Shaking the shoebox

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Shaking the shoebox

By Anna MaskerIn standard26th January, 2011

Every so often, I have a flashback to my first job at General Electric. I was a financial analyst in one of the company’s old industrial businesses—a multibillion dollar firm that would have ranked as one of the Fortune 500 if it was a stand-alone company.

Like clockwork in April, we’d hear it-it would start as a distant rattling, but as it approached, you knew what it was… the shaking shoebox. The shaking shoebox meant one thing– fess up all the extra pens, pencils, and highlighters in your desk drawers. They were going back into the supply cabinet.

The shaker of the shoebox was our department Admin. She was like the tax collector of office supplies. If you didn’t fess up enough, she’d eye your drawer to see what you were hiding.

No joke.

She took her job as the supply-cabinet gatekeeper very seriously. You wanted a mechanical pencil instead of good ole’ yellow No.2 ? You have to personally ask her for it and you were only allowed ONE. If you came back in two weeks for a second, you had to account for the demise of the first. (“The CFO took it” always worked for me.)

Did I mention that this was a multi-BILLION dollar business?

Did they really care so much about measly office supplies? Apparently so.

So where is the lesson in all of this?

1—Beware of shoebox-wielding Admins.

2—Take every pencil seriously. Have you ever looked at your office supply expenses? Do you really know where all the money went? When I ask my clients why office supplies have gone up 20 percent over the past year, practically none of them could explain what they spent the incremental money on. Staples® contributes to the big black hole in most business’ P&L– Office Supplies. It sucks a few thousand dollars every year out of a business’ profit. (I am sure they like it that way too!) Even if you saved a few hundred dollars from office supplies and upgraded your software or sunk that into a new marketing piece, wouldn’t you get a better bang for your buck?

So maybe it’s time to do a little experiment of your own. Pull out your shoebox, and make the rounds in your office. If you come up with a full box, it is probably a sign that you might have other “pen- and-pencil” type saving opportunities in the business. Think about what other metaphorical shoeboxes you can shake—who knows, you may come up with serious savings!

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