Designer and creator of Item411, Market Xpert, Supply411, GOPD, DB2/DBx, OPSoftware and the Phone Order Entry (P O E) System, I have worked independently for over 30 years in various facets of the Office Products Industry developing specialized programs and databases for OP Dealers.
Before working independently, I worked as a lead programmer for Consolidated Computer, one of the first OP Industry computer systems vendors. From 1974 to 1979 I held a variety of positions at North DeKalb Office Supply where I worked my way up through product delivery, procurement, and IT operations.
First Chain Database
In 2002, I created the first chain data database cross-referencing SP Richards item numbers to Office Depot item numbers. Office Depot was then the largest office supply chain in the United States.
In 2003, as the Internet and Internet ordering became more stable, I added web scraped pricing to the database. It was then I added both the up and coming Staples and Office Max to my database.
In 2003, I approached SP Richards in an effort to gain their support for my competitive efforts to help the independent dealers, but was turned down. Three times I approached SP Richards, all the way to the top, and all three times I was turned down. It always came back to Office Depot being a customer of SP Richards. I live near Atlanta, Georgia, where SP Richards is headquartered.
In 2004, United Stationers contacted me inquiring about my database. They offered to come to Atlanta from Chicago to talk about the database. When I asked “what about Staples?”, who was now one of their customers, they replied “we have lots of customers, and we care about all of them.”
Later that year I signed an exclusive deal with United Stationers for my data. I still have that deal with United Stationers today and it has been very beneficial to me and my independent dealer customers.
Of course when SP Richards found out about the exclusive deal with United Stationers, then I was being unreasonable and playing favorites. I have been labeled as an SP hater, United lover, and a number of other degrading terms by SP Richards ever since. All because of their own folly.
State of Georgia
Because of my unique knowledge, experience and skills I was enlisted by a group of Georgia OP Dealers to analyze the State of Georgia contract. This analysis uncovered multiple irregularities and pricing errors which eventually resulted in the cancellation of the Office Depot contract on February 8, 2008. DepotDebarmentLetter
Ironically, this group of dealers was primarily SP Richards first-call dealers so again we turned to SP Richards for help. These independent dealers had gotten the contract back by the default of Office Depot and now needed a wholesaler to support them.
No such support was forthcoming, instead when it became clear that Office Depot was in big trouble, the word went out from SP Richards to ‘shut up’ about Office Depot and stay out of it. The official line was “Office Depot is not SP Richards’ biggest customer, Office Depot is Genuine Parts’ biggest customer.”
State of California
After Office Depot was debarred in Georgia, I was contacted by a group of California OP dealers to perform a similar investigation. Again, pricing irregularities were uncovered and Office Depot was back in the hot seat when the San Jose Mercury News published a front page story on the State of California office supply contract. Mercury News 4-6-08
Atlanta Public Schools
In December, 2009, another local Atlanta dealer contacted me regarding the Office Depot contract with the Atlanta public school system. Once again, I was able to prove conclusively that the City of Atlanta was being overcharged. This time a local Atlanta TV station took up the story and ran it for several weeks.
Unfortunately for Office Depot, Atlanta is the headquarters of many large corporations and my phone rang off the hook for months. Buyers for these comapnies were asking, “Am I being cheated? What about the other chain stores?”
Sparco on Depot
Sparco is SP Richards private label brand that has traditionally been an independent dealer exclusive brand for many years. Many independent dealers have fought hard to get the Sparco branded products specified on government contracts as an advantage over the national chains.
In 2009 or there about, SP Richards introduced Business Source, a new private label brand touted as the “Independent Dealer Only” brand. I never understood why independent dealers would need another brand. They already had Sparco Brand and independents were doing very well with it.
Then I started to notice Sparco Brand coming up first in search on the Office Depot site. Sparco Brand had always been on the Depot site, but behind the scenes and would only come up if you entered the full SP Richards item number. Now, Sparco Brand was coming up when generic search terms were entered into the Office Depot site.
This was the first time in the history of the US office products industry that a wholesaler’s private label brand was being promoted first in search on a national chain website.
Wholesalers Selling Direct
By early 2012, the word coming from SP Richards was that United Stationers was selling direct. They made this accusation based on United helping some dealers in Texas and California secure some public sector bids. So I decided to look and see if I could find any evidence of United selling direct to consumers. I could not, but I did find evidence of SP Richards parent company selling direct.
Motion Industries, a wholly owned subsidiary of Genuine Parts, did sell direct to consumers and even sold direct to the U.S. Government. I published a report on these facts and SP Richards then further revealed in various trade publications that Motion Industries sold approximately 6,000 SP Richards items direct to the public. SP Richards’ answer as to why one of their fellow subsidiaries would sell office products in direct competition to independent dealers was, “Because the customers asked us to.”
It Gets Better
In December of 2012, I sent a letter to SP Richards demanding they stop accessing and downloading my data without permission. This was not the first letter I had to send. They had been doing it for a very long time. So what was their response to this latest letter?
“We’re going to cut your customers off, your SP Richards first-call customers, by not providing our item file to you anymore. Plus, we’re going to claim it was your fault and say you are a security risk.” Presumably because I love United, as they would say.
I was embarrassed for my customers by this childish behavior of SP Richards.
Of course it didn’t matter, I found easy ways to get everything my customers needed to compete against institutional retailers like Genuine Parts and SP Richards. It’s not like Office Depot was cooperating with me either. What they did manage to accomplish was to give me the freedom to tell this story. There is now absolutely nothing I want or need from SP Richards.
We are all the sum of our life experiences and my experience is that way too many people in this industry take and take and take and never give anything back. All they do is look at what’s in it for them. This is not only self-centered, it’s a really stupid way to run a business or your life.
When the news of Office Depot being kicked out of the state of Georgia broke, my phone started ringing. People were thanking me, asking how could they ever repay me? I was floored.
You put my kids through college, you pay my mortgage, and all because you trust me enough to buy my software. I am paying you back.