Grand & Toy invented next-day delivery, so the story goes.
In 1882, long before online stores and big-box retail, the Canadian office supplies company loaded goods onto a wheelbarrow or horse-drawn wagon and delivered items 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 catalogues and back-to-school supplies.
Then, after a period of mounting competition from U.S. retailers like Staples and Walmart that saw the company sold to a U.S. firm, Grand & Toy closed all its retail locations in 2014.
While the company’s legacy as an office supply store in the mall remains in the minds of some consumers, Grand & Toy has spent nearly a decade returning to its 141-year-old roots as a business-to-business supplier of office products and services.
“People grew up with the brand and remember buying school supplies at Grand & Toy,” said Chris Henwood, senior director of marketing and product management.
“But those stores were an insignificant portion of our total revenue. Business-to-business sales have always been a very substantial part of what we do.”
The stores, which once dotted malls across Canada, also weren’t reflective of the company’s expansion into technology, health and safety and office furniture, he said.
“It became increasingly difficult for us to demonstrate all of those capabilities in stores with a small footprint,” Henwood said.
So the retailer shuttered its stores, moved fully online and focused on meeting the needs of businesses.
Grand & Toy now has 30,000 business customers in 20 different industries across the country, ranging from large retailers and financial institutions to the federal government and small businesses.
Yet for consumers who see a Grand & Toy delivery truck or stumble across its website, the shift to serving business customers hasn’t always been clear.
The retailer’s website has added to that confusion, Henwood said.
“We have historically had an ungated website with consumer street pricing on it,” he said. “We may have confused the marketplace a little bit.”
The company’s website will become fully gated in the next month. Only business customers with an account will be able to log into the site to buy goods.
It’s also launching what it calls a “brand refresh” with the slogan Give Work Life to help make Grand & Toy’s raison d’etre more clear in the marketplace.
It’s shift precipitated in part by increasing competition and the digitization of work.
Indeed, the office supply sector has suffered “consistent revenue declines” since the early 2000s, according to a 2022 report by industry market research firm IBISWorld.
Grand & Toy’s shift into 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 slowed during the pandemic, it was offset by companies’ desire to create more connected, flexible and clean workspaces, Henwood said.
“People were working on La-Z-Boys and sofas. Some of our largest customers said, ‘No, we need to help people create spaces in their homes where they can work efficiently through desking, seating, technology, monitors, webcams … so all of that stuff skyrocketed,” he said.
“It offset the erosion in traditional core categories. Surprisingly, those categories have now bounced back, but they’re certainly not high-growth categories long term.”
Grand & Toy is now expanding in categories like health and safety, technology, office design and furniture and break room experiences.
“I don’t think the return-to-office transition has completely settled yet,” Henwood said. “Most organizations are still struggling with finding the right balance … many people got very used to working from home and it’s tough 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 appealing to workers.
“We want to help our customers create an office space that is more like home,” he said. “It could be creating spaces for people to collaborate, rethinking a break room or outfitting meeting rooms with technology that allows you to operate in a hybrid world.”
Henwood added: “Having the amenities of home in the office is what gets people excited about being there.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2023.