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Treasures for Teachers receives $11,000 from Discover

EVliving.com is reporting that Treasures for Teachers, a non-profit organization that helps provide struggling teachers with much-needed school and classroomsupplies, has received an $11,000 gift from Discover Financial Services.

“This gift comes at such a crucial time for us and for education in Arizona,” says Barbara Blalock, Executive Director of Treasures 4 Teachers. Just last week the Governor’s office announced a $144 million budget cut to education directly affecting classroom supplies.

The funds will be used to provide scholarships to teachers and help offset the costs of operating the 10,000 square foot facility in Tempe, Arizona,” says Barbara Blalock.

Heartwarming! It seems not all big corporations are heartless jerks. According to Jim Phelps, vice president of Discover’s Phoenix Operations Center: “Treasures 4 Teachers directly ties to Discover’s mission of supporting educational initiatives. We are glad to make this donation that will help support continued operations of their facility and help teachers further their education.”

Good on you, Discover.

Article: Can a Big-Box fix your computer?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting quasi-investigative piece on whether or not a big-box store can adequately fix your computer. They basically take in a bunch of computers with various maladies and provide anecdotal evidence of how well their issues are addressed:

Our first stop was Staples, where a repair for a problematic desktop dragged on for about a week and involved four visits to the store. When we first brought in the machine, which was essentially not running, we were told by one of Staples’ “EasyTechs” that it shouldn’t take long to evaluate. True to her promise, the tech got back to us that night with word they needed to do an operating system restore, and that we needed to bring in the system disk to proceed with the repair.

But after that, things went awry: A different tech said repairs were delayed because they were very busy. And when we came to pick up the supposedly fixed computer, we were told it was now on the fritz again. A day later, we got the final verdict: The computer was hopelessly broken. Although the desktop could now boot up, it still had problems shutting down, and a bad motherboard was the suspected culprit.

The article goes on to list tech tests from Office Depot, Best Buy, and a mail-order company called IResQ. Not exactly hard-hitting, and nothing new to anyone tech-savvy, but overall, a very interesting read.

Big Box News: School District joins Office Depot investigations

News from Florida: the Lee County School district has announced that they, too, will be starting an investigation into potential overcharges by Office Depot, making them the fourth governmental agency in Florida to seek a refund.

The most interesting part of the whole thing, to me, is that officials from Lee County were contacted by none other than David Sherwin, former Office Depot accounts manager and all-around crusader for those who were taken in by the company’s fraud. To see his name keep popping up warms my heart; he said he was going to fight OD and he’s been sticking to his guns.

As is tradition, I remind everyone that the lesson to be learned from all these Office Depot mishaps is to find a reliable vendor that you trust for all your office supply purchases. Stick with the little guy; he’s got more incentive to treat you right.

Opinion: Skip the Black Friday Mess by Shopping Online

We all know Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, long-held to be one of the best times to get great deals) is almost upon us. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this tradition, though, and it boils down to one statement: “PEOPLE ARE FREAKING CRAZY.”

You might remember the Wal-Mart worker who was trampled to death during a Black Friday “doorbuster” rush. Maybe you chuckled over people physically fighting each other over the last Xbox 360. All in all, it seems our deal-hunting culture sometimes trumps our common sense.

So here’s an idea: why not stay home? Find yourself a nice cozy computer and cuddle up with some every-day great deals from your favorite office supply company. All of the major office big-box stores are going to try to tempt you with dubious deals to get you in the store on a chilly November morning. Either you camp out in the cold to save a couple bucks on pens, or heaven forbid show up late to find all the good stuff cleaned out, and resign to pay their overinflated prices on regular goods so you don’t feel like you “wasted a trip.” I say SKIP IT.

How does reliable service, huge inventory, and free shipping on orders over $75 sound? It just so happens I know some guys…

More Office Depot Chair Recalls

According to attorneyatlaw.com, Raynor Marketing is voluntarily recalling the Quantum Realspace PRO™ 9000 Series Mid-Back Multifunction Mesh Chair and Multifunction Mesh Chair with Headrest, both manufactured in China and sold exclusively at Office Depot.

Importer Raynor Marketing has received 33 reports of the seatbacks on the chairs coming loose and detaching, including 14 involving bumps, bruises, and other injuries, the CPSC said.

The falls occurred when bolts holding the seatback to the chair frame came loose and came off, officials said.

Quantum Realspace PRO™ 9000 Series Mid-Back Multifunction Mesh Chairs with SKU # 510830 and the Quantum Realspace PRO™ 9000 Series Mesh Chair with Headrest carrying SKU # 690690 are included in today’s recall. The Realspace PRO™ Mesh Guest Chair is not involved in this recall, the CPSC said.

The chairs sold for about $300 without headrest and $350 with headrest. If you own one of the two chairs seen below, check the SKU and contact Raynor to receive a repair kit. The contact information, as well as the full details of the recall, can be found in the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s official release. As with the last recall, I am not trying to use this as a jab at the big office companies; just getting the word out. They’ll give me plenty to jab at them with later.

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Oops: Missouri Lt. Governor Awards Contract to Company Under State Investigation

One of those head-scratchers. According to ksdk.com:

Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor is calling for the immediate cancellation of a state contract after the I-Team exposed an embarrassing issue for Governor Jay Nixon’s administration.

The state awarded the estimated million-dollar contract to Office Depot, a company under investigation for allegations of bait and switch, deceptive pricing, and over-charging. Federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the General Accounting Administration, the Department of Justice and the SEC, have investigations into the office giant.

According to its 2009 second-quarter report, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Office Depot is under investigation in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Colorado, California and Ohio.

So basically, the Lt. Governor went ahead and offered a million dollars to a company that was being investigated for fraud…in that state. While the state has halted the contract pending further investigation, it’s still a bit of a black eye for whoever authorized that purchase order.

Oddly enough, Office Depot crusader David Sherwin appears in the article as well, saying basically the same thing. Maybe he should come work for us.

Office Depot Whistleblower Seeks Fla. Supreme Court Investigation

Our old friend David Sherwin, the Office Depot whistle-blower, is back in the news again, according to an article posted on news-press.com. Sherwin, who has been granted whistleblower protection by the state, is preparing a petition to have a case heard by the statewide grand jury that Gov. Charlie Crist hopes to impanel:

Crist has requested the Florida Supreme Court seat a statewide grand jury to investigate and review a number of alleged acts of public corruption in South Florida.

David Sherwin of Fort Myers was granted whistleblower protection in 2007, after coming forward with allegations that the office supply company overcharged taxpayers in six states of hundreds of millions of dollars. He is also alleging bid rigging, kickbacks, official misconduct, fraud and corrupt acts by Office Depot involving at least 12 South Florida government entities, including the City of Cape Coral, the City of Fort Myers, Lee County Port Authority, Lee County Board of County Commissioners and the Lee school board.

Sherwin says he hopes to present “detailed allegations of criminal wrongdoing” to the governor’s office as well as the state attorney’s office. As in every crusade where the little guy stands up against corruption, we wish him all the best.

NJ Stands By Staples Contract Decision

As reported earlier, New Jersey recently entered into an exclusive contract with Staples to provide office supplies, which many local businesses were upset by. In a posting on NJBiz.com, the state has been seen to uphold its decision to proceed with the risky single-source contract:

While the companies say they can compete with Staples’ prices, state officials dispute whether the local vendors offer lower prices. A Treasury spokesman provided a list of roughly 450 items for which Staples generally offered lower prices than New Jersey vendors. The suppliers contend their list of 10,000 products shows Staples has higher prices for similar products.

Chatham Superintendent of Schools Jim O’Neill expressed concern that the contract would mean Staples would have no competition, and said Staples’ prices were unclear.

The locals bring up a valid point: while Staples may be able to provide lower prices on paper for a handful of items, there’s simply no substitute for the free competition of multiple vendors. Also, if Staples is hiding anything in its pricing policies, odds are good that the state will lose millions before they ever find out. New Jersey is playing with fire here, and it makes me sad that the little guys are the ones who get burned.

OfficeMax Won’t Send Customer a Working Gift Card

One of my favorite consumer advocacy blogs, The Consumerist, has a chilling tale of a retail roundabout in which a customer makes a return to OfficeMax, is given a gift card, and is then unable to use that gift card to buy anything. Rinse, repeat: the cycle continues for SEVERAL gift cards:

I’ve had this gift card for over six months now. Or should I say multiple gift cards from OfficeMax for over six months now. Let me explain.

After I received the card I looked on their website and didn’t see a monitor that could replace my 24″ screen so I found something else to buy with it. I purchased a laptop using the MaxAssurance gift card. About a week later I get an e-mail saying that the laptop isn’t available for purchase anymore. Hmmm, that’s strange. No biggie I thought, stuff happens, so I called up OfficeMax who then issued me a new gift card. I asked if they could refund to the MaxAssurance card to which they told me no, that they’d have to issue a new gift card.

TWO WEEKS LATER, I get a new OfficeMax gift card in the mail. I check the amount on it and see that it’s the right amount. I keep it on my desk a while until I see something that catches my eye on OfficeMax.com – a computer this time. I go through the checkout process and purchase the computer (which was IN STOCK, like the laptop was). I get no e-mail from OfficeMax this time so I figure it went through and I’d be getting in the computer in a few weeks. A week later, I still have not heard anything so I login to my OM account and check my orders.

This time, it says that the computer has been “discontinued” and that it would not be shipped out. Gee, thanks OfficeMax for letting me know. I check the Gift Card balance — which was $0.00 — and immediately called up OM and talked about the situation. Once again they couldn’t refund the money to the card and said that I’d have to wait for a new card to be re-issued to me.

TWO WEEKS LATER, I get yet another OfficeMax gift card in the mail. About a month goes by before I see anything else that interests me. This time it’s a computer again.

Any guesses what happened?

If you guessed anything other than “OfficeMax was once again brutally incompetent”, then you obviously haven’t been reading this blog enough. This level of ridiculous customer service is just one more reason why I advocate using a trusted, reliable retailer. More to the point: this is astoundingly bad customer service. Even if I weren’t in the industry, I would be ashamed of OM’s behavior.

Office Supply Firms Suing N.J. Over Staples Contract

According to NJ.com, New Jersey members of the National Office Product Alliance (NOPA) are suing the state over their decision to shift office supply contracts from the hands of individual vendors to one company, Staples:

The state’s office supplies contract, worth about $10 million, shifted from 17 individual contracts to Mass.-based Staples Advantage on Sept. 1.

The move will save the state about $2.25 million and could also generate savings for municipalities, counties and school boards that choose to purchase office supplies through the state contract, according to the state Department of Treasury.

But New Jersey members of the National Office Product Alliance are seeking to put the new contract on hold, claiming the decision to go with Staples was based on an unfair analysis of product costs that favored the larger company.

This is another in a line of moves that seem out of character for government purchasers. All the evidence points to the single-source contract as being a recipe for disaster, and this has nothing to do with my distaste for big-box retailers. When one company is in charge of all your office supplies, it leads to a lack of competitive pricing and the potential for abuse, as seen in the numerous Office Depot state-contract lawsuits.

I’m also always in favor of sticking with little guy, but that’s neither here nor there. Single-source contracting is bad news, plain and simple.