On hearing the phrase “office supplies”, most people probably conjure up the big brands in their heads. But that could be about to change: the likes of Staples, Office Depot and Office Max have a new and agile contender in their arena in the form of e‑tail startup Chalkfly. E‑commerce analysts with a fondness for David and Goliath stories will like this one.
When ex-Google and IBM employees Andrew and Ryan Landau looked at the office supplies market, they decided there was a lot of room for innovation, and quit their jobs to do just that. The burgeoning uptake of tablets and smartphones has changed the fortunes of e‑commerce and dealt a series of blows to the big-box chains, forcing them to curtail many of their bricks-and-mortar operations.
While Staples has led the way forward to date (the Wall Street Journal recently revealed that, with 40 per cent of its sales now coming from its online operations, it’s become the second biggest online merchant to Amazon), in general the big beasts of office supplies have been slow to adapt to e‑commerce. The brothers Landau spotted an opportunity.
This $30 billion industry, they found, hasn’t really changed much in twenty years. So they decided to try out a little remodeling of their own, and launched their web-only office and schools supplies platform, Chalkfly. E‑commerce analysts will probably want to know why it’s likely to succeed.
From sales floors to customer care
From the start, its founders concentrated on building partnerships that would guarantee their site sufficient supply (and a broad enough array of products) to make it an attractive alternative to its big box competitors. By any account, they’ve succeeded: today, Chalkfly offers more than 50,000 products, from surge protectors and classroom decorations right down to pens and pencils.
But the other card up its sleeve is its superb customer service: not having to fork out on the huge overheads involved in managing gigantic sales floors, Chalkfly has ploughed additional resources into customer care. Customer service is live 24 hours a day, there’s a 365-day returns policy and the site offers overnight shipping on all its products.
And to round things off, Chalkfly donates 5 per cent on all its sales to a school or teacher of the customer’s choice. This little venture has wings.