Binder Problems

Mitt Romney isn’t the only person having to deal with binder issues.

When we first started School-Pak, we made every effort to provide high quality, durable binders. Then came the competition, offering packs with economy binders, much lower in cost.

Naturally, we wanted to keep our customers and attract new ones so we began substituting the durable binders with economy ones. They didn’t hold up very well. They actually fell apart relatively quick, within a few weeks of school.

So off we were to find “the” binder. Our first attempt was with Samsill. Not only did they make a durable binder but they could do different colors for us. As a matter fact, one of our schools sent us their binder and we sent it on to Samsill. They began making binders for us based on the specs from the binder we sent them. Unfortunately they didn’t make the grade either, even though it was their highest quality.

Next up was Cardinal brand. They weren’t able to send us binders by color so we had to buy the assortment and have them de-assorted into colors. Once again there was failure.

Our next stop was Avery. They were able to do a lot for us and also included Boxtops for Education stickers on each binder. We thought things went well until we began getting phone calls from a few schools saying that they were having a problem with them.

We knew that it was the same Avery Binder and our price ($6.82) was lower than what Office Max was charging ($7.29), Target (their site says that the price varies by store. ??? What’s with this? Shouldn’t it be the same regardless of where you shop?), or Walmart ($8.88).

So here we are, ready to go into another school year but unsure of what to do. Why isn’t there a durable binder that holds up?

We finally figured out the problem.

All the binders we used were high quality and durable binders…if they were used in an office setting. None of them can hold up to being carried, dropped, opened, closed, etc., 5 to 10 times a day. They aren’t made for STUDENTS! THEY’RE MADE FOR PEOPLE WHO GO TO THEM ONLY A FEW TIMES A WEEK.

We’ve tried to explain to the manufacturers that “durable” isn’t “durable” in the hands of a student who uses it multiple times a day. They don’t seem to get it.  I’m not sure what they need to make it out of…concrete? I just know that 13 year olds are going to have a different way of using a binder than businesses.

It would be wonderful if teachers were aware of this. Maybe they wouldn’t be asking for something doomed to failure.

As for Mitt, he never said if it was a 1”, 2”, 3”, 4” or 5” binder.  :)


Competition: Fair or Unfair?

Running a business is difficult.

First come up with an idea. Then see if it’s accepted.

Next find suppliers for your product. Realize you’ll be doing almost everything out of your home for awhile but know that, at some time, you’ll need an office and warehouse space.

Secure both and find out you now need to pay utilities, phone service, security service. That’s not too bad except you can’t grow much because the work is too much for two people.

So you start looking for help, paying social security taxes, medicare taxes, unemployment taxes, workman’s compensation insurance plus insurance for all the stock you now have.

Finally you’re ready to go. Except you have to raise your prices to cover the cost of rent and employees. OK, that works and you’re still in the ballpark. Except you need to hire more help and you need to get more sales. So you work out an advertising budget and realize that you won’t be making much of a living on what’s left. But you make it work and find yourself growing.

After 5 years you can finally start taking a salary.

Then: BAM!

You find that the 25¢ ruler you’ve been putting in the kits are on sale at Office Max for a penny. What’s worse? They’ve copied your order blanks (so did Walmart, Target and Office Depot), removed your copyright information, and posted them in their store as a convenience to their customers.

Variations on this theme have happened for the last 15 years. An expensive lawyer could probably help you but you can’t afford it. Not unless you want to go another 5 years without getting paid. So you march into the store, complain to the manager and take all the copies with you. Finally the copying stops. But not the pricing problem.

In Wisconsin, we have an “Unfair Sales Act” or “minimum markup law” that prohibits the retail sale of merchandise at a price that is below the seller’s “cost”. As a rule, everything must be marked up by 6%. It also applies to “loss leader” items, those things that make you come into the store to buy cheap crayons as they know you’ll also buy underwear, socks, etc.

So here’s what I did this year. I contacted the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to file complaints against Target and Shopko. Crayola Markers were being sold by Shopko for 99 cents. The cost is over $1.75. I waited for a response and was finally sent a letter on Sept 17th, stating that Target was not guilty of any infractions since “…we have documentation that shows other businesses at or below the alleged retail price. The “meeting competition defense” is an allowable exception.

Sure glad they don’t check drunk driving. I guess if everyone on the road is drunk the “meeting competition defense” would exempt anyone for a fine. Or, how about the prostitutes that work the streets? If there are two of them would they be exempt since they’re the “meeting competition defense”?

Apparently the date of the infraction is the deal breaker. If no one else is advertising a low price, you break the law. That’s what happened to Shopko who was found in violation of 4 product prices.  Of course there wasn’t any penalty. Just a warning not to do it again. I’m sure that it’s as effective with companies as it is with kids.

Just want it to be fair.