CAN OFFICEMAX SAVE THE CHAIN ?
CAN OFFICEMAX SAVE THE CHAIN ?
2005-12-08 at 10:58:00 am #13395
Can OfficeMax’s New Prototype Design Save the Chain?
December , 2005
In what may be the beginning of a miraculous turnaround, or the last gasp of a struggling retailer, OfficeMax introduced a new store design, the OfficeMax Advantage, which melds Starbucks and Whole Foods. The retailer is counting on free gourmet coffee, WiFi access, and bulk bins to generate excitement and pull the office products superstore back into the black. The first prototype opened in Macedonia, Ohio. New stores, using this format, will open across the country, and elements of this design will be incorporated into existing stores.
In describing the new prototype store, senior management is using all the right words: engaging environment, solution selling, customer-centric approach, fun, resource (rather than warehouse), and boutique feel. Below is a photo of the central technology hub in the new store, which is attractive, but not much different than displays at Office Depot and Staples. The peg board and metal shelves with gray carpeting could be in any store. This printer department in the foreground doesn’t appear any more engaging or fun than competitors’ planograms.
The technology hub is designed to allow customers to try out the electronics. To compete and win in a very crowded retail landscape that includes not only the other two office superstores but giants such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart, Office Depot will need to create a superior customer experience. The merchandising layout must go a step beyond engaging and be able to demonstrate a compelling electronics solution for shoppers. The retailer will need to ensure the display models are fully functional at all times. Are the batteries charged and memory cards available for shoppers to take digital photos? Can the cameras be connected to printers to show the ease of photo printing? Can shoppers try out the laptops on display? Do all the printers have ink and paper available to create print samples? This type of in-store execution, on top of trained salespeople, will help OfficeMax stand out from the crowd. All retailers aspire to this level of customer service, but none are totally successful on the sales floor. OfficeMax must go above and beyond what is offered at other retailers to draw and keep customers.
The OfficeMax café offers free individually brewed cups of coffee and WiFi connections, but the area doesn’t look much more inviting than a doctor’s waiting room. With some work, this area of the store could become a jewel, drawing business customers with networking seminars, digital imaging classes, brochure design tutorials, and events that support SOHO users. More comfortable seating would further encourage shoppers to take advantage of the area.
Bulk bins score high on the scale in terms of cuteness and fun, but the selection of bulk office products is very limited. Customers can fill their pre-priced boxes with a mix of paper clips, glue sticks, pens, rubber bands, notepads, and erasers. The design would lend itself well to a variety of product choices, particularly OfficeMax-brand photo papers. The retailer could sell them by the sheet, pricing the mid-grade 4”x6” paper at $0.10 and the 8×5”x11” sheet at $0.20. It would be great to let customers mix and match satin and glossy finishes. The piecemeal system would differentiate OfficeMax from its competitors and alleviate the need to stock half a dozen packs with different sheet counts in each finish.
One area of the store that could draw traffic is the OfficeMax Ink, Filling Station. The ink cartridge refill station reduces the price of a cartridge of ink by 30% to 50% and is much cleaner than at-home refilling options. The in-store kiosk assesses the cartridge to be refilled, injects the appropriate ink, then runs a print test. The service is certainly a differentiator for OfficeMax.
The new design is a step in the right direction, but it is not far enough outside the box to compete with the dominant two office product superstores. Some good ideas, such as the café and bulk bins, need to be taken to the next level, beyond metal chairs, paper clips, and pens. OfficeMax should bring in comfortable chairs, furnish a larger work table, sponsor workshops, and provide more items in the bulk bins. Further, the technology hub needs to showcase working solutions.
One example of a prototype store that succeeds in being different is RadioShack’s StoreOne. Its products are showcased as working solutions in a home-like environment that allows customers to visualize the technology in an everyday setting. StoreOne is engaging and fun, although it is not intended to be duplicated in its entirety in standard retail locations.
I applaud OfficeMax for rethinking the office products superstore concept, but it should go all the way and commit to being different throughout the store. Ditch the pegboard and gray metal shelves and utilize the boutique look RadioShack showcased in its StoreOne. OfficeMax doesn’t have much to lose, so it should take more chances with its redesign. If it reinvents the office products shopping experience, it may generate enough excitement to stay alive.