Where can you buy small quantities
of environmentally sound papers at reasonable prices?
- Specialty paper retailers
often have a selection of papers hard to get elsewhere,
are usually very knowledgeable about the papers' environmental
characteristics, and frequently have been the backbone
for building the alternative paper market.
- Major office supply stores,
mega-stores, and office products outlets now carry
some recycled office papers at competitive prices.
- Some types of printers specialize
in small print jobs.
- But the best-kept secret has
been the existence of distributor retail stores.
- Check out Small
Quantity Sources, as well.
A PRIMER ON PAPER DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS
Rarely do paper mills sell their products directly to end-users,
unless it's for large magazines or catalogs. Instead, most paper
is sold through paper merchant chains such as Unisource, Xpedx,
or many smaller regional distributors. Most deal in large ($300-500
minimum) wholesale orders only, usually only to large printers or
other major frequent buyers.
Commercial printers and most resellers of all kinds, from large
office supply stores to small specialty paper catalogs, buy from
distributors. Paper mills also sell to converters, who turn the
paper into envelopes, computer paper, forms bond, or other value-added
OUTLETS FOR SMALL PAPER QUANTITIES
Specialty Paper Retailers and Catalogs
A number of retailers specialize in environmentally sound papers,
with inventory available regionally and sometimes nationally as
well. These companies may sell through catalogs, supply papers in
various quantities, and provide printing and custom-papers, too.
They function as paper resellers and/or service providers and in
most cases have to buy through paper merchants. Often they can take
advantage of the merchants' large-quantity discounts and may get
price breaks by convincing the wholesale distributors that they
can pick up the smaller customers the merchants are missing.
Depending on the structure of the specialty retailer's business,
customers may be able to buy quantities as small as reams or sheets,
although some target larger businesses and have minimum purchase
requirements just as the distributors do. Their prices range from
very competitive to very high.
One of their advantages is that they usually are very knowledgeable
about the papers, especially their environmental attributes, and
many carry a number of papers, especially tree-free, not easily
found elsewhere. Many of the specialty paper retailers have been
the backbone of building the environmentally sound paper market
and deserve customers' support for their commitment.
Major Office Supply Stores
Recycled-content office papers such as copier, computer, and sometimes
fax papers are available at many office supply stores and through
office supply catalogs. Major office supply stores such as Staples,
Office Depot, and OfficeMax usually sell recycled papers in quantities
as small as a carton or sometimes a ream. The recycled content is
well-marked on the cartons or wrappers. The brands often change
depending on market factors, but the stores tend to keep at least
one recycled alternative available. Most of these stores also have
catalog delivery services and may provide an even wider variety
of recycled papers through phone orders than is available on their
The recycled alternatives typically cost a few dollars more per
carton than their virgin counterparts. But this is where small quantity
buyers can make a significant contribution to supporting the markets
for environmentally sound papers. Two to four dollars more for one
carton bought every six months is a much easier decision than the
same amount for a company that buys much larger quantities more
Some mega-stores, such as Price/Costco and WalMart, also carry
some recycled papers, especially copier. The selection is often
not as consistent as at the office supply stores and they may not
always provide recycled alternatives, but when they do, the prices
tend to be very competitive. Price/Costco has a business-to-business
phone and delivery service, where more papers are available than
are on the floor in the stores.
Office Products Catalogs
Many office products catalogs, including Quill, Viking, and others,
carry recycled products, including office papers, and prominently
label them as recycled in their catalog pages. Some even have special
sections for recycled products and list postconsumer content percentages.
Distributor Retail Stores
The best-kept secret, though, is the existence of distributor retail
stores. Originally, these were set up by some of the major paper
merchants to serve the small-quantity needs of quick printers and
graphic designers. They usually carry a wide range of text, cover
and printing stocks, as well as envelopes and copier papers, provide
extremely competitive prices, and sell in quantities as small as
a ream and sometimes even a few sheets.
They typically do no advertising and are located in industrial
parts of cities, hidden from the usual shopping traffic. These retail
stores are well-known to local printers but have been slow to grasp
the possibilities of the emerging small business and home office
markets. Few outside the printing and design communities even know
they exist, that they are open to the public or that some even deliver
for larger orders.
Not all paper merchants operate such stores. Those that do usually
supply only the papers they carry as a major paper distributor,
not an entire selection of all the environmental papers available.
To track down a specific paper, you need to determine which merchant
carries paper from the mill that makes it, and then find out whether
that merchant has a retail store outlet. Fortunately, many papers
are carried by more than one local distributor.
Buying paper from a distributor retail store can be particularly
helpful if you're looking for a specific paper in a quantity too
small for your printer to order it (printers have minimums from
distributors, too), or if you're buying second sheets or envelopes
to match your letterhead, or if you want small quantities of paper
for a use other than commercial printing, such as printing letterhead
out of your computer word processing program or brochures you'll
reproduce at a copy shop. You can browse the retail shops, too,
and sometimes even take home a sample, similar to the practice of
wallpaper and fabric stores, to decide whether it will work best
with your plans. If samples are not displayed, ask for a mill swatchbook.
While the distributor-owned retail store may have only a partial
selection of papers on-site, you can usually get access to any paper
stocked by the merchant if you are willing to wait a few days for
your order to arrive from the main warehouse.
The downside to the retail stores is that the sales people often
are not knowledgeable about the environmental papers they carry.
But The Conservatree Guide to Environmentally Sound Printing and
Writing Papers should fill in some of those gaps.
There are also a few regional, retail-only paper outlets, such
as Kelly Paper on the West Coast and Lewis Paper Place in the Midwest,
which tend to have a wider selection of papers on-site than the
merchant retail stores.
How do you find these retail stores? Check the listings in the
Where To Buy In Small Quantities Table (listed by distributor chain
names) for leads for your area. Also, many of the distributors and
retail stores are setting up Internet web sites that can direct
customers to local outlets or even allow cyber-orders. In addition,
you can find local distributors under "Paper," "Paper Distributors"
or "Paper Dealers" in your phone book's Yellow Pages and call to
ask if they have a retail store open to the public.
Some printers, especially quick-printers (such as Sir Speedy, PIP,
Alpha Graphics, and Minuteman Press, as well as independents), should
be able to handle small paper orders for their print jobs. Increasingly,
they also offer high-quality copying as a lower-cost alternative
to printing for many small jobs. But printers are subject to purchase
minimums from the distributors that provide their paper, so they
may concentrate their purchases with one or two local merchants,
thereby limiting the paper available to you. Check out several printers
if you're not satisfied with the paper options presented to you.
Another printer may buy from different local merchants and therefore
have a different paper selection. There are also printers that specialize
in printing on recycled or other ecological papers.
Paper distributors and retail paper stores charge printers wholesale
trade prices, which might be up to 20% less than the price to retail
customers. So you may get a good price for paper-combined-with-printing.
But you may still want to buy a specific paper and then bring it
to a printer. Typically, the printer will discount the paper costs
of the job, but still charge you a "handling fee." This may not
actually result in much discount to you, since the paper costs for
a small job are minimal compared to the printing costs. The printer
may also hold you liable for problems caused by paper you supply.
When using a printer, consider whether there are any corollary pieces
you need, such as blank second sheets or matching envelopes. These
would need to be ordered at the same time as the print job.
Clearly, then, a number of alternatives exist for small-quantity
buyers. They can make environmentally sound paper both accessible
and affordable, and enable even small purchases to add up to powerful
support for market development of more recycled, tree-free, chlorine-free,
and old-growth-free grades.