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The Boston Globe reports that Staples has decided to expand its investment in the co-working business, but is ending its three-year test collaboration in the space with Workbar, which now will become a competitor.

Staples had opened Workbar spaces in three Boston-area stores, offering flexible office space at relatively inexpensive rent to freelancers. They talked at the time about an eventual national rollout, which would have pitted them against the likes of WeWork, but the test never moved beyond the three original stores.

According to the Globe, “The demise of the partnership is just the latest sign of change in the fast-evolving co-working industry, which began a decade ago with startups like Workbar renting spare desks by the month to freelancers but has lately become a multibillion-dollar business targeting fast-growing companies that will pay a premium for flexible office space.”

As it separates from Staples, Workbar says it plans to expand throughout the Boston area, “aiming to blanket Greater Boston to better serve local companies whose workers may prefer to skip downtown commutes whenever possible.”

As for Staples, its chief merchandising officer, Peter Scala, says that the retailer “learned a lot from its partnership with Workbar and plans to roll out more co-working options at other stores, with more details expected soon.”

The story goes on: “The company recently opened its first-ever co-working location — dubbed Staples Studio — at a store in Toronto. Rival Office Depot has also begun dabbling in co-working as both stores try to reposition themselves — and make better use of their valuable real estate — amid growing competition from online retailers.”
KC's View:
To me, the whole notion of Staples expanding into the co-working space makes a lot of sense, whether it does it on its own or as part of a partnership. It takes Staples beyond just selling products, and into the arena of providing critical, adjacent and relevant services to its core customers.

Not sure that it’ll ever compete at the level of WeWork - largely because WeWork is kind of cool, and Staples never will be. I know I’d choose We Work over Staples, given a choice. But there probably are a lot of communities with Staples stores that will never look attractive to WeWork, and that’s a potential opportunity.