David Boone, CEO of Staples Canada, is transforming the Staples brand with tech, innovation, and a vibrant in-store experience. Staples is revolutionalizing how they serve customers and are expanding its network of services to a community-based audience with new technology, various products, strategic delivery, and added-value programs. As Boone looks ahead, he plans for future growth to scale development and meet consumer needs across Canada.
How has the shift to work-at-home during the pandemic affected Staples’ business strategy?
We’re a company where half of what we do is B2C and the other half is B2B. We supply governments, hospitals, large corporations, and financial institutions with all their business and office products. In addition, we supply many technologies and office supplies, janitorial facilities, and sanitation products.
For instance, we have a store network and deliver a lot; we do next-day delivery across Canada. Over the past year, we’ve seen a significant shift from B2B to B2C. So, we dramatically phased our assortment, added a lot more style and design to our products, and fostered our home delivery.
Many companies and corporations have returned to the office, and we’re now seeing a shift back to B2B. We’re helping our business customers manage a hybrid workforce [with] needs at home, in the office, in office design, and meeting rooms. People are bringing equipment back and forth from their homes to the work office, so that’s been a big part of our business.
Technology and services are also a big part of our business, so we have accelerated both. As businesses reopen, we provide tech services to people who have home-based businesses if they have network problems.
How will future automation affect your company?
I would say there’s been two trends: one huge macro trend and one new macro trend. First, for 25 or 30 years, digitization of the workplace and technology in schools has been growing, so we adapt our business to electronics and the services we offer.
We’re one of Canada’s largest Chromebook sellers and work with school boards and students by providing technologies. We’ve been on the digitization of the office, both products and services, for a long time.
The second big trend is providing programs for large companies to help manage the hybrid workforce.
Do internet reviews affect sales the way they do with online-only sellers? (Or how do you stay ahead in the age of highly competitive online shopping?)
Our business model is omnichannel, so that is a fusion of three incredible experiences. We have our stores, online channel, and sales force. In addition, we have a professional sales force of about 500 people across Canada who work outside our stores. To benefit our customers, we’ve been getting those channels to work more seamlessly and interconnectedly.
We are rolling out pricing programs, including a preferred small business program in-store that previously was only accessible online. If you order something we stock, we will deliver it the next day for free. That’s a very competitive proposition in the market, and we’ve had that for a long time. Quite honestly, businesses demand it, and it benefits our consumers.
What carryover skills did you bring to the current job from your previous position at TD Bank in New Jersey or even, from before that, at Loblaws?
Loblaws and TD are two terrific organizations. They’re both vast corporations, incredibly well run, so you learn the basics of working in an organization like that, which can help us shape the future here at Staples Canada. What’s helped me in this role is learning to operate in different companies in different markets with different go-to-market strategies.
What does it mean that Staples has transformed into “the working and learning environment” you referenced in a BNN interview?
There are three or four touch points around that, and it’s much more than just rebranding the company. It’s about who we are. Our job is to help people work and learn. We have been rolling out a co-working space called Staples Studio in several stores across Canada to help our consumers become more successful.
For example, we have been introducing hybrid work programs for our significant customers in Canada to help them manage their associates and have a good experience. In addition, we’ve done a lot in style and design in our assortment. If you think about the office or business products, they don’t have a heritage of a lot of style and design. We partnered with an industry leader named Joe Mimran, the founder of Club Monaco, and he and his organization have helped us introduce over 1,500 new products: everything from static mats and disinfectant-type things for your office to backpacks and carrying bags for your laptops. Our customers were looking for something more than just functional. They wanted something with a little authenticity to help them take more pleasure and love in their work and learning.
How are you staying relevant to the new generation of entrepreneurs?
I think staying relevant to the new generation of entrepreneurs is something that we put our focus on. One is introducing new services that can help them grow their businesses. We have partnerships with companies; we have a whole digital marketing program. We also print, market, communicate, and register their business. We want to be their partner.
We can help them with their technology as they set things up. We also have our Staples Studio program, which helps many small businesses that don’t want to work alone when starting be part of a team that works from one of our co-working locations.
Something I think has been compelling and beneficial in the pandemic is we have Spotlight series at Staples. There were in-person and virtual sessions to share knowledge and get people to network. We have a calendar of events, such as how to improve your LinkedIn profile, manage difficult employees, and market your business digitally. We use our partners and content networking to sponsor many programs to help entrepreneurs in small businesses, and we’d like more of them to take advantage of it.
How have Staples’ 300-plus stores across Canada intersected with how communities grow together?
That’s a great question. Our heritage is community-focused. We’re very much into sustainability. We’re a major electronic waste recycler. We have recycled over 13 million kilograms of electronic waste since 2020, including 6 million ink and toner units.
We’re the only company that recycles writing instruments — over 2 million since we launched that program. We recycled 500 million metric tons of batteries in the last five years. You’ll see that many of our products are FSC certified; that’s how we’re introducing sustainable products and product integrity. In addition, we’re launching a whole new line of cleaning products with an eco standard.
Our printing business operates on renewable energy, so we’ve made a difference of which we are very proud. Early last year, we introduced an Even The Odds program that came out of the pandemic. The reality is there are a lot of economic and health inequities in Canada and our communities, and we can play a role in helping build these vibrant communities across Canada.
For the Even The Odds campaign we launched last year, we partnered with an organization called MAP. MAP has 120 scientists trying to research and raise awareness of inequity in Canada to find sustainable, street-level solutions.
We spend a lot of time raising money for the Staples School Supply Drive that helps kids who may not have access to supplies to return to school. We are a purpose-driven, community-based organization helping people thrive through education and small business.
In October 2021, Staples introduced the “new elevated experience at Staples Corktown.” What was new about the location?
Wow. It is a fantastic store representing the best of what Staples has brought to the market. What you see in that store is our sixth Staples Studio, which is a continued investment in co-working spaces. We have a second-floor outdoor patio, and it is the only Staples in the country that I know has an outdoor patio with a stage, which can book events. Again, that’s built around the community, allowing them to use the space.
We partnered with a company called Mos Mos Coffee. It’s an organization with several stores in Toronto, but they’re focused on high-quality products. So, we brought a cafe into the store. Our solution shop is the experience of our service, and you’ll see enhanced tech services, graphic design, marketing, and shipping, brought to market.
We have a fascinating learning and creativity section with great new products. We invited local artists to paint murals and create a community experience in the store. You’ll see how we go to markets, the products we’re selling, the most modern technology experience anybody can need to run their business or home office, and going back to school. We’re incredibly excited about this store, the opportunity it creates, and what it is doing for the community.
Why were these upgrades made, and will that be the new norm for Staples?
In the last few years, we upgraded about 27 stores across Canada. You can walk into any Staples and see a new product you would not have seen three years ago. At least 50 per cent of our merchandise is new.
It’s a much bolder experience. What we do is every time we want to improve our store network, we tend to go after a store or two and dramatically improve it. Figure out what works with customers and then roll the rest out across the network. That’s what we’re doing with the Corktown store.
Describe your leadership style.
I’m passionate about creating something great for our customers and collaborating with our associates.
What’s the biggest strength of the franchise?
It’s our people; it’s our team, our associates. Our associates care deeply about customers and care about delivering for them. All of the work we’re doing to improve the experience is for the benefit of our customers.
What’s your biggest strength?
Resilience. Every business leader needs it.
Jennifer M. Williams | Editor-in-Chief