Staples

Staples

Business is hard enough. Staples works to make it easier for businesses to focus less on their supplies and more on their bottom line. 

Founded in 1986 by Leo Kahn, Myra Hart, and Thomas G. Stemberg, the company was created to solve real-world problems that businesses experienced. Up until then, small stores had been the bastion of office supplies. The issue there was that these tiny suppliers kept limited hours and weren’t always stocked with the necessary equipment that businesses needed. The catalyzing event for the founding of the company was when Stemberg ran out of printer ribbon over the Fourth of July holiday and wasn’t able to get any from his local supplier. He knew there had to be a better way.

Well Funded

From the beginning, Staples was well funded. Its first store opened in Boston in 1986, and it had financial backing from high profile investment firm Bain Capital. Future Governor of Utah, Senator, and presidential candidate Mitt Romney served on the board of Staples for the first fifteen years that it was in operation. His guidance as part of the Bain Capital team shaped the business model of the company. 

By 1991, Staples had expanded and begun opening stores in Canada under the name The Business Depot. Staples then expanded to Europe. Ten years into the company’s history, it joined the listing of Fortune 500 companies as its annual sales crossed the three billion-dollar mark. 

Failed Mergers

In 1996, Staples attempted to merge with competitor Office Depot. The Federal Trade Commission nixed the deal because it asserted that the merger would result in a monopoly situation that would raise prices on office supplies. This despite competition from rival office supply company Office Max. Though Staples rebutted with assertions that Walmart and Circuit City represented significant competition as well, the FTC put a permanent end to the negotiations. 

Over the next decade, Staples acquired companies like Quill Corporation, telecommunications company Claricom, Medical Arts Press, and Dutch office supply company Corporate Express.

In 2014, Staples found itself in dire straits. It had experienced a serious downturn in its business and was forced to close two hundred and twenty-five stores. It turned its focus to online sales and looked to other options. 

Office Depot had recently acquired Office Max as a way to compete against Staples. Once again, Staples attempted to merge with the newly expanded Office Depot. Once again, the FTC stepped in to stop the merger, citing antitrust concerns. Staples ended up paying two hundred million dollars in fees as a result of the failed merger. 

Marketing Savvy

Advertising was consistently a strong suit of the Staples brand. Using clever marketing techniques, the office supply store was able to expand its market and stay afloat. Its tagline of “That was easy” was backed by its trademark “easy button.” Though the original marketing idea was that this fictional button would stay only in the commercials, it caught fire as a marketing gimmick and the store began to sell physical versions of the prop in its stores. 

Staples has engaged in a great deal of online marketing using Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to reach new customers. Despite its marketing efforts, the company has continued to see year over year decreases in sales for over a decade.