Staples (SPLS) has announced a new way to make better use of its cavernous stores at a time of shrinking shopper traffic: turning some of that square-footage into office space.
The office supplies giant said on Moday it was collaborating with office-sharing startup Workbar to open communal workspace at three of its stores in metro Boston in a pilot. Workbar runs a network of locations with desks and conference rooms that subscribers can use for a monthly fee. Each of the 2,500 to- 3,500 square-foot Workbar facilities will have workspaces, conference rooms, private phone rooms, and wifi access. The average U.S. Staples location is 20,000 square feet in size.
The move is just the latest by big box retailers looking to find new uses for all their store space at a time more shopping is moving online. For instance, Macy’s (M)has shops run by sports apparel retailer Finish Line (FINL) and is testing out a similar idea with electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY). Sears (SHLD) has rented out parts of stores to everyone from Whole Foods Market (WFM) to Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS).
Staples is struggling with a declining retail business. It said last month it would close 50 of its 1,607 North American stores this year, after shutting 242 others in the two previous years. Staples is also trying to convince the government to let it buy Office Depot (ODP) to fend off growing competition in the office supplies area from Amazon.com (AMZN).
It recently re-named its business services division Staples Business Advantage from Staples Advantage to prop up that part of its business, which in contrast to the retail division, is growing. Business services now generate 40% of company sales, compared to 35% in 2013. What’s more, Staples’ North American B2B unit is far more profitable and looks set to surpass the retail division in the next year or two.
Many of Staples’ stores have much more space than they need, now that people are buying more and more office items online.