Thomas G. Stemberg, Founder of Staples, Dead at 66

Thomas G. Stemberg, Founder of Staples, Dead at 66

The legendary entrepreneur and business visionary, Thomas G. Stemberg died at his home in Massachusetts on Friday. He was the founder of Staples, the largest office supply chain in the world.

Thomas G. Stemberg, the founder of the Staples office supply chain, died on Friday at his home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Stemberg was 66 and his cause of death was listed as stomach cancer. His vision to create what he called a “Toys R Us or Home Depot for office supplies”, came to a successful fruition.

It all started for Stemberg over the Fourth of July weekend back in 1985. He needed a ribbon for his printer and went out in search of one. One of the giant computer chains didn’t carry them and, naturally, most of the smaller stationary stores were not open over the long holiday weekend. The one he did finally find charged him far more than anywhere else or what he was actually willing to pay, reports The New York Times.

And, thus, a retail behemoth was born. He and a partner from the supermarket industry where Stemberg had been an executive, opened their first Staples store in Massachusetts in 1986. Nearly twenty years later, Staples has grown to more than 70,000 employees and revenues of over $20 billion a year.

At first, the two partners really didn’t know they were going to offer office products and stationary. They wandered throughout greater Boston and haunted every mall and shopping center they could find. They were looking for market segments that were either painfully underserved or not served at all. They finally considered selling office supplies at as much as half off what other retailers were selling the products for.

The pair targeted the high concentration of companies with office personnel along the stretch between Boston and Washington, DC. They opened 16 stores their first year. Stemberg recalled trying to come up with a name for the franchise.

“I was thinking about names,’ he told an interviewer for Fortune in 2002. “Pens? Pencils? 8 1/2 by 11″s? Staples? Staples!” That was how the company became Staples The Office Superstore. The trouble, Stemberg recalls, was that he and his partner always had to keep explaining what the store sold to everyone.

Stemberg always was the consummate entrepreneur. He always urged young entrepreneurs to aggressively search for that niche that isn’t being served and growing markets where what they might have to offer can be displayed. He, also, always urged young entrepreneurs to get some serious business training and to always model themselves after a company that knows how to properly manage and treat their people. People are assets. Without them, there is no business. You must treat them with the proper respect and appreciation.