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OfficeMax, Inc.

OfficeMax, Inc.

3605 Warrensville Center Road
Shaker Heights, OH 44122
U.S.A.
Telephone: (216) 921-6900
Fax: (216) 491-4040
Web site:http://www.officemax.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1988
Employees: 38,489 (2001)
Sales: $5,156 billion (2000)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Stock Symbol: OMX
NAIC: 453210 Office Supplies and Stationary Stores

OfficeMax, Inc. is the third-largest office supply chain in the United States. The company operates nearly 1,000 high-volume, deep-discount superstores in 49 states, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. In addition to office products, OfficeMax stores also feature CopyMax modules (offering print-for-pay services) and FurnitureMax facilities, which offer office furniture. The company also maintains an e-commerce business (officemax.com), which carries over 20,000 items. Through joint ventures, OfficeMax operates stores in Mexico and Brazil.

OfficeMax started in 1988 as a simple idea. In little more than five years the company bolted to the forefront of the American business supplies industry, posting more than $2 billion in annual sales by 1995 and generating sound profits by 1993. The company achieved that stunning success despite intense competition and an economic recession that began in the late 1980s and lingered throughout the early 1990s. The companys savvy marketing, distribution, management, and financial systems and strategies became models for other superstore retailers in the 1990s.

1988: Humble Beginnings

The OfficeMax concept was hatched by entrepreneurs Michael Feuer and Robert Hurwitz. Feuer, who became the driving force behind the chains growth, had been nurturing the idea during more than 17 years of service with Fabri-Centers of America, a 600-store retailer in Cleveland. By his early 40s, Feuer had risen to the executive ranks. Still, he was frustrated by his inability to run the company as he believed it should be operated. At age 42 I was bored and, like many executives, I also suffered from the Frank Sinatra syndromeI wanted to do it my way, Feuer recalled in September 1993. I had always claimed that if we could just cut through all the nonsensefor example, the 20 to 25 percent of time most executives spend on CYB (covering your butt)and do it my way, we could make millions, Feuer observed.

Feuer finally jumped ship and, despite other excellent corporate job offers, decided to start his own enterprise. He and Hurwitz decided that they didnt want to fund the start-up with bank debt or venture capital because they didnt want to forfeit control of the operation. So they scrambled to raise capital from friends and family. They eventually found 50 investors, including several doctors and lawyers, who were willing to contribute a total of $3 million. The sum was paltry compared to other retail start-up businesses at the time, but the pair thought that they could parlay the cash into a winning enterprise.

Feuer and Hurwitz launched their enterprise on April Fools Day in 1988. On that day, they laid out on a sheet of paper their concept for a new type of office products store. Their goal was to create a large business supplies discount store that was an exciting place to shop, and offered professional and friendly service, as well as prices between 10 and 30 percent less than those found in more traditional office supply retailer shops. The main goal was to bypass all of the middlemen, such as wholesalers and distributors. Achieving that goal, they reasoned, would allow them to effectively replace mom-and-pop office supply stores, much as supermarkets had replaced small grocers years earlier.

OfficeMax was fighting an uphill battle from the start. In May, an office supplies industry trade paper published a list of 15 start-up companies that were trying to crack into the business; OfficeMax was 14th on the list by asset size. The start-up team knew that it had to keep expenditures at an absolute minimum to compete. So Feuer and Hurwitz rented office space in a 500-square-foot brick warehouse that had barely any heat or air-conditioning. The space was equipped with a few pieces of cheap office furniture, a coffee machine, and a copier (the copier and coffee machine couldnt be operated at the same time, however, because the fuse would blow). They decided not to invest in a fax machine until it became absolutely necessary.

OfficeMax started out with a skeletal staff of seven people, not including the founders. Their requirements for potential employees were simple: they had to be hard workers with open minds, big hearts, and plenty of enthusiasm. They also had to be willing to work for very little money. Feuer and Hurwitz attracted the workers by promising them part ownership in the company if they stuck with it, and by offering them the chance to go farther, faster, and to have more fun than they had ever had in any other job. From the beginning, Feuer made it clear that OfficeMax would be operated differently from the bureaucracies from which most of the team members had come. There would be no secrets, criticism and praise would be swift and frank, and everyone would cooperate as a team.

Thus, OfficeMax was up-and-running without a single store or any other operation that could bring in any money. The founders hoped that they would be able to get manufacturers to fund their inventory, but they soon found that few big companies were eager to do business with a meager upstart. To overcome such hurdles, the team got together every morning and created a game plan for the day on a blackboard. They flew by the seat of their pants and used every trick they could conjure to get what they needed. Importantly, the company was able to get an unsecured line of credit from a local Cleveland bank. The bank granted the line of credit under one condition: that the founders agree never to use it.

Feuer and Hurwitz were able to take their line of credit to big suppliers like Xerox and convince them to fund their inventory on credit, sometimes for a full year or more. Indeed, the OfficeMax team learned early that the only way to get the cooperation of potential suppliers was to act as though OfficeMax was much bigger than it really was. They dealt with suppliers as though OfficeMax was a soon-to-be major chain with 20, 50, or even 300 stores going up in the near future, suggesting that if those suppliers wanted to secure a place with OfficeMax tomorrow, they would have to cooperate today. To the founders surprise, most companies played along. Those that didnt often regretted it, as OfficeMax quickly became the leading customer for many major office equipment and supplies manufacturers.

1988-90: Going from One Store to Thirty in Two Years

Incredibly, OfficeMax opened its first store just 90 days after the founders had created their business blueprint on April Fools Day. Observers were surprised that the team had managed to find space, hire and train a store staff, and hone a store concept in just three months. But to them it was a simple matter of survival; they had to start generating cash flow so that they could pay their bills. The first OfficeMax was opened on July 5, 1988, at the Golden Gate Shopping Center in the Cleveland area. The only advertising for the grand opening was a newspaper ad two days prior to the stores opening. Nevertheless, the store had sales of $6,400 on its first day.

After only six months in operation, the store was breaking even (before corporate overhead). That feat was accomplished partly as a result of the grueling hours put in by the team. Feuer, for instance, worked at the corporate office from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. He would then race home, shower, put on casual clothes, and drive out to the store to observe the customers and employees. When a customer left the store without purchasing anything, Feuer was known to chase him down in the parking lot and ask him if OfficeMax had failed in any way. That type of thinking was later reflected in OfficeMaxs intensive customer-satisfaction orientation. For example, the company began requiring that all customer complaints be resolved to the customers satisfaction within 24 hours.

Enthused by the quick success of the first store, Feuer and Hurwitz hurried back to the original investment group and raised additional capital for expansion. They dumped the cash into an aggressive growth program that, amazingly, had OfficeMax operating 13 stores in Ohio and Michigan less than 12 months after opening the first outlet. Sales had climbed to an impressive rate of $13 million annually and, more important, the stores were operating at a profit. The success was so quick that it worried Feuer, who was convinced that the companys accounting system was messed up and that OfficeMax could easily be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Shortly before OfficeMax had fired up its first store, a similar office superstore venture called Office World had started in Chicago. The business was funded heavily by retailer Montgomery Ward, but despite hefty financial backing, the effort had lost $10 million in the span of a few years. Thus, when Montgomery Ward approached OfficeMax about the possibility of a merger between OfficeMax and Office World, Feuer and Hurwitz were hesitant. They eventually warmed up to the idea, however, and the resulting agreement brought seven new stores to their chain, as well as the resources of several deep-pocketed venture capital firms. OfficeMax, for its part, only had to give up two of the ten seats on its board.

By the summer of 1990, following the Office World merger, OfficeMax was operating a total of 30 stores. After once again going back to its investment group, the company was banking an impressive $33 million in cash. The cost-conscious founders finally decided that it was time to move into a better headquarters facility, one that featured separate mens and womens bathrooms, for example. The rest of the money was put to use funding an aggressive expansion plan that would, the company hoped, add 20 more stores to the chain within a year. Despite healthy gains and a bright future, however, a development in 1990 threatened to quash OfficeMax and its competitors.

Company Perspectives:

OfficeMax provides office goods and services to small and medium-size businesses, home office customers, and individual consumers. The company has almost 1,000 superstores and delivery centers in the United States, on the Internet at OfficeMax.com, via direct mail catalogs, and through a nationwide commercial sales force.

Feuer and Hurwitz had perceived the threat years earlier. Finally, their fears were realized when mass discount merchant Kmart announced plans to roll out an office supplies superstore dubbed Office Square. OfficeMax executives realized that the new venture, backed by Kmarts massive bank account and retailing savvy, could literally crush start-ups like OfficeMax. Feuer and Hurwitz, refusing to ignore the threat, began trying to initiate talks with Kmart. The talks initially centered on an outright purchase of OfficeMax by Kmart. But Feuer and Hurwitz were hesitant to give up control of their company. The two companies finally agreed to a plan whereby Kmart invested $40 million in OfficeMax in return for a 22 percent ownership share.

Early 1990s: Life with Kmart

Fortunately for the founders, Kmart turned out to be OfficeMaxs greatest ally, rather than its worst enemy. Feuer and Hurwitz were allowed to maintain total control of the company, and Kmart smartly became a silent financial partner. With its new bankroll, OfficeMax intensified its expansion efforts and quickly met the goals that it had set with Kmart executives. Both companies were so pleased with the arrangement that Kmart decided to up the ante in 1991. It purchased 92 percent of the outstanding shares from the original investors and became the owner of OfficeMax. The net result was that OfficeMax was sitting on a mountain of cash and had virtually no long-term debt. Furthermore, Feuer and Hurwitz were still firmly in control of the company.

The deal couldnt have been sweeter for OfficeMax, which was suddenly positioned to launch a bid to dominate the national business supplies superstore segment. Thats exactly what the company did. During the next 18 months the company began opening new OfficeMax outlets at a feverish pitch. More importantly, the company purchased the 46-store Office Warehouse chain and the 105-outlet Bizmart chain, and eventually integrated those stores into the OfficeMax organization. As a result of store additions and acquisitions, OfficeMax was operating 328 stores in 38 states, coast-to-coast, by the end of 1993. Sales for that year climbed to $1.41 billion, from just $245 million in 1991, while net income increased to $1.08 billion (OfficeMaxs first positive annual net income).

Although cash was a major ingredient in the companys recipe for growth, its shrewd operating strategy was just as important for success. Indeed, throughout its expansion, OfficeMax maintained its customer focus. It also adapted the format of its stores to capitalize on the huge growth in the small and home-based business markets, which became the dominant industry trend during the early 1990s. In addition, OfficeMax managed to implement cutting-edge information and distribution systems that allowed the top mega-discounters like Kmart and Walmart to thrive. By the mid-1990s, OfficeMax was efficiently operating nearly 400 stores and several distribution centers, and stocking more than 6,000 brand name office products, business machines, computers and related electronic devices, software, and other goods.

With Kmarts financial backing and the OfficeMax teams successful operating strategy, the company sustained its blistering growth rate in 1994. By the end of the year, the company was operating 388 stores in 40 states and Puerto Rico. Importantly, the end of 1994 marked a huge change for the company. Late in that year, its well-heeled parent, Kmart, sold out. Kmarts investors had been pressuring Kmart to sell off its side interests and refocus its resources on the hyper-competitive general merchandise discount industry. Kmarts directors stooped to the pressure and decided to bail out of the OfficeMax venture. OfficeMax completed the largest initial public offering in the history of the retail chain industry when it sold 35.7 million shares at a price of $19 per share, bringing in the $678 million that allowed Kmart to reduce its ownership interest. A subsequent offering in July 1995 entirely eliminated Kmarts ownership share.

Mid-1990s: Going Public Without Kmart

Thus, after growing by leaps and bounds with the help of Kmart, OfficeMax was suddenly on its own again as a publicly held enterprise. For 1994, OfficeMax posted $1.81 billion in sales, $30.4 million of which was netted as income. As Hurwitz had removed himself from day-to-day operations at OfficeMax following the stock sale, Feuer stepped up expansion plans in 1995, hoping to boost OfficeMaxs 11 percent share of the U.S. office supplies superstore market. By 1995, OfficeMax became the second largest business superstore in the nation (behind Office Depot), and was gunning for the number one slot.

Key Dates:

1988:
Company founded by Michael Feuer and Robert Hurwitz.
1990:
Company merges with Office World; Kmart invests $40 million in OfficeMax.
1991:
Kmart purchases 92 percent of outstanding shares and becomes companys owner.
1992:
Company purchases Office Warehouse and Bizmart.
1994:
Company makes largest IPO in industry history; launches FurnitureMax, CopyMax, and OfficeMax Online.
1995:
Second stock offering eliminates Kmarts ownership.
1996:
Company opens Mexico City superstore.
1997:
Company opens more stores in Mexico and its first store in Japan.
1998:
Company opens its first urban-targeted OfficeMax PDQ store and opens stores in Brazil.
2000:
Gateway invests $50 million in company and becomes its exclusive computer provider.
2001:
HP replaces Gateway as companys computer provider; company closes 50 stores.

Meanwhile OfficeMax launched related ventures beginning in 1994, including FurnitureMax, a chain of discount office furniture stores, and CopyMax, a chain of copy-service centers. Both of the new store concepts were designed to be connected to existing OfficeMax stores and to serve as add-on profit centers. In 1995, the company debuted its TriMax stores, which consisted of an OfficeMax superstore flanked by a FurnitureMax and a CopyMax. The company also initiated a computer service called OfficeMax Online, (which later became OfficeMax.com), that was designed to enable customers to purchase OfficeMax products online from their home or office computers.

A period of tremendous expansion for OfficeMax began in 1996. In its annual shareholders meeting, the company announced a major expansion into Southern Californiaan area where its rivals, Office Depot and Staples, were already well established. Additionally, the company made its first international foray by opening a superstore in Mexico City with its venture partner Grupo Oprimax. This store was followed by more store openings in Mexico, and the companys success in that country was phenomenal. CEO Feuer told Discount Merchandiser in 1998, We went in with very modest expectations, but they have been more fully realized than anticipated, The volume in Mexican stores is equal or better than in the US. The company also began testing a smaller format store called Office PDQ, aimed at urban markets, and formed a joint venture with Jusco Co., Ltd., to open OfficeMax stores in Japan.

During 1997, Staples and Office Depot attempted a merger that was ultimately blocked by the FTC. While its two main competitors were focused on merger plans and court battles, OfficeMax took the opportunity to expand even further, opening a total of 150 stores in 1997 alone. This growth earned themfor a timethe long-coveted number one position in the market. Despite the large number of openings, the company still suffered a gap in sales numbers. Even though it had the greatest number of stores, the companys sales volume fell below $4 billion in 1997as compared with Office Depots $6.7 billion and Staples $5.2 billion. Feuer attributed the gap to the companys relative youth in the market. He planned to make up the numbers in part by focusing on the copy center portion of the business, which had a very high profit margin. In 1998, the company turned its focus to increasing the productivity of its store base, primarily by reducing its inventory of computersan area that had been disastrous in terms of profitability.

By 2000, the company had eliminated computers completely, instead forming a partnership with Gateway. Under their agreement, Gateway would install Gateway stores inside OfficeMax superstores. The Gateway operations would be staffed by Gateway employees. Gateway also invested $50 million in OfficeMax. However, the deal was scrapped in 2001, with Hewlett Packard replacing the flagging Gateway as OfficeMaxs computer supplier.

The year 2000 was challenging for OfficeMax. The companys profits continued to fail to keep pace with its expansion, and the company underwent a major restructuringwhich Feurer called deliberate suffering. It installed a new integrated computer system and revamped its distribution system, a move that it hoped would ultimately save the company several million dollars a year. It also changed its purchasing policies to be more in line with what its customers actually bought, rather than what vendors provided incentives for it to sell. These measures helped, but in 2001, the company was faced with the decision to close stores. In January of that year, the company announced plans to close 50 storesresulting in the loss of 1,200 jobsand take a one-time after-tax charge of $69 million. Despite these troubles, Feuer remained optimistic, telling Futures World News in May 2001 that he expected the companys growth rate to accelerate in the third quarter of 2001-02.

Principal Operating Units

FurnitureMax; CopyMax; OfficeMax.com.

Principal Competitors

Buhrmann; Office Depot; Staples.

Further Reading

As Staples, Office Depot Battle FTC, OfficeMax Expands its Concepts, Discount Store News, July 7, 1997, p. 80.

Baird, Kristen, OfficeMax Plan May Supply 900 More Local Jobs, Crains Cleveland Business, July 31, 1995, p. 1.

Bartalos, Greg, Til the Cows Come Home, Barrons, Chicopee, June 11, 2001, p. 35.

Big Name in Office Game is Diversity, Discount Store News, August 9, 1999, p. 50.

Brandt, John R., and Michael Feuer, Taking It to the MAX: How Did Michael Feuer Take a Start-up Company to $1.5 Billion in Revenue in Just Five Years?, Corporate Cleveland, September 1993, p. 16.

Cotlier, Moira, OfficeMax to Close 50 Stores, Catalog Age, New Canaan, March 15, 2001, p. 7.

Einhorn, Cheryl Strauss, Maximum Markdown, Barrons, Chicopee, December 18, 2000, pp. 23-24.

Einhorn, Cheryl Strauss, Promises Kept, Barrons, Chicopee, February 5, 2001, p. 14.

Garvey, Martin J., Gateway Takes Aim at the Business PC Market, Informationweek, Manhasset, February 28, 2000, p. 30.

Gateway to the Future, Discount Merchandiser, April 2000, p. 23.

Hanover, Dan, Honey, IShrunkthe Store, Chain Store Age, January 1999, pp. 40-45.

Harrison, Kimberly P., OfficeMax to Launch New Unit: Company to Test Concept of Furniture Showroom, Crains Cleveland Business, November 14, 1994, p. 1.

Howes, Daniel, Kmart Plans to Sell Rest of Stake in OfficeMax, Detroit News, June 27, 1995, p. El.

HP Replaces Gateway at OfficeMax, Client Server News, May 21, 2001.

Icon Group International, Inc., Staff, OfficeMax, Inc.: International Competitive Benchmarks & Financial Gap Analysis, San Diego: Icon Group International, Incorporated, April 2000.

Icon Group International, Inc., Staff, OfficeMax, Inc.: Labor Productivity Benchmarks & International Gap Analysis, San Diego: Icon Group International, Incorporated, April 2000.

Johnson, Jay L., OfficeMax: On a Fast Track, Discount Merchandiser, March 1998, pp. 32-34.

Johnson, Jay L., The FTC shuffle: Two Losers, One Winner, Discount Merchandiser, August 1997, p. 19.

Kemp, Ted, Staples Chases Small Biz, Internetweek, November 13, 2000, p. 11.

King, Angela G., OfficeMax Stock Shines for Openers, Detroit News, November 3, 1994, p. E1.

Liebeck, Laura, Staples, OfficeMax Look Abroad, Discount Store News, January 6, 1997, pp. 6, 88.

Marcial, Gene G., Officemax May Be Hunteror Prey, Business Week, November 25, 1996, p. 154.

Market Slows, But Still Grows, DSN Retailing Today, August 7, 2000, p. 40.

Nottingham, Nancy, Office Superstore Opens Today on West End, Billings (Montana) Gazette, June 15, 1995, p. D5.

Office Superstore Chains Plan 9 Million Sq. Ft. of New Space in 98, Discount Store News, March 23, 1998, pp. 6, 67.

Office Superstore Expansion in High Gear, Discount Store News, October 20, 1997, pp. 5, 77.

Office Supply Chains Foresee Continued Expansion, Discount Store News, July 13, 1998, p. 86.

OfficeMax Boosts Expansion, Chain Store Age, November 1996, p. 43.

OfficeMax Plans California Blitz, Discount Store News, June 3, 1996, p. 3.

OfficeMax Reveals Plans at Shareholders Meeting, Discount Store News, May 25, 1998, p. 3.

OfficeMax to Close 50 Stores, Cut 1,200 Jobs, Futures World News, May 7, 2001.

OfficeMax to Offer On-Line Custom Printing, DSN Retailing Today, May 21, 2001, p. 6.

Pascale, Moira, The Price is Right ... or is It?, Catalog Age, New Canaan, February 1999, p. 6.

Radcliff, Deborah, Back-to-School.com, Computerworld, August 23, 1999, p. 40.

Russell, John M., OfficeMax Breaks Loose, Small Business News-Cleveland, September 1994, p. 16.

Shingler, Dan, Hurwitz Trading Paper for Pillows, Crains Cleveland Business, April 11, 1994, p. 1.

Speculation over OfficeMax Suitor Points to Staples, Hints at Antitrust, Discount Store News, October 26, 1998, p. 6.

Staples to Sell 63 Units to OfficeMax, FTC to Decide on Acquisition, Discount Store News, April 1, 1997, p. 6.

Swanson, Sandra, Office-Supply Vendors to Offer E-learning, Informationweek, August 21, 2000, p. 40.

Thompson, Chris, OfficeMax Sees Profits Stack Up for Pending IPO, Crains Cleveland Business, September 12, 1994, p. 3.

Troy, Mike, 98 Writing Instrument Sales Script Strong Outlook for 99, Discount Store News, February 22, 1999, pp. 41-44.

, Accessories Rise to Demands of Evolving Office Environs, Discount Store News, April 5, 1999, pp. 19-20.

, Office Suppliers Scurry to Revamp Financials, Discount Store News, October 25, 1999, pp. 5, 63.

, OfficeMax is the Biggest, Now It Has to Prove Its the Best, Discount Store News, November 17, 1997, pp. 31-39.

, OfficeMax Looks for Improvement Before its Too Late, DSN Retailing Today, November 6, 2000, pp. 37-38.

, OfficeMax Names Peterson President, Gateway In-Store Pact First Challenge, Discount Store News, March 6, 2000, pp. 5, 87.

, OfficeMax Reorganizes, DSN Retailing Today, March 19, 2001, pp. 1, 8.

, OfficeMax Unveils New Prototypes, Discount Store News, August 10, 1998, pp. 10, 118.

, OfficeMaxs Actions Draw Shareholder Lawsuits, DSN Retailing Today, May 8, 2000, pp. 10, 144.

, Softened Office Supply Market Gives Big Three Cause for Pause, DSN Retailing Today, April 2, 2001, pp. 8, 74.

, Store Closings Imminent for Office Superstore Channel, DSN Retailing Today, January 1, 2001, p. 6.

, The Rx That Delivers the Max, Discount Store News, December 8, 1997, pp. 75-76.

Dave Mote
update: Lisa Whipple

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OfficeMax Inc.

OfficeMax Inc.

P.O. Box 22500
Cleveland, Ohio 44122-0500
U.S.A.
(216) 921-6900
Fax: (216) 349-4220

Public Company
Incorporated:
1988
Employees: 17,133
Sales: $1.84 billion (1995)
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 5712 Furniture Stores; 5734 Computer & Computer Software Stores; 5943 Stationery Stores; 5999 Miscellaneous Retail Stores Not Elsewhere Classified

OfficeMax, Inc. is the second largest operator of high-volume, deep-discount office products superstores in the United States. In mid-1995, the company was operating more than 400 superstores in 41 states and Puerto Rico and was planning to open more than 150 additional stores within two years. The company was also experimenting with related business concepts, including a chain of furniture stores and a string of copy-service centers.

OfficeMax started in 1988 as a simple idea. In little more than five years the company bolted to the forefront of the American business supplies industry, posting more than $2 billion in annual sales by 1995 and generating sound profits by 1993. The company achieved that stunning success despite intense competition and an economic recession that began in the late 1980s and lingered throughout the early 1990s. The companys savvy marketing, distribution, management, and financial systems and strategies became models for other superstore retailers in the 1990s.

The OfficeMax idea was hatched by entrepreneurs Michael Feuer and Robert Hurwitz. Feuer, who became the driving force behind the chains growth, had been nurturing the idea during more than 17 years of service with Fabri-Centers of America, a 600-store, Cleveland-based retailer. By his early 40s, Feuer had risen to the executive ranks. Still, he was frustrated by his inability to run the company as he believed it should be operated. At age 42 I was bored, and like many executives, I also suffered from the Frank Sinatra syndromeI wanted to do it my way, Feuer recalled in the September 1993 Corporate Cleveland. I had always claimed that if we could just cut through all the nonsensefor example, the 20 to 25 percent of time most executives spend on CYB (covering your butt)and do it my way, we could make millions, Feuer observed.

Feuer finally jumped ship and, despite other excellent corporate job offers, decided to start his own enterprise. He and Hurwitz decided that they didnt want to fund the start-up with bank debt or venture capital, because they didnt want to forfeit control of the operation. So they scrambled to raise capital from friends and family. They eventually found 50 investors, including several doctors and lawyers, who were willing to contribute a total of $3 million. The sum was paltry compared to other retail start-up businesses at the time, but the pair thought that they could parlay the cash into a winning enterprise.

Feuer and Hurwitz launched their enterprise on April Fools Day in 1988. On that day, they laid out on a blank sheet of paper their concept for a new type of office products store. Their goal was to create a large business supplies discount store that was an exciting place to shop, proffered professional and friendly service, and offered prices between ten percent and 30 percent less that those found in more traditional office supply retailer shops. The main goal was to bypass all of the middlemen, such as wholesalers and distributors. Achieving that goal, they reasoned, would allow them to effectively replace mom-and-pop office supply stores, much as supermarkets had replaced small grocers years earlier.

OfficeMax was fighting an uphill battle from the start. In May, an office supplies industry trade paper published a list of 15 start-up companies that were trying to crack into the business; OfficeMax was 14th on the list by asset size. The start-up team knew that it had to keep expenditures at an absolute minimum to compete. So Feuer and Hurwitz rented office space in a 500-square-foot brick warehouse that had barely any heat or air-conditioning. The space was equipped with a few pieces of cheap office furniture, a coffee machine, and a copier (the copier and coffee machine couldnt be operated at the same time, however, because the fuse would blow). They decided not to invest in a fax machine until it became absolutely necessary.

OfficeMax started out with a skeletal staff of seven people, not including the founders. Their requirements for potential employees were simple: they had to be hard workers with open minds, big hearts, and plenty of enthusiasm. They also had to be willing to work for very little money. Feuer and Hurwitz attracted the workers by promising them part ownership in the company if they stuck with it and by offering them the chance to go farther, faster, and to have more fun than they had ever had in another job. From the beginning, Feuer made it clear that OfficeMax would be operated differently from the bureaucracies from which most of the team members had come. There would be no secrets, criticism and praise would be swift and frank, and everyone would cooperate as a team.

Thus, OfficeMax was up-and-running without a single store or any other operation that could bring in any money. The founders hoped that they would be able to get manufacturers to fund their inventory, but they soon found that few big companies were eager to do business with a meager upstart. To overcome such hurdles, the team got together every morning and created a game plan for the day on a blackboard. They flew by the seat of their pants and used every trick they could conjure to get what they needed. Importantly, the company was able to get an unsecured line of credit from a local Cleveland bank. The bank granted the line of credit under one condition: that the founders agree never to use it.

Feuer and Hurwitz were able to take their line of credit to big suppliers like Xerox and convince them to fund their inventory on credit, sometimes for a full year or more. Indeed, the OfficeMax team learned early that the only way to get the cooperation of potential suppliers was to act as though OfficeMax was much bigger than it really was. They dealt with suppliers as though OfficeMax was a soon-to-be major chain with 20, 50, or even 300 stores going up in the near future, suggesting that if those suppliers wanted to secure a place with OfficeMax tomorrow, they would have to cooperate today. To the founders surprise, most companies played along. Those that didnt often regretted it, as OfficeMax quickly became the leading customer for many major office equipment and supplies manufacturers.

Incredibly, OfficeMax opened its first store just 90 days after the founders had created their business blueprint on April Fools Day. Observers were surprised that the team had managed to find space, hire and train a store staff, and hone a store concept in just three months. But to them it was a simple matter of survival; they had to start generating cash flow so that they could pay their bills. The first OfficeMax was opened on July 5, 1988, at the Golden Gate Shopping Center in the Cleveland area. The only advertising for the grand opening was a newspaper ad two days prior to the stores opening. Nevertheless, the mart had sales of $6,400 on its first day.

After only six months in operation, the store was breaking even (before corporate overhead). That feat was accomplished partly as a result of the grueling hours put in by the team. Feuer, for instance, worked at the corporate office from seven a.m. to seven p.m. He would then race home, shower, put on casual clothes, and drive out to the store to observe the customers and employees. When a customer left the store without purchasing anything, Feuer was known to chase him down in the parking lot and ask him if OfficeMax had failed in any way. That type of thinking was later reflected in OfficeMaxs intensive customer-satisfaction orientation. For example, the company began requiring that all customer complaints be resolved to the customers satisfaction within 24 hours.

Enthused by the quick success of the first store, Feuer and Hurwitz hurried back to the original investment group and raised additional capital for expansion. They dumped the cash into an aggressive growth program that, amazingly, had OfficeMax operating 13 stores in Ohio and Michigan less than 12 months after opening the first outlet. Sales had climbed to an impressive rate of $13 million annually and, more importantly, the stores were operating at a profit. The success was so quick that it worried Feuer, who was convinced that the companys accounting system was messed up and that OfficeMax could easily be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Shortly before OfficeMax had fired up its first store, a similar office superstore venture called Office World had started in Chicago. The business was funded heavily by retailer Montgomery Ward, but despite hefty financial backing, the effort had lost a big $10 million in the span of a few years. Thus, when Montgomery Ward approached OfficeMax about the possibility of a merger between OfficeMax and Office World, Feuer and Hurwitz were hesitant. They eventually warmed up to the idea, however, and the resulting agreement brought seven new stores to their chain as well as the resources of several deep-pocketed venture capital firms. OfficeMax, for its part, only had to give up two of the ten seats on its board.

By the summer of 1990, following the Office World merger, OfficeMax was operating a total of 30 stores. After once again going back to its investment group, the company was banking an impressive $33 million in cash. The cost-conscious founders finally decided that it was time to move into a better headquarters facility, one that featured separate mens and womens bathrooms, for example. The rest of the money was put to use funding an aggressive expansion plan that would, the company hoped, tag 20 more stores onto the chain within a year. Despite healthy gains and a bright future, however, a development in 1990 threatened to quash OfficeMax and its competitors.

Feuer and Hurwitz had perceived the threat years earlier. Finally, their fears were being realized when mass discount merchant Kmart announced plans to roll out an office supplies superstore dubbed Office Square. OfficeMax executives realized that the new venture, backed by Kmarts massive bank account and retailing savvy, could literally crush start-ups like OfficeMax. Feuer and Hurwitz, refusing to ignore the threat, began trying to initiate talks with Kmart. The talks initially centered around an outright purchase of OfficeMax by Kmart. But Feuer and Hurwitz were hesitant to give up control of their company. The two companies finally agreed to a plan whereby Kmart invested $40 million in OfficeMax in return for a 22 percent ownership share.

Fortunately for the founders, Kmart turned out to be Office-Maxs greatest ally, rather than its worst enemy. Feuer and Hurwitz were allowed to maintain total control of the company, and Kmart smartly became a silent financial partner. With its new bankroll, OfficeMax intensified its expansion efforts and quickly met the goals that it had set with Kmart executives. Both companies were so pleased with the arrangement that Kmart decided to up the ante in 1991. It purchased 92 percent of the outstanding shares from the original investors and became the owner of OfficeMax. The net result was the OfficeMax was sitting on a mountain of cash and had virtually no long-term debt. Furthermore, Feuer and Hurwitz were still firmly in control of the company.

The deal couldnt have been sweeter for OfficeMax, which was suddenly positioned to launch a bid to dominate the national business supplies superstore segment. Thats exactly what the company did. During the next 18 months the company began opening new OfficeMax outlets at a feverish pitch. More importantly, the company purchased the 46-store Office Warehouse chain and the 105-outlet Bizmart chain, and eventually integrated those stores into the OfficeMax organization. As a result of store additions and acquisitions, OfficeMax was operating 328 stores, coast-to-coast, in 38 states by the end of 1993. Sales for that year climbed to $1.41 billion from just $245 million in 1991, while net income increased to $1.08 billion (OfficeMaxs first positive annual net income).

Although cash was a major ingredient in the companys recipe for growth, its shrewd operating strategy was just as important for success. Indeed, throughout its expansion OfficeMax maintained its customer focus. It also adapted the format of its stores to capitalize on the huge growth in the small and home-based business markets, which became the dominant industry trend during the early 1990s. In addition, OfficeMax managed to implement cutting-edge information and distribution systems that allowed the top mega-discounters like Kmart and Walmart to thrive. By the mid-1990s, OfficeMax was efficiently operating nearly 400 stores and several distribution centers, and stocking more than 6,000 brand name office products, business machines, computers and related electronic devices, software, and other goods.

With Kmarts financial backing and the OfficeMax teams successful operating strategy, the company sustained its blistering growth rate in 1994. By the end of the year the company was operating 388 stores in 40 states and Puerto Rico. Importantly, the end of 1994 marked a huge change for the company. Late in that year, its well-heeled parent, Kmart, sold out. Kmarts investors had been pressuring Kmart to sell off its side interests and refocus its resources on the hyper-competitive general merchandise discount industry. Kmarts directors stooped to the pressure and decided to bail out of the OfficeMax venture. OfficeMax completed the largest initial public offering in the history of the retail chain industry when it sold 35.7 million shares at a price of $19, bringing in $678 million that allowed Kmart to reduce its ownership interest. A subsequent offering in July 1995 entirely eliminated Kmarts ownership share.

Thus, after growing by leaps and bounds with the help of Kmart, OfficeMax was suddenly on its own again as a publicly held enterprise. For the 1994 year, OfficeMax posted $1.81 billion in sales, $30.4 million of which was netted as income. As Hurwitz had removed himself from day-to-day operations at OfficeMax following the stock sale, Feuer stepped up expansion plans in 1995, hoping to boost OfficeMaxs 11-percent share of the U.S. office supplies superstore market. By 1995, in fact, OfficeMax had become the second largest business superstore in the nation (behind Office Depot), and was gunning for the number one slot.

To that end, Feuer hoped to add about 200 new stores to the chain by January 1997. Meanwhile OfficeMax launched related ventures beginning in 1994, including FurnitureMax, a chain of discount office furniture stores, and CopyMax, a chain of copy-service centers. Both of the new store concepts were designed to be connected to existing OfficeMax stores and to serve as addon profit centers. The company also initiated a computer service called OfficeMax Online, which was designed to enable customers to purchase OfficeMax products online from their home or office computers. OfficeMax expected to post sales of about $2.5 billion for the fiscal year ending January 31, 1996.

Principal Subsidiaries

Bizmart, Inc.

Principal Operating Units

FurnitureMax; CopyMax; OfficeMax Online.

Further Reading

Baird, Kristen, OfficeMax Plan May Supply 900 More Local Jobs, Crains Cleveland Business, July 31, 1995, p. 1.

Brandt, John R., and Michael Feuer, Taking It to the MAX: How Did Michael Feuer Take a Start-up Company to $1.5 Billion in Revenue in Just Five Years?, Corporate Cleveland, September 1993, p. 16.

Harrison, Kimberly P., OfficeMax to Launch New Unit: Company to Test Concept of Furniture Showroom, Crains Cleveland Business, November 14, 1994, p. 1.

Howes, Daniel, Kmart Plans to Sell Rest of Stake in OfficeMax, Detroit News, June 27, 1995, p. E1.

King, Angela G., OfficeMax Stock Shines for Openers, Detroit News, November 3, 1994. p. E1.

Nottingham, Nancy, Office Superstore Opens Today on West End, Billings (Montana) Gazette, June 15. 1995, p. D5.

Russell, John M., OfficeMax Breaks Loose, Small Business News-Cleveland, September 1994, p. 16.

Shingler, Dan, Hurwitz Trading Paper for Pillows, Crains Cleveland Business, April 11, 1994, p. 1.

Thompson, Chris, OfficeMax Sees Profits Stack Up for Pending IPO, Crains Cleveland Business, September 12, 1994, p. 3.

Dave Mote

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