Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
27 May 2009
Shopping at Office Depot…I mean, Staples
Question: What is wrong with this story? A company creates a new category of mass merchandising by recognizing a need in the marketplace, then consolidating a fragmented marketplace that allows customers to shop for needed products in a more efficient and economical way.
With me so far? On the surface, this sounds like a story for success and yet something has gone wrong.
Staples, the office superstore, just reported first-quarter earnings down 33%, which isn’t so surprising in our current economic condition. What is most disturbing for Staples is that same-store sales are down, the only reliable indicator of a brand’s health.
I am a little in the dark over this because most of what Stables sells is non-discretionary. They sell ink-jet cartridges and laser cartridges for printers, paper for copiers, pens for our desks, disks for our CD burners and even the Post-It notes that clutter up every available metal surface near all of our desks.
Why just last month, we at Stealing Share bought new white boards for the office from Staples. We even buy our cases of bottled water there.
Therefore, the question: What’s wrong here?
Wait a moment. As I write this, I just realized it’s at Office Depot where we got those things. My mistake.
Well, actually it is Staples’ mistake, isn’t it?
All these office superstores seem the same to us as they all blur into one another with similar category messaging and blending of offerings.
Their stores even look alike with the same brand color: Red.
As a brand, it’s not enough to invent a new idea and then stop. It is the responsibility of brands to constantly re-invent themselves according to their brand promise. Staples has allowed its competitors to own the same brand space it invented. Instead of looking at brand as something much more intrinsic to their success, Staples simply relied on a marketing slogan and category benefits – and now it’s hurting because of it.
Staples has confused a brand promise – EASY – with a category benefit. For most of us, stopping at the closest office superstore on the way to the office is “easy.”
For me, that is Staples. Oh. It’s Office Depot. My mistake. I can’t really remember.
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