In a smart co-branded partnership, Staples is now offering coworking space at three locations in Boston, where it launched more than three decades ago—on May 1st, 1986.
Branded as Workbar at Staples, the office products chain is targeting millennials and small businesses in an attempt to reverse a sales slump in the past several years. It’s also upgrading its existing workstations for modern professionals and taking on the coworking rivals such as WeWork.
For $130 a month, members get unlimited use of the coworking space, two hours of reversable room usage for meetings and two days at other Workbar locations.
As noted on its local website: “Workbar, aka the Massachusetts Coworking Network, has teamed up with Staples to open a new type of coworking space. High quality shared space, flex offices, reservable conference rooms, private phone rooms, free onsite parking and unlimited coffee – inside Staples stores.
It’s a thoughtful co-branding relationship that has upside for both brands, turning Staples’ previously uninspired workstations, promoting the Workbar brand and monetizing the need for entrepreneurs and the new breed of professional to rent, not own, a work space with access to photocopying, outlets for charging, computers, Wi-Fi and more. The partners share revenue and in this case, Workbar brings millennials and entrepreneurs to Staples, the latter a pipeline for new small business customers.
Big box retailers are hurting from the move to online shopping but a silver lining may be leveraging the resulting empty store space. Many Staples stores have more space than they need as people are buying more office items online. (Given the laptops camped out at its stores, when will Starbucks start offering paid coworking spaces?)
“If you want to get our strategy on one page, this would be it,” Staples CEO Shira Goodman told Bloomberg. “If you go to most people on the street and ask about Staples they’d go, ‘Oh yeah, the office products superstore.’ But the reality is that’s very far from where we are today, and even farther from where we want to be.”
— Bloomberg (@business) March 29, 2017
The vision is to make Staples as an “indispensable partner” to small businesses and customers and to that end, a new marketing campaign. “We have to move the brand, so that people understand it really is this partner for business,” Goodman said.
Goodman’s goal is to lead the $80 billion-a-year U.S. midmarket of businesses with fewer than 200 employees. Formerly a consultant at Bain & Co., Goodman joined Staples in 1992 and brought on Neil Ringel to oversee delivery.
Ringel’s vision: a woman he calls “Jackie” — an office manager at a small company, a “jack-of-all-trades’’ handling everything from ordering supplies to unclogging plumbing. Ringel will woo Jackie with offerings and memberships that make her job easier including a mobile app for ordering via voice, photo, text and Facebook Messenger.
Cue the partnership with Workbar, a Boston-based coworking company with a membership that’s the same as the Staples rate of $130 monthly. More than 200 people have joined since the first of three spaces in three Boston-area Staples stores in September.
To raise its current market share of less than 5 percent, Staples sold off overseas divisions, closed unprofitable U.S. outlets and announced it will close 70 of its more than 1,500 stores after shuttering over 300 since 2014. Bullish on its outlook, Staples is set to hire 1,000 new salespeople, a 25 percent increase. “We’re doubling down,” Ringel said.
“Now you could have unbelievable focus around the Staples of the future and how quickly can we get there,” Goodman stated of the reinvigorated focus on small business and a mobile workforce that needs coworking space from a brand they know and trust. Take a closer look below: