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Office Depot Beats Out Local Vendors for City Contract

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday July 18, 2006

A multi-year, $1.65-million contract for city office supplies will go to Office Depot, pending approval by the City Council tonight (Tuesday). 

Beating out four office suppliers—including two local vendors—Office Depot has won a bid to provide the city with recycled paper and miscellaneous office products, at $550,000 a year over three years. If approved, the contract takes effect, retroactively, July 1. 

Office Depot was “the lowest bid, and we also require being able to order our stuff online. Anybody that had that we considered,” said Fran David, city director of finance. 

The next lowest bidder, Office Max, came in about $35,000 higher than Office Depot. Corporate Express, Alko and Radstons, whose Berkeley store closed Saturday, also submitted bids. Alko, located on Shattuck Avenue, was the only company that did not offer sufficient online ordering, David said. 

The city spends an average of $537,000 a year on office products. The cost of paper and supplies has increased by 6.8 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively, over the last year, according to a staff report.  

This is the first time in nine years the city initiated its own competitive bid process for office supplies, David said. Until recently, the city had to piggyback on contracts of other municipalities because it lacked the staff to generate requests-for-proposals, she said.  

The process affords local companies the opportunity to vie for the city’s patronage, the staff report says. In 1983, the City Council adopted a resolution that gives preference to local businesses for city purchases between $100 and $10,000 (now $25,000). 

Over that amount, though, “we can’t give any preference for local business, because it’s not legal,” David said. 

Office Depot distributed most of the city’s office supplies from 1999 to 2005. Last year, the city reallocated the bulk of its business to Corporate Express, also an international company, because Office Depot failed to offer recycled processed chlorine-free (PCF) paper. (Office Depot now offers PCF paper.) 

Office Depot, a Florida-based conglomerate that operates in 23 countries, generates more than $14 billion a year in sales. The company has a storefront in Berkeley and donates 5 percent of its annual city taxes to the Berkeley Unified School District, the staff report says. A company representative could not be reached to comment by press time.  

Local suppliers who bid on the contract have expressed frustration at losing out to a major corporation.  

“I think it’s stupid they don’t consider the value of keeping resources at home,” said Gary Shows, owner of Alko, a Berkeley business for 35 years. “I think it’s wrong.” 

The city contracted with Alko about 10 years ago but withdrew its support when Office Depot entered the scene, Shows said. City dollars earmarked to Alko have steadily declined over the years, down from about $15,000 in 2003 to $7,000 last year. 

Radstons Owner Diane Griffin told the Daily Planet last month she was hopeful of securing the three-year contract. Griffin had just announced that the company, a Berkeley institution since 1908, would lay off workers and close its downtown storefront in July, due to financial hardships. (Radstons has a distribution center and retail complex in Hercules.) 

“In my situation, I’m letting my employees go, and this would have salvaged two of my longtime employees,” Griffin said in a phone interview Friday. “If they understood the impact of buying from a local vendor, they would understand the impact of where the money goes and where the money stays.” 

Radstons contracts with other municipalities and city departments including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Oakland Housing, UC Berkeley and the city of Richmond, Griffin said. Radstons was equipped to supply the city of Berkeley with the gamut of its office needs, she said. 

“I’m disappointed, safe to say,” she said.  

The contract is up for approval on the City Council’s consent agenda tonight. The council meets at 7 p.m., at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.