OfficeMax targets small business

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OfficeMax today breaks an estimated $65 million ad campaign targeting the booming small-business market. The office supply retailer hopes to take on superstore behemoths, as well as general discount merchandisers and mom and pop stores.

Rather than highlighting the chain's myriad pens, paper clips, computers, and printers, six 30- and 15-second spots detail frustrations of small and mid-sized businesses and show how the world's third-largest office superstore chain can help. The ads employ the new tag: "You supply the ambition. We'll supply everything else."

At the end of the ads -- which will run on network TV as well as on cable channels such as A&E, Discover and ESPN -- customers are pointed to The company's e-commerce site also is referenced in two spots. This is the first work for the 1,000-plus store chain by Publicis & Hal Riney, Chicago (now part of Publicis Mid-America) which has been working with the company since January. Print, outdoor, online and radio will accompany the TV ads.


The focus on small and mid-sized business represents a tightening of a strategy that once sought to attract those customers as well as big corporations and individuals, said Barry Krause, agency president. He said stores in the category not only must differentiate themselves from each other but from the Wal-Marts, Kmarts and local shops trying to eke out additional market share.

"It's a war out there," he said. "It's gotten very commodity oriented. [It's like] `You've got Bic pens? I've got Big pens. You've got paper? I've got paper . . . The small-business category is absolutely booming."

OfficeMax continues to focus on something important to small business people -- price. Each ad ends with a tag that reads "low prices guaranteed," and the company will continue its price-oriented inserts in Sunday newspapers.

OfficeMax is right to hone in on a specific market segment, said retail analyst Kurt Barnard of Barnard Retail Trend Report. "The more they are able to narrow down a given target customer . . . the better off they are," he said. "You've got to try to set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd."

Marketing executives from the company declined to comment, citing company policy.


Mr. Barnard said the office supply industry has seen relatively little increase in demand. "If you get a lot of market share, you can bet that's coming out of your rivals' cash register."

With 2000 sales of $4.8 billion, OfficeMax trails Office Depot's $10.3 billion and the $8.9 billion from Staples, which has been garnering a disproportionate percentage of office-supply business growth. Perhaps an even bigger concern is Wal-Mart Stores, an all-around category killer, observers said.

"The closer you come to commodity concepts, the closer you come to Wal-Mart kicking butt," said Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, a New York shop with retail experience.

Mr. Krause said that to differentiate itself, OfficeMax -- a Kmart Corp. spinoff -- is installing Gateway Country Stores in every superstore, and is building up its copying and printing centers. And the marketer will continue to build its online presence.

"You've got retail stores, which is a very convenient way for people to shop, but for business people, it's awfully convenient not to have to leave your business and do all the ordering online," he said.

OfficeMax's overall ad budget is around $200 million, spread between online spending and offline stores. Investment in this campaign is expected at least to match the $65 million spent last year, although Mr. Krause would not discuss the budget.

Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., had been the previous agency for OfficeMax's stores. The new tag replaces the longstanding "We go to the max for you."

Staples and its "We've got that" tag appears to focus on variety, while Office Depot with its "Taking care of business" line looks to price and service. Staples' agency is Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York; Gold Coast Advertising Associates, Miami, handles Office Depot.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo, Tobi Elkin

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