Tom Stemberg's printer ribbon broke over the July Fourth weekend in 1985, and buying office supplies hasn't been the same since. The local stationer was closed but a wholesale club was open. Noticing how busy its office supply section was that day - and that the few products it stocked did not include what he needed - inspired Stemberg to create Staples.

At that time, the concept of the big-box superstore was new, as was the home office. The idea behind Staples was to incorporate both concepts by offering large-company discounts to individuals and small businesses.

>From its beginnings, Framingham, Mass.-based Staples has had a strong >presence in the Northeast. Today, the company is opening a new store every >54 hours. As of October 1, there were 1,039 Staples stores globally, 816 >of them in the United States. While there are Staples stores all across >the country, current expansion is centered in the Southeast, where the >retailer wants to saturate certain markets.

When describing the company's site-selection process, Gary Stevens, director of Staples Realty, explains that Staples prefers to locate its 24,000 sq. ft. stores in shopping centers where there is strong co-tenancy of other promotionally minded retailers. "When some people pitch me locations, they say, 'Look at all those high-rises.' Chances are people in those stacked offices shop Staples.com or Staples Direct, and we'll deliver to them."

Staples positions itself in locations that are strategically convenient, between places where people work and where they sleep. "We catch people on the way home or on the way to the office," Stevens continues.

The company's mission statement is to slash the cost and hassle of running a home office. "Everything we do reflects that mission: to be able to help people to deploy their businesses most effectively," he says.

Staples differentiates itself from the competition with its strict attention to detail, Stevens says, adding that the company spends a great deal of time and money training its staff on the products as well as training them to be solution-oriented. "We have a philosophy that, if I'm in a store and there is a customer in need of anything, I'm to drop whatever I'm doing and help that customer," he says. "The customer is our key ingredient. That's what drives our presentation, drives our services, drives our advertising."

In addition to customer service, Staples puts emphasis on advertising. The tagline, "Staples: We Got That," refers to the chain's wide product selection.

The company also is broadening its offerings to include an in-store mail service. In stores nationwide, starting in Phoenix and Atlanta, customers will be able to mail anything they want from a Staples store. Small businesses can use the store as their mailing house for documents or products. Other extras offered include local and long-distance services, business technology services, payroll services and, of course, the copy center, which Staples is always enhancing.

Another Staples innovation is the airport store. Its first location, which opened in September, is on Concourse B in the Philadelphia International Airport. At 1,500 sq. ft., it's a fraction of the regular concept, featuring 20% of the product assortment in 5% of the space. The key to the airport unit is offering smaller packages of products sized for business travelers - everything from pens and portfolios to laptop batteries. The airport Staples also will ship, fax and photocopy.

With individuals and small businesses being its target market, Staples keeps up with industry statistics. According to Stevens, 98% of U.S. establishments are small businesses. That's a lot of cost- and hassle-slashing to do, he says, adding that the company "really is well-represented across the country."

Contact: John Barton, senior vice president of real estate, Staples Inc., 500 Staples Drive, Framingham, MA 01702; (508) 253-8671.