Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Office goods supplier: Market research

When you set up your new office supplies business you'll need to make an estimate of the amount of demand there is for your products, and find out how well that demand is already served. Doing some market research will help you with this.

Estimating demand

It's important to try to find out whether there is enough demand for an office goods supplier in your area, if you plan to operate from premises. Be aware that the sector is quite competitive and is dominated by large chains and online retailers. Depending on the type of items that you stock, you will be competing with:

  • large office products chain stores such as Staples. These stores generally stock a huge range of products, including office stationery, computing and telecoms equipment, office furniture and so on. Staples also makes online sales
  • online retailers. There are a number of exclusively online office goods suppliers, such as Viking Direct, and these also offer a huge range of items and often very generous discounts. They also offer a delivery service, which is convenient for busy workplaces
  • general retailers, such as WH Smith
  • other independent office goods suppliers
  • general furniture retailers that offer office furniture
  • computer retailers. If you decide to offer computer equipment then you will face competition from dedicated chains, such as PC World as well as electrical goods stores, such as Currys

Check out the competition in your area to identify how many other outlets are already selling office goods locally. It may be that you will only be competing directly against some of these outlets because you will be targeting a particular segment of the market. For example, you may choose to only supply office furniture, or only recycled papers and 'green' office supplies.

Have a good look at existing retailers' websites and outlets to establish:

  • what they sell and the prices they charge
  • which services they offer
  • how knowledgeable and helpful their staff are
  • whether the premises and fittings are modern and smart

Why will customers choose your business

You need to make sure that customers choose to use you rather than one of your competitors. In a sector where customers often make purchases based on price alone, it's important to make sure that you stand out from the competition. You may try to achieve this by:

  • setting your prices lower than your competitors
  • building personal relationships with your regular customers
  • offering generous account facilities
  • running frequent discounts and promotional offers
  • choosing a prime trading location for your outlet
  • offering a comprehensive range of different products and services
  • specialising in a certain type of product
  • offering a delivery service
  • offering catalogue or online sales
  • offering van sales to smaller customers like retailers, or business people who work from home
  • opening in the evenings so that business people can shop after work

Check out future developments

The location of your outlet is very important and ideally there will be ample and easy parking nearby. Many customers will be purchasing a large amount of goods and will not want to walk long distances to return to their vehicle. Check that there are no plans to build new road systems, which would mean that traffic would bypass your shop, nor proposals to impose parking restrictions.

Find out what people want

You may find that an effective way of competing with the large chains and online retailers is to get to know your customers and talk to them about the level of service they expect from you and then do your best to accommodate their wishes. Building a relationship with your customers and keeping them informed of special offers and so on is a good way to retain them.

Use the record sheets to note down the results of your market research.