Staples adopts a “learning and working” ethos

The retailer's new strategy places renewed focus on driving connections in its bricks-and-mortar stores.

Staples Canada Inc--Meet the New Staples Canada

With the recent opening of a new flagship store in Kirkland, Que. (under the “Bureau en gros” banner) Staples Canada has signaled its evolution from a traditional warehouse office supplier into more of a connection-inspired “working and learning company.”

The changes the retail chain has begun to undertake touch on nearly every aspect of the business, says CEO David Boone (who arrived at the company in January 2018)  from brand identity to merchandising strategy, ecommerce and store design.

Staples Canada’s renewal efforts come as other category players scale back their bricks-and-mortar presence, embracing broader trends towards a retail landscape dominated by a small number of online giants. After 132 years in the stationary business, for example, Grand & Toy closed all its Canadian stores in 2014. At the time, the company described its shift towards online-only as responding to consumers who “overwhelmingly prefer an online experience.”

At the heart of Staples’ new strategy is a different outlook. “What we’re finding is that customers do want a physical retail experience,” Boone says. “It just has to be different. They’re looking for this community connection, this inspiration.”

Staples_Service CentreIt’s true, customers are shopping online more frequently and looking for convenience through pick-up and delivery options, he says. But that doesn’t mean physical stores can’t serve as a competitive advantage. “We don’t see a world in which our stores go away.”

Delivering on a robust omnichannel experience remains a priority, however, and Staples now claims it can deliver to 85% of Canadians by the next day for free or modest fees. Over the last year, it has reduced shipping fees with the goal of encouraging customers to go online. The new positioning plays into one of Staples’ perhaps less-well-known strengths: it is the second-largest tech re-sellers in Canada.

In addition to the Kirkland store, a second concept location will open in Toronto next month, featuring a co-working space called Staples Studio, intended for small entrepreneurs and students, as well as a full-service cafe. The stores have been modernized with product discovery areas and dedicated “zones” (including one for tech), and customers can test, and mix-and-match stationery products prior to purchase at pen and journal bars. Both stores will host a spotlight speaker series featuring product demonstrations and networking events.

Staples_Chair DisplayOver the coming year, Boone says the company expects to begin rolling out some of these elements to its 305-store retail network, pending further testing and learning. It has also added more than a thousand new SKUs to better serve customers’ technology and connectivity needs.

Within its services business, Staples is moving beyond offering print and copying services to a more digital-focused offering, including digital marketing (website design, SEO optimization, email marketing) and technology services for individuals and businesses.

Underlying these business imperatives is a new brand identity, including an unfolded “staple” logo and “working and learning company” tagline designed to reflect an ethos of collaboration between customers and store associates.

Boone has company research that revealed customers are looking for inspiration and connectivity in their lives, especially when it comes to work, and that Staples is well-positioned to support those needs.