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A new contender in the office supplies arena: meet Chalkfly

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.

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