An appetite for knowledge and growth leads to excellence
Pete Gibel has been with Staples Canada for nearly 25 years. After earning a Bachelor of Business Administration (Honours) degree at Wilfrid Laurier University, Pete worked at Hudson’s Bay Company for five years in various buying jobs. He was recruited into the office products industry by Business Depot in 1991, joining the ranks just two weeks before Staples opened its first store in Canada.
Pete started at Staples as paper product manager and helped with various divisional merchandise manager jobs over the years. He is now the senior vice-president of merchandising with responsibilities for sales, gross margin, and inventory management, including costs, selling prices, assortment, supply chain/replenishment, imports, store layouts, plan-o-grams, and signs.
According to his colleagues, Pete is a fantastic leader. He leads by example, walks the talk and is not afraid to get his hands dirty. He pushes the merchandising team to constantly innovate and looks for ways to improve assortments, advertising, and in-store presentations. He is a great strategic thinker and he reads voraciously, devouring business magazines, and keeping his finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the retail space.
A member of Staples’ senior leadership team, Pete has helped Staples to become Canada’s largest supplier of office supplies, business machines, office furniture, and business services for small businesses and home offices.
Pete can now add winning the Canadian Office Products Association’s (COPA) 2016 Individual Award of Excellence to his lengthy list of achievements! The Individual Award of Excellence is the highest award COPA bestows. It recognizes the contributions one individual has made to the industry over the course of their career and celebrates this person’s professional accomplishments.
“I’m honoured and would like to thank the vendors and Staples associates. It’s been a quick and great 25 years! I think it’s humbling, and it’s nice your peers recognize you—there’s no greater compliment than that,” says Pete. “The industry’s been good. It’s small and close-knit. And it’s changed a lot. There used to be a COPA trade show, a SHOPA trade show, and lots of dealer and vendor consolidation, and it has been fun to change with it.”
The most satisfying thing, Pete says, is watching people grow and learn. In order to grow, you have to open your mind, keep learning, and challenge yourself to come up with new ideas, he says. Pete’s colleagues know he has a vision for where he’d like to see Staples go and he has a plan for how it will get there. Despite an unforgiving retail climate, he has a passion for this business and where it’s headed. Over the next decade or two, Pete sees an increasing importance for an omni-channel approach.
“People want the convenience of shopping online for some items but the ability to have a great experience interacting and getting advice from store associates on other items. Instant gratification by buying something in a store and taking it home right away will continue to be very important for some items,” he says. “The products we sell have changed dramatically in 25 years and they will continue to do so over the next 25, so our job is to figure out what customers want and sell them those products and services.”
To stay on top of trends and the changing office products industry, Pete says you need to go to trade shows, meet with suppliers to get their insight on what people are going to buy, read both national and international business magazines, get as much information from as many places as possible, and be ready to take risks on trends because, unlike the earlier days, you don’t have the time to wait and see how the market reacts.
“I had many bosses throughout my career and I tried to learn something from each of them. For example, one of my early bosses at Business Depot, Kevin Dempsey, taught me how to do things ‘quicker, quicker.’ He was the first vice-president of merchandising here. He’d challenge us to walk through competitors’ prototype stores, where they showcased new ideas, and if we liked something in particular, we would have to execute it faster in our whole chain than the competitor could, even though it was their idea,” says Pete.
“I also learned how to ‘think like a customer’ from Jack Bingleman, the founder of Business Depot. Ed Harsant, our second Canadian president, taught me that it was my job to help people who work with me rather than tell them what to do. And Steve Matyas taught me how customer service and building relationships with customers differentiate retailers. Finally, my father, who owned a service station, taught me about working hard and smart.”
Over the years, there have been many motivations behind Pete, Staples Canada, and the ever-changing industry. In the early days, motivation surrounded the need to grow and figure out the right products for consumers. Over the last decade or so, though, Pete says that motivation has focused around the people he’s dealing with every day.
“Our senior team is filled with really good people. When I first started doing business, I didn’t think I could be friends with the people I work with, but now, I can’t think of anything different. Even though it’s a big company, it really does still feel like a family,” he says. “We have a lot of tenure here. Our average category manager has been with Staples for 16 years.”
Over the years, Pete has gone beyond the workplace and has come to know many people in a different context as he worked on various boards to improve the industry. He sat on the COPA board from 2000 to 2002 and acted as vice-chair in 2003, chairman in 2004 and past-chair in 2005. He also has a passion for sustainability and currently sits on the board of the Electronic Product Recycling Association and co-chairs Staples’ Easy on the Planet (sustainability) committee.
When he’s not working on growing the company or improving the industry, Pete likes to travel, play basketball, and go to concerts with his wife Janice and fifteen-year-old daughter Jenna. He also enjoys coaching his daughter’s rep basketball team.