Heading to the Office

Direct-to-retail licensing agreements and exclusive distribution deals in the office supply channel have popped up sporadically for many years, with properties from TV financial expert Jean Schatzky to interior designer Christopher Lowell among those entering the market.

But the incidence of such deals is slowly on the rise. This year, Martha Stewart renewed and expanded her alliance with Staples for a line of home office and organization products, which originally debuted in 2012. Fashion designer Nicole Miller licensed Blue Sky for an assortment of calendars, planners, stationery, and desk accessories that complement her apparel and will be sold exclusively at Office Max and Office Depot. And ABC’s reality TV series Shark Tank, along with one of its judges, Lori Greiner, paired with Staples to sell products that have appeared on the show.

Staples announced its intention to purchase Office Max and Office Depot early this year. That news follows Office Depot’s acquisition of Office Max in 2013. If the Staples deal goes through—which is not a certainty—there will essentially be one national office supply superstore. This would eliminate one of the primary reasons for DTR and exclusive deals such as those listed above, which is to differentiate a retailer from its competition.

That said, the challenges facing the traditional stationery and office supply market in this age of digital communications have led retailers such as Staples/Quill and Office Max/Office Depot to refocus away from solely office supplies. They are doing this in part by expanding their arrays of lifestyle products such as design-driven journals, tablet protectors, organization products, and even home and office décor.

Not only does this place them in competition with a wider swath of retail channels beyond office supply stores, but it also creates a need for fresh and varied designs. Both of which suggest that DTRs and exclusive distribution deals in the office supply sector are likely to continue.

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