Last year at the end of the year I mentioned how Staples was one of my premier disappointments in 2012. Now with about a quarter of 2013 in the history books, things haven’t changed. Wall Street was pretty happy with the office supply retailer restructuring itself, but now weak retail sales have sent the stock sliding again, and then we have this popping up in the “related news” headline lists when checking the ticker on Google Finance.
This, in my utterly oh so humble opinion, represents everything that is wrong with this recently embattled New England business success story. To recap from earlier, I keep a close eye on the Easy Button folks because red state hecklers from other parts of the country like to go on about how nothing good business-wise can ever come out of the Northeast, and New England is too tax-and-spend for any businesses to amount to anything here, yet here came Staples out of “Taxachusetts” back in the 80s practically creating its own industry and proceeding to dominate said-industry for years afterwards. These days though, Big S is synonymous with “delusional” and “stuck in a time warp” according to most folks whose articles I read that think that this company along with its entire industry is about to get Netflixed because they don’t seem to realize what year it is, or even what century it is.
It really says it all when a company’s namesake as well as much of what they’re known for in terms of what they sell (office supplies and related equipment) are in a state of permanent decline due to our increasingly-paperless world yet what’s the hot item they get themselves in the non-stock-related news and get a bunch of PR with? Paper. 😛 This whole Dunder-Mifflin doodad began in late 2011 when Staples subsidiary Quill gained all the required okeedokees from rights holders to bring the fictional paper company from The Office into the real world.
I’ve never been a fan of The Office. I’ve been anti-bureaucracy in business settings for years, and the show pretty much represents everything that repulses me about that kind of work. However, from what I’ve read regarding this Dunder-Mifflin thing with Staples, the show (now in its farewell season) was slipping in ratings and viewership a bit when this paper first went to market in late 2011. However, it’s not like the show and retailer haven’t crossed paths before. I happen to remember a certain bit of guerrilla marketing for the Staples Mailmate shredder back in the day which constituted the only time I’ve ever seen someone use a paper shredder of all things to make a salad. 😛
Still though, this is the year 2013, in case the folks in Framingham didn’t get the e-mail (because “getting the memo” is sooooo last century). Paper, and everything related to it, remains in a state of permanent decline as other methods of communication take off and the business world’s response to paper ranges from necessary evil to an all-out witch hunt in the case of pro-Obamacare politicians calling on the medical industry to stop being so paper-dependent this far into the 21st Century. This means not only paper and things like pencils, pens, staples (haw haw), paper clips, push pins, etc. (also known as office supplies), but also devices like printers, fax machines, copiers, MFCs, etc. (a.k.a. office machines), which places two of Staples’ main product categories that they’re known for into the fires of change, along with part of one of the in-store services they offer (Copy & Print). The remainder of Copy & Print can keep making things like business cards, posters, large signs, etc. The other remaining categories include furniture, which should continue doing okay so long as people continue actually needing desks in their offices (:-D) and tech, which is what analysts say Staples should be focusing on, yet I see struggle after struggle after struggle with them when it comes to technology.
Technology isn’t a cure-all for Big S’ recent woes though, as PCs are also in a state of permanent decline as they share more and more of the stage with alternative computing devices. Ultimately, I think EasyTech will eventually go the way of the dodo if the services aren’t expanded to include other electronic devices besides PCs. Sales and support on the other hand remain both an opportunity and a challenge for Big S. That leaves…. janitorial and breakroom supplies as the last remaining category? Even that might suffer if America’s war against this country’s obesity epidemic causes folks to not want to ingest as much junk food while on the job. 😛
What frustrates me the most about this company is that everything they need to get out of their current mess is right there in front of them, yet we keep seeing stuff like Blunder-Mifflin in the news. Staples has done notably better at developing an online presence than other Brick And Mortar Dinostores, and is now currently the second largest eTailer in the world behind only Amazon, yet despite their site deserving a “most improved” award in my book for having gone over the course of the past several years from me having to babysit orders just to make sure they get delivered to me preferring Staples.com over Newegg for some things (which is wildly unusual for a geek like me) I still cannot recommend either Staples’ site or their stores as a serious source of technology over something like Newegg or TigerDirect. Their website is clunky to use, even when shopping for the basics such as flash memory cards, prices often aren’t competitive with sites like Newegg, and some of their marketing stuff is an insult to any geek trying to buy stuff on their site (like when something says I can “pay as little as” X amount of dollars for an SD card if I pay regular price for the smallest card they have that might not be big enough for what I need it for :-P). Ultimately, the existence of NeweggBusiness.com is the ultimate evidence that Staples.com isn’t living up to its full potential. When Newegg is able to successfully expand from tech into office supplies and B2B accounts while Staples struggles to go the other way from that sort of stuff into being taken seriously for technology, something is dreadfully wrong. =(
I also shouldn’t be seeing articles like this in the news. =(
Seriously? This company is doggedly trying to be taken seriously online and then they do something like this? What’s next? Pickup points in Target for orders placed on Walmart.com? Sure Office Depot and OfficeMax may be supposedly merging, but the office supply sector needs to get out of its fishbowl. Staples’ main competitor is not going to be the Frankenstore combination of Office Depot and OfficeMax, it’ll be Amazon, or perhaps NeweggBusiness later on, so any remaining pleasantries like pickup lockers should probably be ditched in the coming years. Staples has recognition among business people, which means it would have value as another Circuit City type former store chain if the company were taken private and revamped to eliminate the stores, but I think the stores can stick around wherever the customer traffic makes them feasible, maybe even with lockers of their own for .com orders instead of letting Amazon steal the show.
Ultimately, the only way I can imagine Big S sticking around for the long haul at this point is if the term “Office Superstore” is utterly ditched in that company, despite the nostalgia it may evoke among some people there. Brick and mortar stores are in a change-or-die situation right now. Even Walmart is playing around with some ideas to make their stores into a little more than stores these days. Staples’ future depends upon how well they can be what they are according to their own numbers and results – an eTailer with stores on the side using its brand recognition from its Office Superstore days to beat Amazon at its own game and run sites like NeweggBusiness out of business forcing Newegg to stick with its tech stuff roots instead of encroaching upon Big S’ territory like that. 😛
Perhaps that’ll make cynical analysts and bloggers change their tunes and we can stop seeing articles like this popping up. 😛
In the meantime, let’s end this entry on a more positive note with Staples’ Copy Cat commercial, probably the cutest commercial I’ve ever seen them air. 😛
Of course, this would be a lot easier if WordPress’ YouTube embed feature wasn’t so unreliable. Regular links without the embedded video just look…ugly. But that’s another discussion for another day. 😛