Horder & Goliath: Local shop fights Staples

Nearly a decade ago, several local booksellers folded when Barnes & Noble appeared on the horizon. So when behemoth office supplier Staples opened a second Charlottesville store in late July, local biz-watchers might have expected downtown supplier Order From Horder to fold.

But Fred Wells, now celebrating 10 years as owner, with his wife, Carol, of the Order From Horder store, says he's inspired by the story of David and Goliath following the July 24 grand opening of Staples in the former IGA grocery store location on Ridge-McIntire.

"Staples is trying to get a piece of our pie," says Wells. "We need to combat these guys."

Wells claims that his shop– while just one-sixth the size of the new 18,000-square-foot Staples– actually has access to more products than either Staples or Office Depot. That's thanks to his membership in All Value, which Wells calls "the largest office supply buying group in the world."

"Everybody thinks bigger is better," says Wells. "Well, not really."

The Wells family has already begun to fight. A planned 10th anniversary sale featuring two-fers and weekly prizes was pushed back a few months from its original date earlier this year.

"When we found out they were opening up, we said, 'Well, shoot, we'll just have our anniversary sale in August,' " he says.

After the Wells family (seven children strong) moved to Charlottesville from Michigan nearly 15 years ago, Carol worked as manager of Ginn's Office Supply at Barracks Road. The arrival of Office America in the Rt. 29 spot that currently houses Staple's, proved too much for Ginn's, which Wells says "got gobbled by their [own] high prices."

Carol suggested that she and Wells purchase the two local Ginn's. Over the past decade, Wells says, they have developed a devoted clientele who purchase everything from office paper to wedding invitations designed by Carol– often on fine stock Crane's paper.

In 2003, the Wells closed the Barracks Road store because most of its business was in wedding invitations, something Carol could deliver easily from the Downtown location.

Wells says it's the personalized customer service on both the invitations and the office supplies that keep customers coming back.

Odessa Thomas, administrative assistant for the UVA Stroke Center, says her office has come to rely on Order from Horder.

Next-day delivery on virtually any product is a big selling point, she says, as is Fred himself.

"The prices are better, the service is faster, the assistance is so much greater," says Thomas. "If you need someone to help you make a decision on something, Fred's always there for you."

Staples, however, isn't put off by local loyalties.

"Our other location has done very well," says Staples spokesperson Julie Mittelman, who says the preponderance of small businesses along West Main Street and on the Downtown Mall made the new location desirable.

Indeed, some local businesses are happy to see the arrival of the national chain.

"They'll help us a lot," says Woody Gregory at Agape Florist in the Vinegar Hill Shopping Center at the rear of the Staples building. "It's a convenience."

In addition to the central city location– with that rare downtown extra, parking– Mittelman says Staples offers "deep discounts" on a variety of products, "especially during key times," such as back-to-school.

Wells counters that Staples can sell certain products below cost only because many of their other products are priced high.

One area in which Order from Horder will not attempt to compete is in electronics– Staples sells everything from laptops to digital cameras.

And Mittelman says that will be the key to both businesses' success.

"They have their own niche," she says; "we have our own niche."

Wells, however, isn't going to play quite so nice– and he hopes customers will stand by the local biz as he hands out free staple-removers during the anniversary sale.

"Everyone," Wells explains, "should remove staples from their lives."

Carol and Fred Wells are trying to remove staples– or is that Staples?