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Staples Wants to Bring 3D Printing to the Masses

The store’s success with copy services enters a new dimension
A Staples 3D printing experience center at the Fifth Avenue flagship store in New York
A Staples 3D printing experience center at the Fifth Avenue flagship store in New YorkPhotograph by Evan Agostini/Invision for Staples/AP Photo

Times are tough at Staples, which announced last month that it plans to shutter as many as 225 of its roughly 1,850 North American stores within two years. The office supplies retailer also said it’s abandoning low-selling product lines, although it hasn’t named any yet. As it recruits executives to strengthen its e-commerce division, however, Staples is expanding one brick-and-mortar business that’s doing well: its copy shop. The company has increased revenue from copy and print services over the past two years, partly offsetting revenue declines from sales of printers and other hardware. Now it’s trying to do the same with 3D printers.

Buying a 3D printer from Staples runs customers about $1,500, and few can use one often enough to justify the investment. Since April 10, the company has been offering 3D printing services at two test stores in New York and Los Angeles. The idea is to appeal to small business owners—including engineers, jewelry makers, and architects—trying to develop prototypes or turn out product runs. The machines can also quickly create business tchotchkes such as custom pens and fridge magnets. Depending on the materials required, Staples says it could charge as little as a few dollars or, in the case of a functioning 3D-printed guitar, as much as a few thousand.