattem, and the company intends to secure its position there before expanding its presence in Montreal and Toronto.

Additionally, the company is developing an e-commerce site, at www.buroplus.com, to cater to its independent merchants, its commercial accounts and eventually, the SOHO and general public segments.

Grand & Toy has already made inroads with the SOHO market through ‘The Stockroom’ a catalogue and Web division that was promoted heavily through direct mail. By last May, the division was focusing its efforts entirely on the Web.