Sales for its stores and delivery services rose 24 percent to $8.8 billion. Profits were up 38 percent to $331.3 million. When Internet losses are included, profits dipped to $315 million. At first glance, 1999 would seem like another ho-hum year for Staples, the Framingham-based retailer of office supplies that makes a habit of turning in stellar performances.
Staples' stock has suffered while CEO Thomas Stemberg invests in Staples.com to create a "click-and-mortar" powerhouse. (Globe Staff Photo / Pam Berry)
''It's more of the same,'' said Staples founder, chairman, and chief executive Thomas G. Stemberg.
But as Staples attempts to expand beyond its roots as a retail chain and transform itself into a ''click-and-mortar'' powerhouse that exploits the Internet as a way to offer its core small-business customers a wider range of goods and services, Wall Street has gotten jittery.
Over the last year, the company's stock price has taken a beating as Stemberg has invested heavily in Staples.com, which could begin trading as a separate tracking stock later this year.
Thanks in part to the Internet, Staples is no longer content to sell just pencils and paper. In 1999, it also got heavily into the business of using its Web sites to give its customers the option of buying everything from virus-protection software to telephone-calling plans and tax-preparation services.
''Our goal is to offer every kind of goods and service a small business customer needs,'' Stemberg said.
In 1999, with the opening of roughly 175 new stores, the company's traditional business continued apace. By year's end, Staples operated more than 1,100 stores in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Stemberg thinks the chain can double its number of US stores before saturation and cannibalization become worrisome issues.
One other 1999 innovation: Staples debuted an airport-store format aimed at business travelers.