Staples Canada president Steve Matyas is making the rounds

Staples Canada president Steve Matyas is making the rounds

Matyas takes back-to-school tour

Staples Canada president Steve Matyas makes the rounds as company gears up for back-to-school season.

Every September, Staples Canada president Steve Matyas heads to one of the company’s 300-plus nationwide stores to take a shift on the frontline.

This time around, he will be heading up to Fort McMurray.

And it’s not just some random day, it’s Super Tuesday, the first day of the school year. It’s sort of like Boxing Day for school supplies, mainly because of the chaos of last-minute shopping.

“I’m always amazed at when people come in and it’s like a mob scene because everybody has waited until the last minute,” said Matyas, who co-founded Staples’ predecessor, Business Depot, in 1991.

“In some cases, they don’t have the school lists so they can’t do it earlier. But as hard as we try to make the transaction smooth, it’s hard to do when you have 600 people mobbing your store.”

Super Tuesday is the culmination of a four- to five-week lead-up to the start of school. This is when Staples’ 15,000 employees earns their gold stars for performance.

“It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort for the stores to get ready,” said Matyas, who operates out of Staples headquarters in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto. The company holds regional offices in Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal.

“Typically, our back-to-school season represents about 16 per cent of our annual volume, compressed in a very short period of time.”

Matyas has spent the past few weeks touring a number of Staples outlets in Western Canada, including the one on 32nd Street in Vernon on Aug. 14.

“Part of the reason (for my visit) is to walk around and get an idea of how we can do things better next year. And part of it is to thank people for the tremendous effort they put in to get the stores ready.”

As is the case every year, Matyas notices certain products that prove trendy with students. This year, it is “neon everything.” From Sharpie felt markers to binders and totes, bright will be big this fall, he said.

Another trend appears to be nostalgia items, such as a stylus pen in the shape of a yellow, HB pencil, and other items that draw inspiration from school supplies of old.

And while tablet computers in the classroom are more of an inevitability rather than a fad, Matyas said they are really taking off. With Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, HP Android and Google Nexus all producing quality models at competitive prices, he expects they will be used increasingly as a learning tool.

“Clearly more and more teachers are allowing tablets in the classrooms,” he said. “There’s a place for them in terms of being a great educational product.

“In some parts of the country, as far down as Grade 6 we’re seeing tablets in the classroom.”

Before Matyas got involved with Staples/Business Depot, he was actually headed for a career as a medical geneticist. It wasn’t until he realized there was more money in “pushing pencils on street corners” that he made the switch.

“I can tell you what colour your kid’s eyes are going to be,” he chuckled.

And while the Staples venture has been a profitable one personally, Matyas and the company’s other two co-founders have also used their corporate muscle to support charity.

Staples is the largest sponsor of Canadian Special Olympics, representing 15 per cent of the organization’s total revenues. It is a relationship going on 18 years.

“When we started the business, all three partners felt that it’s not just about making money,” said Matyas. “It’s about making meaning as well.”

Staples is also holding its eighth annual Students School Supply Drive, which assists families in providing the basic supplies students need to thrive in the classroom.

According to a survey of teachers conducted by Vision Critical for Staples Canada, 35 per cent of students will turn up to the new school year without the necessary back-to-school supplies.

“I was shocked to hear almost a third of all Canadian children go back to school without the necessary school supplies,” said Matyas. “That’s a staggering number so we decided to do something about it.

“We’re really pleased with how that resonates with customers. Last year, we raised over $1 million, and this year we’re going to exceed that by a wide margin.”

The Vernon Staples was one of the top stores in the country for last year’s drive, raising nearly $14,000. Matyas estimates that will assist as many as 650 families in the region.

This year’s drive runs until Monday, Sept. 9, and the Vernon store has set a target of $20,000, with a company-wide goal of $1.5 million.

Donations are accepted at all Staples locations in Canada.