Grand & Toy invented next day delivery, so the story goes.
In 1882, long before online stores and big box retail, the Canadian office supply company loaded goods onto a handcart or horse-drawn cart and delivered goods to business customers within a day.
The company grew steadily for a century, opening dozens of stores and becoming a household name in Canada for office catalogs and school supplies.
Then, after a period of increasing competition from US retailers such as Staples and Walmart, in which the company was sold to an American firm, Grand & Toy closed all its outlets in 2014.
While the company’s legacy as a mall office supply store lingers in the minds of some consumers, Grand & Toy has spent nearly a decade returning to its 141-year-old roots as a provider of business-to-business office products and services.
“People grew up with the brand and remember buying school supplies from Grand & Toy,” said Chris Henwood, senior director of marketing and product management.
“But these stores were a minor part of our total revenue. Business-to-business sales have always been a very important part of what we do.”
The stores that once dotted malls across Canada also don’t reflect the company’s expansion into technology, health and safety and office furniture, he said.
“It was becoming increasingly difficult for us to demonstrate all of these capabilities in small-footprint stores,” Henwood said.
So the retailer closed its stores, went fully online and focused on meeting the needs of the business.
Grand & Toy now has 30,000 business customers in 20 different industries nationwide, ranging from major retailers and financial institutions to the federal government and small businesses.
Yet for consumers who see a Grand & Toy delivery truck or land on its website, the shift to serving business customers hasn’t always been clear.
The retailer’s website added to that confusion, Henwood said.
“Historically, we’ve had an uncapped website with street pricing for consumers,” he said. “We may have confused the market a little bit.”
The company’s site will become completely closed next month. Only business customers with an account will be able to enter the site to purchase goods.
It is also launching what it calls a “brand refresh” with the slogan Give Work Life to help make Grand & Toy’s raison d’être clearer in the market.
This change is being accelerated in part by increasing competition and the digitization of work.
In fact, the office supplies sector has experienced “steady revenue decline” since the early 2000s, according to a 2022 report by industry market research firm IBISWorld.
Grand & Toy’s transition to new products and services was also accelerated during the pandemic’s work-from-home mandates and the development of hybrid work models.
While demand for Grand & Toy’s traditional product categories like printer paper and toner has slowed during the pandemic, it has been offset by companies’ desire to create more connected, flexible and clean workspaces, Henwood said.
“People were working on La-Z-Boys and couches. Some of our biggest customers have said, “No, we need to help people create spaces in their homes where they can work efficiently through desks, seating, technology, monitors, webcams… so all of these things skyrocketed,” he said.
“This offsets the erosion in traditional core categories. Surprisingly, these categories have now recovered, but they are certainly not long-term high-growth categories.”
Grand & Toy is now expanding into categories such as health and safety, technology, office design and furniture and break room experiences.
“I don’t think the transition back to the office is fully established yet,” Henwood said. “Most organizations are still struggling with finding the right balance… a lot of people are very used to working from home and it’s hard to get people back into the office.”
Grand & Toy wants to help its business customers solve the ongoing dilemma of how to make office life more attractive for workers.
“We want to help our clients create an office space that’s more like a home,” he said. “It could be creating spaces for people to collaborate, rethinking a break room or equipping meeting rooms with technology that allows you to work in a hybrid world.”
Henwood added: “Having the comforts of home in the office is what makes people excited to be there.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 30, 2023.
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