Staples says it is launching Staples Technology Solutions, a service aimed at helping businesses, from small to large, grapple with their thorniest tech issues.
Staples' announcement comes just at a time when the office-supply industry, one of the harder-hit retail sectors, is bouncing back. The NPD Group reports that sales gained in December, the first time in all of 2009. Business-to-business spending grew 2.5%, according to the Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research group.
And while the retail office superstore channel -- which includes Staples -- didn't fare as well, averaging a 5% decline in the final four months of the year, that's still an improvement from the 10% monthly decline in the first half. Overall, NPD says the retail office superstore channel was down 8%.
Sales of paper, writing instruments, sticky notes and office essentials are all up for the year, while sales of filing, file storage and presentation-related items are down.
"Monthly U.S. job market trends have been highly correlated to office supplies trends, and we expect that to continue into 2010," it says in its report. "If the economy can start adding jobs in 2010, and if small businesses begin to take off again, we expect to see stronger performance ahead."
Tech services are becoming an increasingly attractive revenue stream for retailers. Staples already offers a consumer tech option called Easy Tech, and Best Buy offers Geek Squad. Chains like Wal-Mart and Target have added service, installation and support.