Office supply retailers see red ink, not green shoots at small businesses

Mercedes Cardona

Amid all the talk about economic green shoots, small businesses are still hurting, according to the suppliers that sell them paper and pens. "Customers are waiting [to place new orders] until the ink is not visible on paper anymore and buying one cartridge instead of three of four" says Sam Duncan, CEO of OfficeMax (OMX). Duncan went on to say that some companies are in a panic and one business customer told him that he planned to cut his office supply budget by 91 percent, although he wasn't exactly sure how.

In their presentations at the annual Goldman Sachs Global Retail Conference, held on Thursday, the three major office supply chains -- Staples (SPLS), Office Depot (ODP) and OfficeMax -- all agreed that the back to school season had been better-than-expected and those sales helped offset a continued weakness on contract sales to businesses.