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Architecture + Branding: Staples stratified design imperative increasingly segmented

1-Revealing a latent frustration

Sensing that his frustration might be shared by others, Thomas G. Stemberg stumbled onto an idea in 1985 that would become a global market leader and Fortune 500 company. Along with co-founder Leo Kahn, that idea would grow into office supply retail titan, Staples, Inc.

Based inFramingham, Massachusetts, Staples Inc., has operations in 26 countries, totalling over 2,000 stores (source: wikipedia). The company operates principally under the Staples Inc. brand name, and also operates subsidiaries in Argentina as Officenet-Staples, Belgium and Netherlands as Staples Office Centre, Canada as Staples Canada (Bureau En Gros in Quebec), and in Italy as Mondoffice (source: wikipedia).

The first retail store, since relocated, was opened in 1986 in Brighton,Massachusetts. Expansion into the western United States began in 1990, followed by expansion into Canada in 1991 (source: wikipedia).

Staples, Savi Ranch Center, Yorba Linda, California (source: wikipedia)

Over the course of the years that followed, Staples attempted to merge with a competitor, strengthened the Staples brand name in foreign markets, namely Canada, and ventured into the other non-core business areas.

2-Business Forward

 The dual emphasis on Business-to-Business (B2B), and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) sales channels by Staples has resulted in an efficient, fairly standardized and thoroughly recognizable retail presence. Arguably, the stores have been skewed towards the business portion of the customer base, adopting a subservient function to business needs.

Although needs on the corporate side are at times divergent from those on the consumer side, consumers benefit en masse.

Staples, between Pitt Street and Sydney, Cornwall, Ontario

Consistency, immediacy, predictability, these are all features that are primordial to businesses. Much like Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, a shortage or lack of a critical product for proper operations can mean more than a minor irritant, it invariably means lost profits.

Thus, for corporate customers, a multitude of factors come into play in purchase decisions, with price being a single component of the evaluation matrix. Product availability, delivery, ease of transaction, lead times, payment terms, return policies, these and other factors can be weighed with business purchases. 


Staples, Watertown, NY

Availability, simplicity and speed being prized by corporate customers, the architectural approach to design is no-nonsense, straightforward, and efficient. Ironically, the ease of telephone, and especially online ordering, increasingly negates the need for some corporate customers to ever visit a retail location.

In many ways, the stores are quite plain, like an afterthought; as though they were too busy making other businesses look sharp to have time to spruce up their exterior.

3-The XYZ design imperative

Inheriting the favoured business ethos, Staples stores are consistent, predictable, and easy to recognize. The architectural identity stresses the horizontal (X-axis and Z-axis), while fussing less over the vertical (Y-axis). Long, low, wide and deep, the stores hug the landscape, creating a sense of mass for the office supply superstores. 

Bureau En Gros, Le Plateau, Gatineau, Quebec 

Where Staples anchors a corner, both the X- and Z-axis are utilized to utmost effect. The long windowless sides stretch towards the back, elongating the building, and adding to the dramatic depth effect. Little to no effort is expended to break up the length into smaller compartments to disguise depth.

Staples, Hawkesbury, Ontario

In instances where the stores are ganged with others in a commercial strip mall arrangement, only the X-axis is apparent to be manipulated. Maximizing the X-axis becomes ever more imperative, stressing the linear projection to provide maximum frontage, as well as provide the sense of mass that has become entrenched.


Staples, Ogilvie Road, Ottawa, Ontario

The horizontally dominant stratified approach, with a top and bottom division, aids to lengthen the overall design. The lack of vertical markers, surface breaks, material changes, and even projected vestibules, guide the eye towards the vanishing points, visually widening the bifurcated elevations.

Staples, Bank Street South, Ottawa, Ontario

 The resulting squat retail footprint is also quite versatile, and scalable.

4-Carving up the strata

The adaptable nature of the architectural identity affords Staples some flexibility in tailoring their stores to local market conditions without compromising its basic bisected design mantra.

In fact, the corporate visage does not seem adversely affected by the various length of frontage. Unadorned and uncomplicated, the stores vary from smaller to larger, yet eschew the tall and narrow effect entirely. Expansive or compact, the design can stretch, contract, expand and still retain a sense of mass.

Front focused, with the ingress/egress point quickly discernible from a distance, signage is located above the entry point. Typically central, the main entry can slide to the left or the right with little effect on the overall design. 


Bureau En Gros, Riocan Centre, Kirkland, Quebec

Staggered step or curved parapets might rise vertically, or also jut forward, to provide a reprieve from the elements, adding slight relief to the façade, as well as draw focus towards the entrance. In other cases, the climatic conditions simply warrant a canopy.

Staples, Kemptville, Ontario

Framed entrances, rising vertically and breaking up the horizontal façade, counteract the horizontal focus, but add a dimension of height and cast shadows that add the overall sense of heft. Although favouring principally the horizontal axis, the vertical elements are finding increasing favour and do provide an idyllic location to frame the signage.

Bureau En Gros, Vaudreuil, Quebec

Staples, Rockland, Ontario

Nonetheless, uncluttered and uncomplicated is the imperative. From the outside in, it is clear that the superfluous is avoided.

5-Betting it all on Red

In some cultures, red is seen as fortuitous. In business parlance, red is never quite so desirable. Nevertheless, red demands attention, it catches the eye, and it can be quite well received from an advertising standpoint.

Staples has managed to make the colour red a little less unappealing business, utilizing it in their logo, and across assorted Staples branded items such as, staples, paperclips, paper, and other assorted office products.

Various Staples branded office products

Staples branded paper product 

Red is prevalent in all their branding. In the traditional store elevation format, red dominates the upper portion balanced against a bright white base. The reflective red ribbed metal profile lends an air of lightness above the bulk of the concrete block and stone base.  

Staples, Hawkesbury, Ontario

In less traditional installations, where the bulk of the elevation is determined by external forces, such as integration into the neighbourhood, consistency with adjacent retail tenants, urban design covenants and standards , the red uppermost section is unfurled like a banner across the greatest expanse possible, to effectively mimic the traditional store aesthetic.

Bureau En Gros, Boucherville, Quebec

Furthermore, as vast expanses of real estate become less available, Staples will be forced to roll out locations in denser, less suburban areas, where the long, low, and wide approach requires a thorough re-evaluation. Reinterpreting some of the established architectural identifies and brand elements into a newer, denser composition will inevitably build on the previous variants.

Bureau En Gros (Downtown/Urban location), Vendome and Sherbrooke, Montreal, Quebec

Also, as consumer and business needs evolve, new opportunities will emerge that might also recast the established architectural slant. Case in point, as in recent years, Staples has increased focus on small business needs and technology services, launching several concept stores, known as Best Tech stores, in the New England area (source: wikipedia).

Nonetheless, after a quarter century expended galvanizing red as a colour that businesses, and consumers, can get enthused about, it can be certain that Staples will continue to bet it all on red to stay ahead of the competition and keep its market leader position.

Roulette wheel (source: wikipedia)

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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