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Staples 4th Annual Survey Reveals Majority of Small-business owners Suffer from “Ping-Pong Syndrome”


Competing Demands and Distractions Hinder Ability to Focus and Achieve Business Goals

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FRAMINGHAM, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Prioritizing cost-cutting measures, checking Facebook and Twitter, and navigating the complexities of data protection and increased airport security are just a few of the ongoing challenges in the modern-day business climate stretching small-business owners like never before.

According to the 4th Annual Staples National Small Business Survey (Nasdaq: SPLS), a majority of business owners (61 percent) suffer from “ping-pong” syndrome as a result of constant bouncing between competing work demands and distractions brought on by a poor economy, evolving technologies, and world events that challenge even a three-person small business.

“Small-business owners confront unprecedented pressures and distractions on top of the challenging economic climate,” said Karen Kerrigan, President of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “Now they are dealing with concerns ranging from website operations, data security, and smarter lead generation, to personal interests like family obligations, health, and even Facebook or Twitter updates. Facing this barrage of attention-grabbing priorities, small-business owners need an easy way to focus on pragmatics and business priorities to move ahead.”

More than half of survey respondents (51 percent) blame growing to-do lists as the biggest cause of ping-pong syndrome. The survey also revealed that 53 percent of small-business owners do not have enough time to do everything on these lists, and a surprising 53 percent are so overwhelmed, they purposefully write things on their to-do list they have already completed just to be able to cross something off.

“Clearly small-business owners are looking for help in maintaining focus, setting goals, and bringing order to their increasingly chaotic lives,” said Kerrigan.

Additional survey results indicating the prevalence of ping-pong syndrome include:

  • Financial pressures: The recession has mandated small businesses to focus on cost-savings tactics in 2009, with 41 percent implementing stricter rules or oversight for expenses, and reducing or eliminating business subscriptions (26 percent). Among those small-business owners who implemented cost-saving tactics in 2009, almost two-thirds (65 percent) will maintain them in 2010, often wrestling with decisions about when and how to shift gears as the economy shows signs of recovery. In addition, nearly half of respondents (46 percent) say they are finding it is taking clients longer to pay now than in the past 12 months, and an equal proportion are taking longer to pay their vendors. More than half (55 percent) say clients are asking for more discounts compared to the past 12 months.
  • Day-lighting: More than one third of the respondents (34 percent) have found themselves “day-lighting,” or working another job on the side for financial security in these tough economic times. This is significantly more true among younger owners (43 percent vs. 23 percent), and part-time business owners (41 percent vs. 31 percent). Of the day-lighters, more than one third (37 percent) are working at least three hours a day doing so, stretching the small-business owner even further.
  • Advancing the business: The majority of small-business owners have yet to achieve most or all of their dreams for their company (77 percent). And more than 80 percent of small-business owners admitted that they don’t monitor their goal-setting or enlist the proper “coaches” and advisors to help them achieve their goals.
  • Social Media: While only one in five small-business owners have a corporate presence on a social networking site and the majority of respondents (70 percent) are not blogging, Twittering, WebExing, podcasting, or using social media for their business, a majority of small-business owners do have personal Facebook pages (57 percent), and one quarter of these (25 percent) can’t make it through the day without visiting their personal page.

And if that isn’t enough pressure, there is the basic question of survival. One quarter (26 percent) of respondents are unsure if their businesses will exist in 12 months if the economic climate remains unchanged, and nearly one quarter (23 percent) believe economic conditions will get worse before they improve. Two in five (42 percent) small-business owners have already considered closing down their businesses, while contemplating how they will re-enter the job force.

To make it easy for small businesses to prioritize their objectives for the New Year, Staples is launching a new, one-of-its-kind program called Staples stickK to it! Business Challenge (see related release,“Staples Makes Goal Setting Easy for Small Businesses in 2010,” Jan. 12, 2010). Small businesses can log on to to commit to achieving goals, such as getting organized and saving money. Participants can track their progress and earn EasyPoints by completing steps toward achieving their goals that are redeemable for Staples merchandise and services.

“We are committed to helping businesses manage complexity and seize new growth opportunities in the new year as the economy reaches a turning point,” said John Giusti, vice president of small business marketing, Staples, Inc. “Goal setting will not only help alleviate the ping-pong syndrome plaguing small-business owners today, but it will help them focus on the aspects of their operations that are key to growth. The goals small businesses set in 2010, and their success in achieving them, are crucial to the small business community and will help fuel the nation’s long-term economic recovery.”

Additional survey results include:

  • Small-business owners remain optimistic about overall economic recovery, with 44 percent hoping to expand, diversify, and innovate in 2010 while 48 percent will at least maintain status-quo within their business (48 percent). Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents believe that business conditions will remain the same in May 2010.
  • Respondents say that their biggest daily motivator is being in a business that brings satisfaction and pride (35 percent).
  • Company brainstorming sessions continue to be productive for idea generation (22 percent), but many small-business owners find that they come up with their best ideas independently, while driving in the car (38 percent) or in the shower/bath (24 percent).
  • Many small-business owners surveyed say that they “sleepwork” – a trend discovered in the Staples 2008 Small Business Survey and defined as working while sleeping or dreaming about work. Of those who are sleepworking, both 2008 and 2010 survey results confirm nearly 70 percent of small-business owners say that they have implemented ideas from their dreams (note, this question was not asked in the 2009 survey therefore there is no comparative data for that year).
  • Nearly two in five (38 percent) respondents agree that it may make sense to “weed the client garden” and fire certain clients who are draining their time, resources or morale to free up resources for more profitable customers. Two thirds (66 percent) of the business owners surveyed believe that none of their business partners would like to fire them.

About the Survey

For the 4th year, Staples conducted an internet survey among small-business owners and senior executives. The survey was developed by Staples and conducted by Decision Analyst, Inc. in Arlington, TX. Decision Analyst surveyed by Internet a nationally-representative random sample of 300 owners and executives of American businesses having no more than 20 employees. All respondents were members of American Consumer Opinion® online, Decision Analyst’s proprietary Internet-based consumer-opinion panel with over 7,000,000 members globally. Interviews were conducted from December 2 to December 7, 2009. Such a sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.0 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. For more information about American Consumer Opinion® online, please visit For a complete report of survey results, contact Jackie Guzman of Tilson Communications,

About Staples

Staples, the world’s largest office products company, is committed to making it easy for customers to buy a wide range of office products, including office supplies, technology, furniture, and business services. With 2008 sales of $23 billion and 91,000 associates worldwide, Staples serves businesses of all sizes and consumers in 27 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. In July 2008, Staples acquired Corporate Express, one of the world’s leading suppliers of office products to businesses and institutions. Staples invented the office superstore concept in 1986 and is headquartered outside Boston. More information about Staples (Nasdaq: SPLS) is available at

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