While big international brands tend to get all the attention, it’s small businesses that drive local economies and attend to the health and vitality of the communities people actually live in. These are the traders providing local jobs and local community support – being members of their own communities themselves – and their success often depends on the conscious choice of nearby consumers to stick with the offerings of their neighbours over the heavily marketed alternatives of large enterprises and brands.
There are some cases where consumers have access to the best of both worlds – the buying power of a national brand with the kind of personal service that only local businesses can provide. Stationery and office supplies company Office Choice is one business that very consciously serves local operators while still drawing on the strength of its scale. The firm’s unique business model – Office Choice is a traditional cooperative of small business owners who are both members and shareholders in the entity – allows collective trading terms with the supply base, translating to low prices and full support for community traders.
Office Choice CEO Brad O’Brien is approaching nine years at the firm, during which time he has seen its dealer network grow substantially – now represents more than 100 small operators running 140 locations around the country.
“Fundamentally, we’re all small businesses ourselves,” explains O’Brien. “Most of our retailers are predominantly family-owned firms – third generation in some instances – so our community connection goes back a long way, beyond any surface-based or pandemic-driven connection, it’s much deeper than that.”
The business started out 27 years ago as a collective of a few small stationery suppliers trying to stay competitive against the big corporates, and has now evolved significantly as a strong trading brand that continues to support local businesses by supplying items that are critical to driving and running SMEs. In addition to staples such as copy paper, toner and filing products, the product range has diversified to encompass a broad, convenience-driven offering that can respond quickly to perceived needs in the market, reacting as the demand is generated.
“Whatever a business consumes, to be able to get it from a one-stop-shop increases their efficiencies incredibly,” says O’Brien. “We’ve added product after product as we’ve identified a need from the customer. Right now, furniture’s a great example of a category that was reasonably non-existent as early as four or five years ago that is now a core offering to our customer base. More recently, driven by the pandemic, there’s all of the hygiene-orientated products; there’s signage and social distancing paraphernalia along with that. Working from home has created a demand for home office fitouts, as well as changing considerations to in-office working points, including how much distance is between each employee and setting up hygienic screens. So, we’re able to identify what current business needs are and add it to our offering for them, while adding an incredibly competitive pricing position as well.”
Office Choice’s evolution has involved a broader brand positioning that has increasingly drawn on its capacity to focus on local-level business, something that has only been amplified by the upheaval of the last 18 months. The impact and challenges that have been presented to SMEs in particular during the pandemic have served to reinforce the need that community-based local-based businesses have, setting the tone for Office Choice’s positioning and direction to deliver precisely what SMEs need when it comes to this category of product. This is something that Office Choice’s operators have embraced at the grassroots level too, effecting localised executions of the brand’s national campaign.
“That local aspect is being able to service our small- to medium-businesses customers,” says O’Brien, “so that whatever they need to ensure they’re able to deliver their product or their service to their customer base – which is primarily the local community around their locality – we’re there to ensure that it’s not an effort, it’s a seamless process. All their business tools, all their consumables, all their offerings are there so that they can focus on their front end and driving their own business.
“I think Office Choice is very uniquely placed within the market in that we can have those one-on-one relationships with our customers, in order to be able to offer that service base,” he says. “Our experience over the years is that our customers gravitate to us for that service offering, and that gives us a unique proposition in the market, in that making local business work has really resonated with our members and their customers. So that’s exactly what we are doing.”
For more information about Office Choice, visit www.officechoice.com.au.