Office Max is part of the Office Depot – Office Max brand, with Office Max having the lion’s share of ownership. The company is one of a few survivors of the retail office supply wars (Staples is another) caused by the growth of the Internet and the global competition it brought to the office supply industry. Office Max does have an Internet presence, so it has made the necessary adjustment to allow its continued business survival. In that process there are a number of things it has done that aren’t obvious to the average businessperson or consumer. In that light, here are 20 things you didn't know about Office Max.
1. They have a Corporate Women’s Mission Statement.
The statement, only a few lines long, basically states the company’s support of successful women both inside and outside of Office Max. Depending on your perspective, this can be a good thing or just another piece of corporate PR that is intended to appease women. The fact that it is there at all is a plus, but the length of two sentences hardly seems to be a comprehensive policy.
2. The company has a designated team to support women in business.
Office Max doubles down on their public support of women on their website by putting an experienced lawyer upfront to fill the lead position of their Female Executive Team. Elisa D. Garcia is the Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of the team, that according to their website has a team of one. No other employees are mentioned, or even referred to on the website. Again, deciding whether this warrants further investigation is a personal choice.
3. Office Max absorbed Viking Office Products and Office Depot on its way to continued growth.
Viking Office Products is a business known to those over the age of 40, but it was defining online office supply sales in the 1990’s. Then came the Office Depot - OfficeMax merger on November 5, 2013 that was the result of severe competition from online office suppliers and Amazon. The business still faces competition from other retail outlets such as Staples, but five years later it continues to face growing pressure from online competition.
4. They have a HUB catalog.
You may not have heard of HUB, but it is a program offered by states targeting Historically Underutilized Businesses of minority groups such as Native and Asian Americans. Office Max has a catalog specifically designed to help HUB business grow. One problem with the HUB program is that research shows only two states, Texas and North Carolina, have made serious efforts to establish and grow HUB within their states.
5. They once were involved with NASCAR racing.
Back in 2008 the company decided it would be a great idea to sponsor Tony Stewart, a popular NASCAR driver, to increase their brand awareness. He was designated as the driver of their Number 14 Office Depot Chevrolet, and sponsored during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It ended the advertising effort after 4 years, in 2012.
6. Once they were seriously involved in document shredding.
Apparently, 2010 was a year when corporations and small businesses alike were concerned with the security of company information in a non-digital form. Office Max launched a program, the "Document Shredding While You Wait" in-store shredding service, which allowed you to watch while all your corporate files were stripped apart. Why would 2010 be a significant year for document shredding? Perhaps in honor of the inventor, Abbot Augustus Low, who patented the first paper shredder 100 years before, on February 2, 1909.
7. They once created an in-store shopping experience that would focus on selling binders and pens.
This is an actual event on the corporate timeline, and it wasn’t in the 1990’s. In today’s tech universe this really sounds like a massive waste of time and money. But to be fair to Office Max, they probably didn’t know the iPad would come out one year later, relegating binders and pens to their historic place alongside clay tablets and a stylus.
8. Office Max and Google once partnered together.
The Business Resource Center was an actual thing in 2008, and you went to officemax.com to access both digital tools and office supplies, courtesy of the collaboration. What did Google offer to the service pack? Adwords, their Google apps (including GMail!), and the opportunity to create business listings that could be found in a Google search. Yes, this was a decade ago, but if you forget how far things have come this is a useful reminder.
9. They were part of the enhanced job title movement.
According to Office Max data, they had 50,000 employees in 2006, then had 52,000 associates in 2007. So either they had doubled their workforce or the position had its name changed. It’s not clear if an employee and an associate had the same pay and benefits, but what is clear is that there were 2,000 more people who were counted as part of the company. Today they have 38,000 associates but no employees.
10. The company has a long history of supporting the environment.
This is mentioned because while it is trendy for companies today to “go green” Office Max has been doing it consistently for more than a decade. They consistently receive awards from a number of environmental groups for their commitment to keeping the environment clean and their more recent commitment to including reusable energy sources as part of their overall planning.
11. Their commitment to higher education and supporting education in general has been as consistent as their commitment to the environment.
They created the National Backpack Program at the beginning of the millennium, starting with providing free backpacks to underprivileged children that were filled with school supplies. Financial contributions to higher education has been an annual event, running into the millions of dollars each year.
12. They were the first office supply company to sell more than $10 billion worth of products and services.
Because of the wide range of products and services Office Max offered at the end of the last century, it cannot be said that this $10 billion figure was solely related to its office product offerings. But is does show how the company was already making strides in innovating their retail store concept by combining products with technology services (see their Business Resource Center collaboration with Google, above) and significantly growing their bottom line. It is a bit ironic that their inclusion of online technology would end up being one of the major forces that would be the source of significant trouble less than a decade later.
13. 1999 was a turning point in the company’s history.
This can be seen as a good or bad turning point depending on your perspective. This is the year they reached $10 billion in sales, but also was recognized as one of the more futuristic businesses in the industry. They received awards such as:
- "Top 25 of the Web" by Internet Retailer
- One of the "10 Companies that Get It" – Fortune magazine
- Ranked #10 by PC Magazine in their "Best 100, Top 10 Business to Business Companies" list
- Listed I the "100 Top Web Sites for Entrepreneurs" from Entrepreneur magazine
This was also the year the company was first listed on the Standard & Poor’s 500. Their focus on tech and the Internet is obvious, but was this the beginning of the company’s decline?
14. Scott Adams and Office Depot once had a solid working relationship.
For those unfamiliar with the name Scott Adams, he is the award winning cartoonist for the comic strip and book sensation Dilbert. As Office Max was searching for a corporate identifier, they approached Adams with the idea of Dilbert being their company spokesperson …umm… spokestoonist. Adams agreed, and Dilbert was front and center for Office Depot for about four years in the later 1990’s.
15. Its initial stock symbol was ODEP.
Office Depot would apply for and achieve its first initial public stock offering (IPO) of common stock on June 1, 1988. It was listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the symbol "ODEP." This was accomplished about three years after the company’s creation, and this year also marked the third year of dramatic growth. It had more than $132 million of sales and a workforce exceeding 1,600 employees. It had grown from having three stores in Florida to 26 retail stores in seven states in this short time.
16. The first Office Max office-warehouse space was a total of 500 square feet.
Founders Feuer and Hurwitz didn’t have much capital to start their business, so ended up combining their office and warehouse space as the starting location for their business. This is in Florida, so air conditioning is usually a must. Yet their new office could barely be cooled or heated. There were the office essentials of a coffee machine and copier, but the electrical system was not equipped to handle both machines running at the same time or they would blow a fuse. However, they did have one or two pieces of office furniture, either for their personal comfort or for potential customers.
17. The initial business plan for the company was put together on April Fools.
This is a truism, and also how the company managed to get off the ground very quickly. The plan was to give the bigger companies the impression that Office Max was much larger than it actually was to draw in their business. As it is said, perception is reality, and the founders marketed the company as it would have a 30 or even 300 retail store future. The bigger companies bought into the advertising, and within just a few months after opening its warehouse doors, Office Max was breaking even and opened its first store. They did intend to fool people, but not in a bad sense of the word.
18. Kmart exchanged a $40 million investment in Office Max for 22 percent ownership.
Office Max had come to a point where it needed both a partner and a way to increase company revenues. They were making about $245 million a year, but to take the next big step they would need a brand with a national reputation. That brand was Kmart, and after only a year their sales had risen to more than $1 billion annually. The founders didn’t feel much pain from the 22 percent they gave up, and they ended up with that first major deal giving Office Max virtually zero long term debt - and they were sitting on a ton of money.
19. The company did have some bad ideas along the way, two ending with “Max.”
Two offshoots of the Office Max brand were Furniture Max and Copy Max. As its name advertises, it was a chain of discounted office furniture stores intended to capitalize on the company’s established brand. Ditto for Copy Max, which was to be a chain of copy centers centered on meeting the copying needs for businesses of all sizes. If you never heard of them, you aren’t alone.
20. One of its founders, Michael Feuer, firmly believes the way to run a startup business is by being a benevolent dictator.
Office Max got off the ground this way, and the reason Feuer believes this is because entrepreneurs often follow their business schooling and try to apply big business concepts to small startups. They don’t work, and what is needed is for the owner to make the decisions and focus on results, not theory. The benevolent concept is for the owner to focus on what is best for everyone involved – stakeholders, customers, and employees.
There is the good, the bad, and the green in the history of Office Max. What you should take away from this list of 20 is that there are core values that every company needs to adhere to in order to establish its brand. With Office Max, those values have been diversity, the environment, and education. The last of these lines up perfectly with the company's core business, since a hefty portion of the business involves having the basic supplies to get the work done.
Whether Office Max can survive the mobile world remains to be seen. The digital world is focused more on minimizing physical realities such as pens and paper, and maximizing simplicity of organization. The paperless office may still be a ways off, but with each technical innovation there is less of a need for physical tools. Stay tuned to see if Office Max is still viable in 2025.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker