Staples is clipping along as the #1 office supply superstore operator in the US and as a worldwide leader in the office category. It sells office products, furniture, computers, and other supplies through more than 1,900 Staples stores in the Americas, Europe, and Australia. In addition to its retail outlets, Staples sells office products via the Internet and through its catalog and direct sales operations, including subsidiary Quill Corp. The company also provides document management and copying services at its stores. Facing increasing competition from the merged Office Depot and OfficeMax, Staples agreed to acquire the combined company in early 2015.
The office products giant's North American retail business (stores and online) contributes about 45% of sales. Its North American Commercial segment sells and delivers office products and services directly to business, and accounts for about 35% of total sales. Staples' International arm runs stores and provides direct-to-consumer and direct-to-business delivery of office products in about two dozen countries.
Core office supplies, ink and toner, and business technology are Staples' largest product lines, accounting for about 25%, 20%, and 15%, respectively, of total revenue.
Staples rings up more than two-thirds of its sales in the US. Canada is the chain's second-largest market accounting for more than 10% of sales. Staples has about 110 stores in the UK, as well as a retail presence in about a half a dozen other countries in Europe, and Australia and Argentina.
Sales & Marketing
The company targets customers through a variety of adverting and marketing formats, including radio and television, printed circulars, online advertising, mobile apps, and social media. It spent about $495 million on advertising and marketing in fiscal 2015, down from nearly $500 million in 2014 and about $535 million in 2013.
Staples' sales have declined for each of the past three years, with sales in fiscal 2015 (ended January) falling 3% to $22.4 billion. The company blamed declining same-store sales (down 4%) in North America, ongoing weakness abroad, store closures, and unfavorable foreign exchange rates, partially offset by growth in its online and commercial businesses in North America. Declining sales of office supplies, business machines and technology accessories, ink and toner, and computers were partially offset by growth in other product categories, such as facilities and breakroom supplies, furniture, and copy and print services.
Profit has been fluctuating in recent years. After a loss of more than $200 million in 2013, net income rebounded to $620 million in 2014, but fell again to about $135 million in 2015, primarily because of the impact of inventory writedowns, restructuring costs, goodwill, and long-lived asset impairment charges. Cash flow from operations continued its relatively steady decline. Indeed, the $1 billion in cash generated from operations in fiscal 2015 is down about a third over the past four years.
International expansion became a priority for Staples when sales in North America slowed as a result of the deep recession. To that end, Staples focused on further expanding its operations in Europe, where it had grown to about 320 retail locations. Amid weak European economies and the company's overall focus on cost-cutting, Staples later shuttered some international locations, bringing its number of European stores down to about 285. It continues to build a foundation for future growth, however, particularly in Asia and South America, with delivery businesses in Argentina, Brazil, China, and Taiwan, as well as a franchise arrangement with a partner in India.
As consumers continue to migrate toward purchasing more merchandise and services online, Staples is also closing retail stores in North America. The chain closed more than 200 stores in North America in 2015 and plans to close another 50 store in 2016; the chain also laid off more than 1,000 employees between November 2015 and January 2016 . To help drive traffic to its retail stores, Staples has added an in-store pickup option for purchases made online. Shoppers can also use an iPad app or new in-store touch screen kiosks to make purchases.
To counter the effects of its shrinking office supplies business, Staples has expanded the number of its stores that sell tablets and mobile devices. It's also inking partnerships to expand its merchandise mix. In mid-2014, for example, Staples began offering workplace furnishings from Steelcase on Staples.com and in certain US Staples stores. The company's future plans include an expansion of more service offerings, such as copy and print and technology services.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Staples two main competitors in the US, Office Depot and OfficeMax, merged in late 2013 to create a combined company with about $17 billion in annual sales, an amount that while impressive is still substantially below the $24 billion and change Staples rang up in fiscal 2013. Together, they hoped to create a more formidable rival to Staples, but in early 2015 Staples agreed to acquire the combined entity in a deal worth more than $6 billion. The deal was expected to close by the end of 2015 but was stalled after the Federal Trade Commission sued to block the merger. The FTC contends that, if allowed, the merger would leave US consumers with only one major office supply retail chain, which could drive prices higher across the office supply marketplace.
In July 2014, Staples acquired Vancouver-based PNI Digital Media, whose technology enables retailers to offer on-demand personalized products, including business cards, invitations, and photo books, for about $67 million. In October 2013, the company purchased San Mateo-based Runa, a software company that helps online retailers increase sales by personalizing the shopping experience.
In a move that significantly enlarged its footprint in Europe, Staples acquired Netherlands-based business supply wholesaler Corporate Express NV after a hard-fought deal valued at about $2.7 billion. Corporate Express is a major office products wholesaler, with more than half of its sales generated in the US through Corporate Express US. The acquisition also established Staples's contract business in Canada.