ECONOMY CREATES OPPORTUNITY FOR OFFICE SUPPLIES

DAYTON, Ohio -- The slowing economy could be creating more opportunities for the sales of home-office supply products, according to Steven Jacober, president, School, Home and Office Products Association, based here."One of the results of the Sept. 11 tragedy and the subsequent further softening of our economy has been the continued downsizing and rise in unemployment," he told SN in an interview

DAYTON, Ohio -- The slowing economy could be creating more opportunities for the sales of home-office supply products, according to Steven Jacober, president, School, Home and Office Products Association, based here.

"One of the results of the Sept. 11 tragedy and the subsequent further softening of our economy has been the continued downsizing and rise in unemployment," he told SN in an interview to preview the association's annual trade show in Miami Beach, Fla., Nov. 14 to 16. "As always, as a side result, people who are looking for jobs will look to start entrepreneurial businesses in their homes, as well as conduct business searches out of their homes. They transform what hitherto would have been just a household-management type area into a home office."

In addition, those people who retain their jobs could end up bringing more work home, exacerbating the need for home-office supplies, he said.

To capture more sales from these consumers, retailers need to pay more attention to how such products are merchandised in their stores, he said, making sure that highly desirable items are more visible.

"I think that supermarkets have a tremendous opportunity to increase their share of the marketplace by paying closer attention to the category at certain promotional times as well as on a day-in, day-out basis," he said.

According to ACNielsen, Schaumburg, Ill., sales of office and school supplies at supermarkets, mass merchandisers and drug stores totaled $5.1 billion in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 6, vs. $5 billion the prior 52-week period, an increase of about 2%. Food outlets' sales fell about 1.1% in that period, however, from $674.4 million last year to $666.8 million in the more recent time frame.

The biggest declines were in the categories of mailing supplies and school and office basics, in which supermarket sales fell 46.3% and 10.6%, respectively, while ink jet and toner cartridges showed the biggest gain, up 47.2%.

Jacober said he doesn't expect the SHOPA show to suffer significantly from the decrease in business travel that has followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As of last week, he said the show had signed up 688 exhibitors, vs. 665 at the same time last year. The number of registered attendees also is "very close to last year's numbers at this point in time," he said. More than 13,500 people attended last year's event.

Still, he said, the show probably would not record the double-digit growth in attendance that has characterized past shows. Attendance from overseas firms is expected to suffer more than from domestic companies, he said.

He said security would be tightened at this year's show, with armed police at the entrances and other less-visible security measures. Attendees will be required to show picture identification that matches the name on their badge to gain admittance to the show floor.

New to the show this year are 10 educational seminars.

"This industry has traditionally been information-poor," said Jacober. "Our association is working to provide additional research throughout the year, and this is just an extension of that."

The educational sessions, scheduled throughout the day on Nov. 14, 15 and 16, will cover such topics as the business outlook for 2002, the future of e-commerce and branding and marketing issues.