OfficeMax Moves Into Full Solutions Center Concept

When I looked at the invitation from OfficeMax for a store opening, I had to admit wondering what was going to be so different about this occasion versus several hundreds that preceded it. But what I learned from the unveiling of the first OfficeMax Business Solutions Center in the Chicagoland area is that the office supply giant intends to be far more than just the place you turn to when you’re out of paper, toner and pens.

Now, with IT services, cloud storage, print and document services, promotional services and other types of business solutions, OfficeMax aims for spaces like its 3,900-square foot store in Streeterville to be the one-stop shop for a lot of other services too.

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It’s part of an evolution in the category overall as retailers aim to convey services outside of the core offering they’ve been known for. In OfficeMax’s case, it’s the store of the future.

“OfficeMax understands that small businesses and entrepreneurs have different needs,” explains Kristin Muntean vice president, Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at OfficeMax. “OfficeMax Business Solutions Centers are committed to serving as a central resource for business needs – from providing print and documents to IT support to setting up your website and cloud storage.” 

There’s also a specialized Business Solutions Adviser onsite to walk the customer through the various services they need. They’ve even partnered with Company.Hire to provide HR recruiting and onboarding services.

Yes, this is OfficeMax we’re talking about.

One thing I’ve appreciated seeing is how OfficeMax is eliciting feedback from local business owners as they roll out the concept here and across the country. As Muntean describes, that’s very much on purpose. “In developing our Business Solutions Centers, we conducted extensive research with small businesses in Chicago and across the country,” she says. “We are building on that research through a dialogue with our neighbors in Streeterville to ensure we evolve with their feedback.” 

It’s no doubt a smart move, if not an essential one. When office supply retailers such as FedEx Kinko’s (now FedEx Office) and delivery services such as UPS with its UPS Store opened their stores, it was all about providing you with total access to the supplies you needed when you needed them for convenience. That quickly becomes an apples-to-apples game though, with little to distinguish one from the other. Pens are pens. Paper is paper. And while loyalty programs definitely don’t hurt to hopefully retain more regular shoppers of these items, the stores needed to hang their hats on something more.

So when you provide certain types of services, you give yourself the opportunity to stand out based on the delivery of those services in a customized way – while, of course, providing the other essentials to the office. The key to me is not only in delivering those services on a superb level (easier said than done for many) but also clarifying the audience in a realistic way.

What I mean by that is that there is an underserved niche of Mom N’ Pop local businesses that are challenged by time and expense. Millions of these types of businesses don’t have websites and instead think they can get by with a listing on Yelp. They don’t have marketing guidance because they can’t often afford high-level assistance from a practitioner like yours truly.

In other words, this is the niche that OfficeMax can fulfill services for and if you’re in Web Development, I.T., Marketing, etc. I would see such retailers as less of a competitor unless these types of very small (i.e. 5 employees or less), one location businesses that are extremely budget-challenged are prime members of your clientele. Let’s face it. The business that can’t afford a website upwards of $3,000 isn’t going to be the client of most web developers. For many of them, this is the point where they say, “Well, I’ll just put up a Facebook Page” if they opt to do anything at all. That’s better than nothing, but still mediocre. They’ll still have no real home base for their brand in the way of a site, blog, etc. that’s more easily found by the likes of Google unless someone specifically searches for that business by name. That’s a finite number of customers. Enter the OfficeMax Business Solutions Center to elevate their visibility at a price point they can afford.

 

The Next Evolution: From One Shop To One Button

From here, the challenge for retailers such as OfficeMax is to provide not just the one-stop-shop but the best one button experience. If I want it, give me the personalized services in-store. However, if I want that same personalized service, give it to me through my phone, tablet and laptop. We’re seeing this already with Amazon’s Mayday service, in which live chat is taken to the next level where customer service interacts with the client’s screen.

 

The very concept of “the store” is changing as it is right now.

Best Buy once touted its ability to have it all under one roof but its service from store to store is, well, let’s just say inconsistent. Now, it won’t be enough to have a lot of product or even have great service in-store. It will be about who provides the best store experience both in the physical space and on the tablet I hold in my hand. That had better include remembering my favorite purchases and, if I choose the option, recommending new possibilities (again, Amazon rocks in this department).


Think Beyond Pre-Rollout Focus Groups

If you’re considering an extension of your brand on a retail level, don’t confine yourself to the pre-rollout phase. What OfficeMax has done well thus far – and what I hope they will continue to do – is invite in influencers to help hone its focus well after the doors have opened. Full disclosure: If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I’m one of those who has been invited to such discussions.

Whether they’re bloggers or end users (or often both), communicate with decision makers and those who serve those decision makers. Take them to lunch and provide them an opportunity to voice their opinions in person through a roundtable format discussion. Don’t put your executives in some ivory tower – get them in front of these contributors to interact (this is where many corporations miss an important step because the C-level isn’t there and doesn’t see this interactive experience as valuable enough).

Of course you want to do it right beforehand. But trouble occurs if the customer research and feedback tails off after the launch. That’s why it’s so important to maintain the momentum built today, tomorrow and for the life of the brand.

We certainly have enough tools for it.

If you have the opportunity, stop into the OfficeMax Business Solutions Center in Streeterville at 550 N. St. Clair. They’ve recently added a second location, in Evanston on 1612 Sherman Ave.

Then let me know your feedback. Do you think OfficeMax can successfully evolve its brand in this manner? Would you consider these new services? What would you care to see more of that you feel might be lacking from them? This input will be valuable to me – and I’m sure to the folks at OfficeMax too.

 

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