Not long ago, small businesses relied on stores like Staples and Office Depot for dull essentials like printer paper, cheap chairs and, well, staples. These days, all that and more is easily obtainable online or at Walmart and Costco.
It's sort of the Borders Books problem. People still need the merchandise but they don't much need the stores.
So Staples says it will close up to 225 stores by the end of next year, hoping to trim its costs without whiting out too many customers. The company claims that about half its business is already online, so shredding as many big box stores as possible should do wonders for the bottom line.
Of course, that's what Borders used to say as it slowly winnowed itself down to nothing.
Office Depot and OfficeMax have also seen the graffiti. Their response was to merge, thereby closing a bunch of stores and, they hope, hanging onto most of their customers.
Could it be that all these machinations are just rearranging the cubicle while Amazon swoops in and vacuums up the business?
It's not like Staples is dealing from strength. Sales were down sharply in the last quarter and this quarter's not likely to be so great either. Would you wade through the sleet and snow to buy a printer cartridge?