Staples adds 335 to direct staff

In this age of layoffs, it’s good to see at least one company is adding direct marketing employees. Office supplies marketer Staples has added 335 salespeople charged with increasing customers’ use of its catalogs and Websites, a move that reflects the channels’ increased profitability.

Two hundred employees will join an existing team of 200 dedicated to building direct channel use among corporate clients. The team will be based in locations throughout the country, according to spokesperson Tom Nutile.

Another hundred workers will join 600 employees who service business accounts on a contract basis. These customers purchase set amounts of office supplies on a regular delivery schedule.

The Framingham, MA-based company is also doubling to 70 the number of telemarketers within its call center who make outbound calls to businesses. Another 1,000 are employed there to handle incoming calls. No additions to those staff levels are planned.

The new sales reps are being added to the company’s North American Delivery operations, formerly known as Staples Direct, which encompass contract business, and Internet and catalog operations. In addition to its Staples catalog and Website, the division includes the Quill catalog/Internet business.

Business customers usually begin their relationship with Staples by shopping at retail, Nutile said. Customers tend to order through the catalog next, and usually migrate to the Internet only after they’ve explored the other two options.

But the sales channels don’t cannibalize each other. Customers who use the catalog and shop at retail spend two-and-a-half times as much as a customer who patronizes a store only. Shoppers who use the catalog, retail, and Internet channels spend four and a half times as much as a retail-only shopper.

North American Delivery sales were expected to make up around $3 billion of Staples’ projected $11 billion 2001 revenue. For the first nine months of 2001, North American Delivery generated $2.24 billion of Staples’ $7.82 billion in sales. The North American Delivery channel’s sales grew 12% from 2000, compared to Staples retail business, which rose only 1%.

North American Delivery’s profits have risen even faster. Its operating income has nearly doubled, from $74.8 million to nearly $139 million during the first nine months of fiscal 2001. During the same period retail operating income fell from $289.5 million to $179.3 million.

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