Staples Gets Personal to Grab Local Market

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HARRISON, NY -- Even for Staples, part of the office supplies triumvirate that includes rivals Office Depot and OfficeMax, the biggest issue remains customer acquisition.

Local dealers and stationers continue to control roughly 70 percent of the U.S. office supplies market, Peter Howard, vice president of marketing for Staples Business Delivery, told delegates yesterday at the 2004 Direct Media Mailer Conference & Co-op here.

"Customers want more personalized service," Howard told direct marketers attending the annual event produced by list firm Direct Media, White Plains, NY.

To capture a bigger slice of the pie, Staples, Framingham, MA, merged its direct sales force with the larger contract sales office. This way, it offers personal attention to complement personalized Web sites for clients as well as mail, telemarketing, loyalty programs and online marketing.

The stakes are large for players in the estimated $71.7 billion direct office supplies market.

Staples particularly is interested in the small-office/home-office segment with firms employing less than eight staff. There are an estimated 14.8 million such business nationwide, spending an average of $3,291 yearly on office supplies. That amounts to a potential of $48.7 billion.

Also attractive are the next two segments. Firms employing eight to 19 staff -- roughly 1.8 million businesses -- spend an average $8,846 a year on office supplies, putting the market segment potential at $11.5 billion. Another 800,000 firms with 20 to 100 employees spend $14,375 yearly. This segment's potential also is $11.5 billion.

Staples devised a new brand promise that focuses on ease of shopping, Howard said. Its messaging conveys that ease and so do the 1,100 Staples stores nationwide that support the Staples sites and catalog.

"Office supplies are not a priority in most people's lives," he said. "We try to make it as easy as possible."

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