Office Supply Superstore Staples Makes the ‘Next Logical Step’ Into MPS

by Raegen Pietrucha

Co-founded by Thomas G. Stemberg and the late Leo Kahn in 1986, Staples opened its first location in Brighton, Mass. (just outside of Boston). Since, it has become the world’s largest office solutions chain, employing more than 88,000 people across about 1,900 stores around the globe. Now contributing to annual sales of approximately $25 billion is the company’s MPS offering, Staples Technology Solutions Managed Print Services, launched April 25 of last year.  

Transitioning to MPS
Although Staples is a household name as an office supplies superstore, there’s more to this company than sticky notes, paper clips and even our industry’s beloved printer cartridges. Along with business interiors and facility solutions, Staples acquired managed services company Thrive Networks on December 22, 2006. Under the Staples Technology Solutions name, the company initially offered such services as network monitoring (provided under ThriveProtect), dedicated IT staff to serve as or augment customers’ IT departments (provided under Thrive OnSite), and data security and storage. Staples has since gone on to offer much more via its Technology Solutions division — such as cloud, virtualization services and, of course, managed print.

Why managed print? For an office superstore, it’s a natural evolution. “We’ve offered the components of managed print services for a very long time,” said Al Zoldos, vice president of sales at Staples Technology Solutions. “We’re already — and have been for years — a large provider of printing hardware, consumables, … break/fix services … (and) a fleet management tool.”

But in the MPS offering, Staples also saw a brand-new opportunity to assist its current (and future) clients. Staples Technology Solutions Managed Print Services assesses, optimizes and manages clients’ print environments, helping customers to control printing costs, reduce or eliminate unnecessary devices and supplies, and even centralize buying influences. “We felt that this was the next logical step — to become the customer’s trusted print advisor, to help customers understand what we see and where we could help them save more money and become more efficient,” Zoldos said.

For Staples, the transition to offering MPS was relatively easy, given its history in the office supplies industry and its recently added Technology Solutions division. “We did have to build out our software, our operations team (and) a sales organization to service managed print,” Zoldos said, “(but) I really don’t think of (that) as a challenge (as much as) an opportunity.”

MPS program components and infrastructure
As with most MPS programs, Staples’ offering handles the hardware, software, consumable, break/fix service and business process optimization (BPO) components for customer organizations. Using a four-phase process (wherein Step 1 is assessment, Step 2 is optimization, Step 3 is implementation, and Step 4 is management), Staples is able to streamline clients’ print environments, improve their uptime and deliver consistent, predictable and affordable MPS. Staples offers a number of different pricing structures to clients but has found that the base-plus-click model — in which customers pay flat monthly base rates as well as fees for pages on a per-click basis — has thus far been most popular.

Staples owns a fleet-management software solution — Printuition — that automates supplies and service components of its MPS offering. Tied to Staples’ ERP platform, Printuition manages multivendor environments with ease. Once installed on a customer’s network, this tool eliminates consumables obsolescence by delivering supplies just in time and also monitors the health of print devices. “We think that … automation is a big piece (of MPS),” Zoldos said. “(It offers) great savings and allows companies to let their employees do their jobs and those printing devices actually order for themselves.”

The true differentiator for Staples’ MPS offering, however, has to do with who Staples is as a company. A sort of mega-dealer that isn’t limited to profits stemming from only one or two OEMs it’s signed on with, but nearly all of them — Brother, Canon, HP, Kyocera Mita, Lexmark, OKI, Samsung, Toshiba and Xerox — Staples can offer customers truly favoritism-free, brand-agnostic MPS that’s beneficial all the way around. “Customers have invested good expense dollars into their current fleet, and in most cases we don’t have to go in and change that fleet just because it has the wrong logo on it,” Zoldos said. “We can look at the customer and say, ‘We’re looking at what the best device (is) for your printing needs.’ … (On top of this), it usually doesn’t matter what brand (that device) is; we have access to most brands. I think that is a great advantage.”

Corporate structure and strategy
MPS has its own department and dedicated staff in a number of functional areas, including sales and operations, under Staples Technology Solutions. While this team was augmented by new hires from outside company walls, many Staples staff members have transitioned into MPS division openings as well. All around, this has led to many a happy employee, Zoldos said. “I think this is a very exciting offering for Staples, and it’s very well supported throughout the organization, so people are excited. … There’s work involved, (but) people are transitioning (well). (Many) have had experience touching all of these products in the past, so it’s been a fairly easy transition for employees who have changed roles to move from one role to another role.” 

Staples’ MPS operations team supports MPS installations. Operations managers and assessment personnel typically conduct client assessments on-site with the assistance of electronic software tools. After contracts are signed, implementation personnel visit client sites to remove unneeded equipment, relocate necessary devices and install new units; these staff members are also responsible for the ongoing monitoring of units and dispatching of break/fix services personnel. Dedicated MPS IT staff assists customers with related software deployments onto their networks.

Staples’ MPS sales team is led by a national sales director. Regional sales managers oversee business development staff as well as account managers. Business development employees are responsible for opening MPS accounts, which account managers then oversee on an ongoing basis, helping to optimize client environments after the initial implementation takes place.

Because of its large but specialized MPS staff, Staples has achieved its initial MPS goal. “We set out to change our relationship with our customers, to be that trusted print advisor for our customers and help (them) save money and gain efficiencies,” Zoldos said. “I think we’ve accomplished that. (And) we’re growing our MPS business. We are engaging more customers under managed print services engagements.”  

There are a countless number of additional growth opportunities Staples sees in the marketplace and within its current client base, and the company fully intends on seizing as many of them as it can. Although Staples is not presently offering content management as part of its solutions suite, it does provide the devices that help enable that, and the company has many other services it can and does leverage to offer customers a well-rounded overall business solution. MPS may address clients’ office printing needs, for example, but Staples also has retail stores for additional copy/print services while employees are on the move as well as the Print Solutions group to address commercial printing needs. “The more we can help customers with print in totality, we will certainly keep moving in that direction,” Zoldos said. 

And those IT services offered through Staples Technology Solutions’ Thrive Networks division will undoubtedly become increasingly attractive as more and more companies seek to streamline additional processes beyond print and further reduce overhead costs. The interest will travel in the other direction too; clients currently engaged with Staples for various managed services will likely pursue MPS in the future. “We (currently) share some customers with Thrive, and although we have not formally included them as part of the managed print services offering, we do see opportunities for that in the future,” Zoldos indicated. “Certainly (MPS) is an offering that will evolve over time.”

To gain new clients, it’s critical that customer awareness about MPS be raised. Answering the question “How do we get out in front of more customers faster and help them make that transition?” Zoldos said, is therefore the focus of Staples’ current efforts. “I don’t know that I would say that our marketing strategy changed (to accomplish this), but certainly our messaging … has. … Now it’s more geared toward delivering on the managed print services solution.” And by getting its MPS message out to more prospects and helping end users make the transition from an unmanaged to a managed print environment, not only can Staples grow this new business segment further, but it can deliver customers savings, efficiency gains and more.

“A more strategic printing solution can lead to reduced downtime, increased productivity, improved workflow, improved printing behavior among … employees, managed maintenance and repair costs, (reduction of) waste and energy, and increased document security,” Zoldos said. A shining example of this kind of success came to his mind in the form of a current recreation/entertainment client with more than 300 locations across the country.

This client’s costs were out of control due to both high break/fix service rates as well as a fragmented purchasing history of devices, all complicated by the fact that some devices were on the network while others remained invisible and subsequently hard to manage. However, by creating standards within this customer’s environment, utilizing as many devices that had already been purchased as possible, and eliminating single-function devices in favor of MFPs that handled more tasks and could be networked easily, “(Staples was) able to help that customer save a significant (amount) … and (realize) great productivity gains as well,” Zoldos said.

But the work of MPS never really stops for Staples. “The beauty of our program is that we can implement change within a customer at the speed that they want to move,” Zoldos said, but while it keeps in sync with its clients, Staples always continues to explore new ways to be of assistance to them in the future. “We’re always looking (at), ‘How do we improve upon what we’ve installed today? How do we make those continuous process improvements within the organization to gain more and more efficiency and create more savings?’” Answering these questions as they apply to each client and acting upon those answers is the true key to MPS success.