New Staples Strategy Eyes “World Class” Brands

Staples’ recent “reinvention” is leveraging a new breed of Private Brands to respond to quickly changing customer needs.

This puts Private Brands at the center of the Framingham, Massachusetts-based retailer’s new strategy, even if Staples isn’t particularly embracing the term Private Brand, said Conor Kearney, senior vice president of Product Brands, in an exclusive interview with My Private Brand.

Conor Kearney, senior vice president of Product Brands, Staples

“We are representing our brands as leaders in their categories,” he said. “We’d like to move away from referring to these as Private Brands, because to me that connotes store brands, a value alternative to the national brand equivalent. We want to be independent product brands; we want to be national brands.”

He added, “We want to function as a world-class consumer packaged goods company within Staples.”

Staples’ owner, Sycamore Partners, identified opportunities to grow the B2B side of the business. The new strategy, which reinvented Staples’ Private Brand portfolio, launched in early April, creating five new brands for both B2B and consumer customers. These are sold through the stores, e-commerce, close to 4,000 salespersons, and some partner companies. Some of the new brands, which replace Staples branded product, are now available in the company’s approximately 1200 retail stores, and the rest will follow soon. The brands are intended to raise the profile of Staples’ widely varied lines of businesses as a way to respond to changing needs in the workplace, including the demands for more “connectivity, productivity and inspiration.”

The new brands include TRU RED, for business essentials (pens, notebooks, shredders); NXT Technologies, to keep teams connected and productive; Coastwide Professional, for professional-grade facility supplies; Union & Scale, for furniture and décor collections, and the soon-to-be launched Perk, for quality break room essentials.

While Staples sells a lot of national brands, it’s no accident that the retailer chose to take this new journey through an own brand approach.

“We’ve really come to understand very well what our customers need, and we built our strategy around this concept of ‘Worklife,’ the idea that work is more than a job or place, but rather a career fueled by purpose,” he said.

“So we think that we can bring better products to bear for our customers because of unique knowledge and understanding. We continue to talk to our national brands all the time, and we’re really pushing them for more innovation to address these needs as well.”

The new brands are played up prominently on the company’s website, and in a creative new product solutions guide called The Loop. The brands are leveraged not just for products, but also for services.

“To the extent that product brands can bring services to bear, you’re exiting the world of commodities,” Kearney said. “You’re getting into a whole completely different territory where you’re much more valuable to customers.”

Staples placed an emphasis on design in developing the new branding and logos, leaning on a range of resources to accomplish this.

“We worked with a number of players both internally and externally in doing this,” he said. “Each of our logos was extensively consumer tested. We followed a traditional brand development process where we reviewed multiple concepts and used consumer insights to narrow down to the ones that were successful. It’s a fascinating process because your favorites, the leaders in the clubhouse, often aren’t the ones that make it through the consumer panels.”

The company’s efforts coincide with heightened competition across retail, including from e-commerce players.

“There’s a lot to compete against, and if you don’t have a fresh, exclusive and differentiated value proposition, you’re not relevant, you can’t compete,” he said. “So what we’ve done, with these five brands, is develop a unique value proposition that we think really resonates.”