Despite its old-fashioned name, office supplies retailer Quill is a staple in the office. It distributes products to more than 1 million small and midsized US businesses. To compete with superstores, the company markets some 65,000 products under the Quill brand, as well as under the Bic, Hewlett-Packard, Mead, Papermate, and Xerox names. It sells office supplies and furniture, including technology products such as cameras and monitors, through a catalog and its website. Quill also equips medical professionals with workplace goods through its Medical Arts Press unit. Founded by Jack Miller in 1956, Quill is owned by office retailer Staples, which counts Quill among its North American Commercial segment.
From is headquarters in Lincolnshire, Illinois, Quill directs the operations of more than a dozen distribution centers. Strategically placed to better serve its customer base with next-day deliveries, the company's distribution facilities are located in Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Florida, California, Oregon, and Connecticut.
Operating as part of the Staples North American Commercial segment, Quill brings in about a third of its parent's revenue. The North American Commercial segment, which was formed in 2012 as Staples realigned its reportable segments, consists of US and Canadian business units that sell and deliver office products and services directly to businesses and includes Staples Advantage and Quill.com. Along with its office supplies business, Quill operates Medical Arts Press, Inc., an Internet and catalog business that sells specialized office supplies and products for health care professionals.
Besides office supplies and business machines, Quill sells a range of cleaning and break room supplies, such as bath tissue, coffee products, vending machine snacks, and trash bags. It also offers printing services for business cards, envelopes, letterhead, and promotional materials.
While it's Quill's strategy to offer a larger assortment of core office products, the company is looking to expand its product categories beyond core office supplies as it works to become a one-stop shop for existing and new customers. It's also concentrating on continuing to improve its "perfect order metric," which measures the number of orders it fulfills on time and without error. Quill is banking on outstanding customer service to attract and retain its customers.
Through a 2013 partnership with Wayfair.com, Quill began offering office furnishings, small appliances, exercise equipment, and outdoor furniture on the Quill website. The move extends the Quill.com product catalog with new categories.
Sales and Marketing
Quill relies on a direct sales force to provide industry-leading customer service and to meet the needs of its specialized health care-centric Medical Arts Press business. The company leverages the Staples global buying and merchandising staff, as well as local employees, to achieve specific buying and merchandising requirements. Using its own branded products and services, Quill is able to sell products to customers at an average 10% to 20% lower than national brands, thereby generating higher gross margins on average than national brands.
While Staples does not break out separate financials for Quill, the parent company's North American Commercial segment posted sales increases of about 2% in fiscal 2013 as compared to 2012. The boost -- from a $159-million revenue increase -- came from the additional week in 2013. Excluding the week, segment sales dropped 0.3%, due to the company's decision to not renew two large customer contracts and a decline in sales of core supplies. The North American Commercial segment saw sales successes, however, across its facilities and break room supplies, furniture, and copy and print services during the reporting period. The segment's business unit income as a percentage of sales rose slightly to 8.4% in 2013 from 8.3% in 2012. The company attributes the modest rise to reduced incentive compensation, lower marketing costs, and increased supply chain efficiencies. Inflationary pressures on core office supplies and rising costs associated with legal settlements continue to concern the Staples segment.
Quill has been owned by behemoth office products supplier Staples since 1998.