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November 2011 WHY EDUCATION? We map out opportunities in schools

REBRANDING How can dealers attract education buyers?

EDUCATED SUPPLIES Dealer case study: Office Supplies Now


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one are the days of chalk upon a blackboard, today the classroom is a hotbed of technology, equipment and high standard supplies. The introduction of academies and free schools means that more schools are in control of their own budgets, giving dealers a free rein to approach those who control the overall spend. It seems that budgets are being held by separate departments, opening up further options for dealers on the lookout for business. If you're worried about the requirements of tailoring your sales approach to schools, worry not, we look at how business supplies dealers are perfectly suited to catering to the classroom. We talk to OP dealer John Fitton of Office Supplies Now, who tells us about his success dealing to the education sector. We also speak to leading ICT industry experts about the viability of selling technology into the classroom, and an independent school gives us the inside story on how they choose a supplier.

CONTENTS UPDATE Education news The latest news in education supplies

FEATURE Why education? We map out opportunities in schools Technology and learning Is ICT of value in the classroom?

INTERVIEW Dealer case study: Office Supplies Now We catch up with John Fitton about his successful sales in education

INSIGHT Rebranding for the playground How can dealers make themselves attractive to the education buyer? How I buy We talk to an independent school about its buying habits


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NEWS

ENERGY AND MONEY PROVISION ONE IN 10 PRIMARY KIDS DRIVES DEMAND FOR MPS IN SCHOOLS HAVE IPHONES Progressive schools are investing in technology that delivers long-term savings, with print management and virtualisation providing the biggest ICT savings for schools, according to research by Probrand. Education technology budgets have halved since the Harnessing Technology Grant was cut from £201m to £101m for 2011, yet demand for technology in education and innovative learning platforms continues. Technology services provider Probrand has found that schools are taking a more entrepreneurial view and regularly turning to technologies that drive down long-term operational costs and enhance service provision to users. At the top of the agenda are moves towards complete print management. Education establishments are switching on to the cost containment benefits of rationalising their print estates down to fewer printers that are fully managed, including repair, support and automated replenishment. Probrand is finding the average-sized secondary school with over 800 pupils and 300 computers is saving up to £100,000, while primary schools with 100 pupils and four servers are experiencing savings of around £20,000. These savings stem from a reduction in print estate, adoption of more efficient printers, reduced administration burden on staff and lower, yet predictable costs. Senior education specialist at Probrand, Andy Cartwright said: "With funding cuts to support investment in technology for schools, education establishments are considering cutting edge technology to deliver long term savings. "Interestingly, we have seen enquiries significantly increase for technology that demands higher initial investment but delivers long-term operational savings as well as technology that provides an agile platform for growth in the future.”

DATES FOR THE DIARY BETT SHOW 2012 Dedicated to showcasing the best in UK and international educational technology products, resources and best practice. DATE Wednesday 11 - Saturday 14 January 2012 VENUE Olympia, London THE EDUCATION SHOW 2012 Dedicated to showcasing the best in educational resources and suppliers, The Education Show attracts more than 450 educational suppliers and over 12,000 visitors. DATE Thursday 15 - Saturday 17 March 2012 VENUE The NEC, Birmingham

According to a recent survey, one in 10 kids under the age of 10 already owns an iPhone. The report also found that one in 20 primary school children now owns an iPad. The Westcoastcloud survey of 2,000 parents of children aged 10 and under revealed that half thought their kids would be ‘lost' without technology, as traditional things like days out and sport no longer amuse them. Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet International, commented: "In our work in schools we are often getting asked by parents about the technology their children are using. It is important to help ensure parents are aware of the full functionality of the technology that young children are accessing and that they are able to give the support that young people need to stay safe and get the most out of these devices."

BESA LAUNCHES ‘SUPPORT FOR ALL’ WEBSITE The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) has launched a comprehensive website that offers guidance and advice to companies, educators and parents, ranging from information on suppliers and resources to information on the implication of government policy announcements for both schools and suppliers. The BESA member area of the site provides information on new business opportunities, tenders, research findings, sector awards, daily sector news feeds and a broad range of other services. The member section of the new site is also linked to a BESA member LinkedIn page where members can hold closed conversations sharing ideas and opportunities in order to help drive innovation. Ray Barker, director of BESA, explained: “The more we can help suppliers provide high quality products and services that reflect the needs of schools, the better we support the optimisation of school’s budgets and the improvement of standards within the sector.”

AV FIRM TAKES A SLICE A UK-based audio visual company has fulfilled its biggest single order for large-format front-projection displays from the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Paradigm is to supply over 200 DNP Supernova optical screens within primary and secondary schools in the borough over the next few months. The decision was made following a presentation made by Paradigm to main contractors, Laing O’Rourke, along with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s ICT strategy team. The fit-outs will be carried out by the respective contractors in conjunction with RM Education, the Borough’s ICT partner.


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VALUABLE LESSONS Despite some concerns, spending in education remains strong, with some areas showing growth. Matt Jane considers why dealers should be looking to the education sector to provide them with profitable business opportunities

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here are very few markets in the current economic climate that dealers can look at with genuine confidence and optimism. The education sector has received its share of negative reports amid concerns over the financial stability of schools and colleges. Yet, despite concerns from some areas, education remains a potentially lucrative market for office supplies dealers, with continued investment, the necessity for ongoing spending and the opportunity to develop long-term customer bases. More than a year has passed since the coalition government claimed power, and the education sector has changed beyond recognition in many areas. Education Secretary Michael Gove has been quick to stamp his mark on the country’s schools and colleges, which has resulted in new opportunities for dealers. The introduction of academies has opened the door for new suppliers into the sector, while free schools are the latest development that could open the door to further investments.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES Gaining academy status has proved a popular move for state schools across the country, with the latest government figures showing that over 40% of England's secondary schools have either converted to academies or are in the process of converting. In fact, in some areas, such as the London Borough of Southwark, all secondary schools already have academy status. The significance of this to the office supplies dealer should not be underestimated. Having academy status means that schools are no longer reliant on the local education authority for their supplies and have


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40 49 33 of secondary schools are now academies

Next year, 1/2 of lesson time will be spent using ICT

of primary schools and

of secondary schools expect to maintain or increase ICT spending over the next year

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Schools know that they must continue to invest in ICT to stop a new form of digital divide being created, between schools

complete autonomy over purchasing decisions. Previously, they would have to source products and services through approved suppliers, whereas academies are free to source the best deal from wherever they like, thus opening the market to all dealers. As existing academies, of which there are over 1,300, acclimatise to their new-found purchasing freedoms, the government is planning to further expand the programme to open up the market to all educational institutions. Joe Farrell from the Department for Education academy convertor division says the number of schools making the switch is predicted to grow. "Ministers would hope that all schools would be applying to become academies as soon as possible," he says. "They believe academy status and the freedoms it offers is right for schools." Furthermore, the free school programme, which took effect in September, will see a whole wave of new education providers established over the coming years. Original take -up of the scheme, which allows schools to be established in a range of settings by any approved party, including parents and teachers, saw 24 new schools open their doors this term. That is two dozen new avenues for dealers to open

PROMISING SPENDING

discussions, and there promises to be even more once this flagship programme gathers momentum. Another new development is for schools federating together to draw on the synergy of purchasing in groups. Whether it is through formal groups of school federations or occasionally joining forces for large investments, it presents dealers with the opportunity to secure larger, more lucrative contracts with schools placing bigger orders.

behind the new wave of educational institutions, helping to grow the sector as a whole. After months of waiting to see how the educational changes would be adopted, more schools than ever are getting behind the schemes set out by the coalition government. Spending may not be as prolific as in previous years, but the truth remains that the changes present dealers with new opportunities, a new customer base and new and exciting products to take to market. n

The statistics surrounding education spending patterns paint an optimistic picture of the sector as a whole. A recent report by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) shows a growing demand for ICT usage in the classroom. It is predicted that by next year, more than half of lesson time will be spent using ICT to teach pupils. Importantly, schools are also earmarking technology as an area for improved expenditure, with 49% of primary and 33% of secondary schools stating that they were going to maintain or increase investment in ICT over the next year. Director of BESA Ray Barker says there is definite ground for optimism within the education sector. “The BESA ICT in UK State Schools' research indicates that despite negative views about the funding of ICT, an increasing amount of pupil time is exposed to teaching and learning using ICT,” he says. “We have to be clear that schools are not going to be told what to do any more so don’t need to wait to be guided by the government on their ICT investments.” The new schools that have been established since the coalition came to power are also helping to drive investment. Barker suggests that existing schools will not want to fall


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What’s IT good for?

h ver how muc o g in g ra te a With a deb ucation, Matt d e s e v ro p technology im ational ICT c u d e g in d a me le Jane asks so continue to ld u o h s ls o o h sc experts why nology invest in tech


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ue to invest in n ti n co ls o o h sc ld u o Why sh on benefits? ti ca u d e e th e ar at h w ICT and

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recent report from the New York Times suggested that investment in technology in the classroom does not lead to better academic performance, potentially casting a doubt over the state of the education market in the wider world and questioning the rush to integrate the best technology in schools. The report, based

“In my opinion, this survey shouldn’t change anything for dealers, as schools will always need to find the right technology to enhance and support education. The purpose of technology in schools is to bring ideas and concepts to life in the classroom and help pupils to maximise their potential. “Academic performance isn’t driven by technology, technology is a solution that supports academic performance. Ask any teacher and I think you’ll find they say that they are absolutely embracing technology and constantly looking for new and innovative ways to get pupils learning in an attention-poor world. “Today’s young people have been born into a digital world and their whole lives revolve around technology. Today’s schooling has to reflect that, so is heavily focused around e-learning, with children

on schools in Arizona that spent around $33m on technology, concluded that it could stagnate learning in the long-term, with Professor Larry Cuban from Stanford University stating: “There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the [technological] engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement.” So what does this mean for office supplies dealers looking to target the education market in the UK and how can they counter any concerns that schools may have on reading this research? We ask some leading experts from the IT sector.

using mobile technology, laptops and the internet to carry out projects and homework. “Teachers are under big pressure to get results and we see our role as working at their side to help achieve these results, by constantly innovating technology to provide new solutions for schools.” PHIL JONES, SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR, BROTHER

“Productivity is the key to improving our education systems across the world and children learn most effectively when subjects are made relevant to their lives. It is often easier to bring subjects to life and demonstrate complex concepts through technological resources. Technology encourages interaction within the classroom. This increases participation and inclusivity, ensuring that different types of learners, from diverse backgrounds, and with varying levels of confidence, all learn productively and gain core social skills. “The latest technologies, such as multi-touch interactive whiteboards, engage with students in a way that echoes the technology they are familiar with away from the classroom, such as smartphones and iPads. This makes learning relevant to the outside world and more natural for pupils. “Investing in technology also has benefits for teachers, increasing their access to online materials, providing efficient ways of performing tasks and reducing the amount of ancillary work needed to execute a lesson plan. Furthermore, technologies such as learner response systems offer an invaluable means for both formative and summative classroom assessment in real time. “Ultimately, the success of technology in the classroom is a direct result of the investment in it and the ability to integrate it with established teaching practices. Technology cannot replace traditional teaching methods, but with the right training and support, it has the potential to enhance best practice, efficiency and results. JIM WYNN, CHIEF EDUCATION OFFICER, PROMETHEAN

“I was surprised to read the New York Times report suggesting that investment in technology in the classroom does not lead to better academic performance. There’s a wealth of existing research suggesting the contrary; that ‘active’ learning, supported by technology, is beneficial to learning. Active learning involves a mixture of listening to, demonstrating and interacting with subject material. Ideas, concepts, data and other information are associated with images – with the concept that visual aids help enhance thinking and learning skills. Within this, technology such as interactive projectors and visualisers is crucial in presenting and displaying the many visual elements. “Over the years, numerous studies have supported this connection between technology and learning – specifically that the quality, range and topicality of visual-data presentation, combined with skilled teaching, is likely to enhance pupils’ learning experience. Real world examples also reinforce this. During 2009-2010, for example, Cromer High school invested heavily in its ICT system and visualiser technology, and saw its evaluation from Ofsted inspectors change from a ‘notice to improve’ to ‘good, providing outstanding features’. Technology was judged to be one of the crucial elements in this transformation.” GRAEME DAVIDSON, CATEGORY MANAGER, AV, EPSON >


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[A recent study into the effects of 3D technology in schools] compares the difference in comprehension, information retention and overall behaviour between students learning via traditional methods versus learning via 3D projection. The results indicate a marked positive effect of the use of 3D animations on learning, recall and performance in tests. Under experimental conditions, 86% of pupils improved from the pre-test to the post-test in the 3D classes, compared to only 52% who improved in the 2D classes. Within the individuals who improved, the rate of improvement was also much greater in the classes with the 3D. Individuals improved test scores by an average of 17% in the 3D classes, compared to only an eight per cent improvement in the 2D classes between pre-test and post-test. “The marked improvement in test scores was also supported by qualitative data that showed that 100% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that 3D animations in the classroom made the children understand things better, and 100% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the pupils discovered new things in 3D learning that they did not know before. The teachers commented that the pupils in the 3D groups had deeper understanding, increased attention span, more motivation and higher engagement.” NEIL HARTIGAN, CHANNEL DIRECTOR, NEC

“In-house printing technology can deliver cost savings and add educational value. A recent survey from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) found the UK education sector could save £245m per year by adopting smarter, more efficient printing practices, partly by moving expensive outsourced printing in-house, and partly from more efficient management of existing inhouse printing tasks. “Printers also add value by enabling schools to customise documents more easily. At OKI, we’ve developed free ‘in-the-box’ utilities, which enable schools to tailor material to their needs. This type of software can support teachers’ lesson preparation by enabling them to create and modify templates for presentation boards, posters and banners to inject excitement into the learning experience. Equally, efficient printing can help engage children by bringing coursework and projects to life with high-quality colour printouts. “High-quality in-house printing can also be a source of incremental revenues for schools and for pupils. Printers can be used to produce materials that can then be sold for profit –items for the school fair or Christmas cards designed by the children, for example. In this way, they can be self-funding and at the same time help instill commercial awareness into pupils.” ANDREW HALL, MARKETING MANAGER, OKI

“Are you a parent? Do you want your children to be at the cutting edge of technology as it increases its tentacles into every aspect of home and work life? I am and yes I do! Are you an employer? What key skills are required to hire a new employee? Well, ICT skills are very high up on the list. If you agree with these points, then teaching ICT must be considered a priority for our children in the UK. “Pupils will demand to use ICT products that they want to engage with and enabling this will be any school’s greatest challenge and will require teachers and IT managers to be current, constantly trained and supported by their value-added reseller – whether an office products supplier or IT supplier. Such resellers need not be wary of the need for ICT in schools, but need to inspire the teaching community to use ICT effectively and not oversell!” ALEX TATHAM, SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR, WESTCOAST

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“Technology for the sake of having technology never works. Dealers need to understand what a school wants to achieve and advise them on the best type of technology that will help them with attaining these goals. It is important to engage the schools’ senior leadership team to ensure that the technology is adopted and that training is undertaken to get the best from new technology investments. For example, if a school wants to foster a more reflective way of learning, products such as Smart Response voting systems encourage pupils to think about the 'how and why' rather than just learning by heart. “Technology should be an integral part of how a teacher inspires their class to become actively engaged in their learning and gain deeper understanding of a subject. Where this has been achieved, the results are amazing and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this. Ian Morrel, deputy headteacher at Titus Salt School, is one example: 'The introduction of Smart Boards really did engage the boys a great deal. We’ve reduced the gender gap for GCSE results from 25% down to six per cent' " “Schools should continue to invest in technology for cost efficiencies and energy savings too, for example with the latest BenQ SmartEco projectors you don’t need to compromise between getting full brightness and a better lamp life, while saving energy and money by 50%. You can have your cake and eat it.” MARTINE DODWELL-BENNETT, SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR, STELJES n

Technology should be an integral part of how a teacher inspires their class


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EDUCATED SUPPLIES Last month, MD of Office Supplies Now John Fitton tweeted about his record-breaking August sales results, generated in part by the company’s growing education offering. He tells Nina Rosandic why dealers should be selling into schools

WHAT PERCENTAGE OF YOUR SALES IS GENERATED THROUGH SCHOOL CLIENTS? August was a particularly large percentage – around 25% of our sales were generated through schools, although our year average is more like 15%. Realistically, with the way it’s growing, with 40% year-on-year growth selling into schools, there’s no reason why it won’t represent more like 30-35% going forward a year or two. We have about 400 regular customers and only about 30 of those are actually schools. It still represents a small part of what we do, but we’ve entered a rapid growth period as we’ve learned what they like about our service, which is the personal touch.

WHO IS YOUR MAIN COMPETITOR? Most schools in our area use Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation (YPO), a local authority purchasing consortium. They have great prices and a thick catalogue of 2,000 or so pages, with everything a school could need, but the lead times are quite John and Avril Fitton

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SUPPLYING THE EDUCATION MARKET? As a company, we are now in our sixth year, and for the last three we’ve grown in the education market. In the last year alone we’ve grown our sales into education by about 40%.

long. By waiting weeks for a delivery, the schools have to find out what they want in advance, plan out and measure the rooms – whereas we go in and do that for them. A personal touch is what the schools like and we’ve sold on that service. We’ve got testimonials from the schools that use us and we’ve used that as a marketing tool. We go in and say: “Right, we cater to every school in your town; this is why they use us; can we speak to you about that service?” 

It’s very safe business; the school’s always going to pay you and pay you quick, so there’s no risk of debt


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DO YOU TEND TO FOCUS ON LOCAL BUSINESS? The bulk of our business has been built on local customers within a 30-mile radius. Our own council procurement department has encouraged local businesses to get involved with buying locally off one another. Whereas the councils are a bit more tied, the schools now have their own budgets, so they’ve actively encouraged us to approach schools. It has become more of a hunting ground for us.

WHICH PRODUCTS WITH SCHOOLS?

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We’re stronger in terms of equipment, like noticeboards, dry wipe boards, and furniture – that makes up a big chunk of what we sell to schools. We’ve sold a few Smart Boards, and other interactive whiteboards. Spicers and VOW aren’t that strong in terms of education offerings. Although VOW has grown its range, there could be more. There are educationspecific furniture and equipment manufacturers and we’re now finding ourselves dealing directly with the suppliers the wholesalers are buying from, and cutting out the middle man.

COMPANY CV NAME: John Fitton POSITION: MD COMPANY: Office Supplies Now WEB: www.officesuppliesnow.co.uk

INTERVIEW

We’re are also one of the first dealers to employ Officepoint’s new digi-cat: an online education flippy catalogue that hosts products designed specifically for pupils, like exercise books, arts and crafts, and various items that we’ve never had access to before. That launched in September and we’ve launched an email campaign to make sure it gets round to our schools, but like anything, I think it’s better in person, so we go in there and demonstrate the other products we’ve got. We have recently recruited a new member of staff who focuses purely on education. There are 600 schools on our database in the North West and she’s phoning them with a view to getting appointments with schools so that we go in and let them know what we can offer.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FACED BY DEALERS SELLING INTO THE EDUCATION MARKET? What took us a while is working out who to sell what to, as they don’t seem to have one person who covers everything. For example, you may have a facilities manager; a business manager; a reprographics person; teachers with a budget; and there’s normally a bursar. At some schools we have really strong relationships with facilities, but not particularly with the bursars – and vice versa. So if you don’t have success with one person, dig a bit deeper and find out which other people are buying different products. Of all the schools we deal with, we are yet to gain 100% of their buying – we’re still digging out other areas.

SO, IN SUMMARY, WHY SHOULD DEALERS SELL TO SCHOOLS? HOW ABOUT TRADITIONAL STATIONERY? We find that [schools] order a very limited range of traditional stationery items, however, what they do buy they buy in massive bulk. For example, paper, laminating pouches and binding products – that seems to be where the money goes. Another area we’re yet to grab in our schools is cartridges. Teachers each have a printer by their desk, obviously they have big copiers and a huge amount of copying and printing. The majority of schools will have an IT accounts person who handles all printer cartridges, who needs to be addressed.

HOW DO YOU MARKET YOURSELVES TO SCHOOLS? When we go into a school and say we’re from Office Supplies Now, it doesn’t give off the right message. So we’ve just created a specific education division to differentiate it from the office supplies market and rebranded that arm with a separate website called Education Supplies Now.

It’s been very successful for us – and it’s very safe business; the school’s always going to pay you and pay you quick, so there’s no risk of debt. As we’re finding, there are so many different areas within the school where money can be spent. It’s very hard to get into, but now that we’ve got some really good referrals and testimonials, it could potentially snowball. Once you’ve got the credibility and reputation with a school, you’re on your way, as they do tend to refer to each other. The bursars and headteachers have regular meetings and conferences and we’re trying to get a slot for a fiveminute presentation to sell ourselves. It’s a good market to get into, and we very much focus on the personal touch of the dealer and the faster service that they won’t be able to get with the likes of YPO. YPO is cheap, but not as great on delivery. Yes, we can compete, but we can also get it to you a lot quicker – that tends to make their ears prick up. n

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We’ve just created a specific education division to differentiate it from the office supplies market


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PLAYGROUND REBRANDING Forging client relationships with schools need not be a hard task, as dealers are already well-equipped with the product base and service values to attract business from classroom spenders. Jonathan Hills looks at how selling to the education sector is something every dealer can do

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nowing your audience and catering for your customer is a prospect we are all more than familiar with, and dealers need to keep this in mind when chasing new business avenues, such as the education sector. It's all very well having the products to sell, but with education-specific suppliers chasing the same clientele, how can you ensure your service is attractive and suitable prospect to a school's needs? Though there may be a number of ICT, presentation and education-specific products, of which dealers have increasing access to from the wholesalers' expanding education catalogues, it's worth keeping in mind that product sales are not entirely dependent upon the provision of equipment to students and teachers; schools also have large administration departments. This allows for the sale of technological hardware, software programmes, hi-tech equipment, consumables and traditional pen and paper supplies within the office. The issue for dealers therefore becomes one of introducing oneself to the sector. Finding contacts in this respect is rather easy just by looking close to home: schools are prolifically distributed and nearly everyone has a viable contact through their or their colleague’s children.

When dealers look to supply a building company, they don’t consider selling bricks! They sell the products that they specialise in

Neil Basham, purchasing director at Integra, believes that conditions for selling to the education sector remain more optimistic than other areas, considering the current economic climate. “The education market is significant and although there has been recent public spending cuts, the impact to education is minimal, with only a one per cent annual saving needed – over the next three years the education budget has been increased,” he says. Acquainting yourself with the idiosyncrasies of the education sector will increase your chances of selling successfully to an educational institution, so bear in mind the individual you are selling to and what they are looking for in a supplier. “Schools respond better when there is a 'one-stop' approach, says Basham, “but it is important that dealers sell themselves as product and supply experts, so it’s really important that they understand what they are selling. "

TAILORED DEBATE

Wholesalers and dealer groups are finally sitting up and helping dealers to package their offering and promote to the education sector, through special 'for school' catalogues and marketing tools. Some dealers have even gone as far as to

Chris Collinson, MD of Superstat, believes that many dealers are not taking the correct approach to trading with the education sector. He thinks that there is very little, if anything, that dealers have to do to adapt to the education sector client and that dealers shouldn’t get carried away with selling products out of their remit. “I don’t believe dealers have to change their image at all,” he states. “They are specialist office supplies dealers wishing to sell office supplies into schools. The products that dealers are able to sell into schools are the same products that

launch an education division to their business to differentiate themselves and make their company a more viable choice. As a dealer, you may have to present your school products differently to ensure they become more attractive to those in control of purchasing within the education sector. It is possible that you may have to source a few additional products to keep your clients satisfied, but fundamentally there remains little else to do but repackage your existing supplies for this new client.

they sell into an engineering company. They will be supplying the school’s office.” Collinson emphasises how many dealers tend to misunderstand or become daunted by selling to the education sector, that they must adapt their products and change their look to enter the market. “For some reason lots of dealers shy away from it, believing they need to be able to compete on exercise books and the like in order to supply,” he says.

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“This is simply not true; schools have huge administration requirements that office product dealers are perfectly placed to provide.” Many dealers make the mistake of trying to incorporate every product in the sector they are attempting to move into, according to Collinson. “They do not need to take on the sports equipment supplier and to be honest, without huge investment they wouldn’t stand a chance, but the sports equipment supplier doesn’t sell office supplies,” he says. “Schools buy paper, clipboards, diaries, presentation equipment, office furniture, staplers, EOS, and much more, just like any other business or organisation,” continues Collinson. “All dealers have to do is treat them like any other potential customer and make them aware of the dealer's offering. “When dealers look to supply a building company, they don’t consider selling bricks! They sell the products that they specialise in,” he adds. There is still a point to be made concerning the role that dealers play as the personable source for office equipment, and this point, as Basham believes, remains a necessary virtue of the office supplies dealer. “There is definitely more than a 'dressing up' of dealers’ existing range” to adapt to the education sector. The opportunity is large and there needs to be a real understanding of how schools work and the kind of product needed,” he says. “Plus there is an essential requirement for IT infrastructure compatibility to ensure schools can continue to meet their legal and regulatory obligations, both to the Department for Education and their relevant local authority. “Dealers need to demonstrate understanding and relevance for the education sector – it’s important that dealers do not try to be anything else, but hold true to their ethical business approach and exceptional service; the dealer has a strong proposition for the education sector that fits with their existing business approach.”

THE VERDICT Clearly there is debate surrounding the issue. Collinson’s opinion remains that dealers should not be pandering to products outside of their remit to sell to a sector that is in need of the supplies they are trading with anyway, and this is something to keep in mind when approaching this market. However, the new clientele may require a one-stop-shop solution, and by gaining the office supplies business, you are well-placed to offer further equipment such as AV, IT, arts and crafts, and classroom furniture into schools, and it would be an oversight to ignore these opportunities. It is becoming easier to supply schools, with more niche equipment easily available to dealers through the leading wholesalers. As Basham states, the focus should be on the conduct of dealers with their clients and the level of specialised attention that dealers should bring to the table that the larger suppliers are unable to offer. With the recent changes affecting the schools in the UK and greater autonomy being given to those who hold the purse strings, there has never been a better chance to explore the potential that exists within the sector, and considering a tailored approach or specialised division to capitalise on this may be worthwhile. n

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WHAT AREAS OF PURCHASING ARE YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR? My main areas of responsibility for purchasing are utilities; insurance; financial services; telephone – both fixed and mobile; stationery and publicity materials; advertising – both PR and recruitment; and catering. My estates manager requires me to source building and decorating materials and sub-contractors, [while] the residential services manager requires all cleaning products. In general, if there is a large purchase or investment to be made in school then I will oversee the quotation process.

WHAT ARE THE KEY THINGS THAT DRIVE YOUR DECISIONS WHEN INVESTING IN PRODUCTS? We look at cost, quality and value for money initially. Interestingly though, the final decision can be swayed by service; if a local supplier can deliver an excellent service and be called and relied upon at short notice, this can be of more advantage than the lowest price. For some areas of purchasing, reputation is critical, e.g. insurance. This is a very competitive market and one where quality

INSIDE SECRETS In order to gain a better understanding of supplying to the education sector, Matthew Jane speaks to Julie Davis, bursar at The Mount School, a leading independent school in York, to get an insight into how she buys her products and services and what she looks for in a supplier

is of the essence. Relationships and confidence in your supplier help enormously to ensure you achieve the most appropriate products or services required. The capacity to be able to have a robust conversation with the sales representative has to be a prerequisite to ensure the relationship remains balanced and focused on the school’s ever-changing needs.

HOW DO YOU LIKE TO BE APPROACHED BY COMPANIES AND SERVICE PROVIDERS? For all those cold callers out there – I never appreciate this. Email can be a way in – a speculative email arrived for document scanning just as we were clearing a cupboard and wondering how to archive the papers. So, a telephone call to the company, much discussion on price and process and 33 boxes later, we have all the paperwork on CD! Researching local companies is always my first option and then casting the net wider if needed. Personally I prefer initial face-to-face contact, if this can be achieved, particularly if we are looking to seek quotations for a significant project.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN TERMS OF LONG-TERM SUPPORT AND ADVICE FROM SUPPLIERS? We always aim to achieve a good working relationship with our suppliers. We want them to want to supply to us as much as we want to use them. Although, being mindful of being lulled into a false sense of security has to be on the watch list. If the supplier is offering the best deal then they will never be afraid of us ‘testing the water’ to benchmark prices, service or quality.

DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPERIENCES OF SUPPLIERS BEING REALLY HELPFUL OR, ALTERNATIVELY, LETTING YOU DOWN? When reviewing our insurance we approached our current provider plus two other local brokers. One of the local brokers offered us a full audit of our insurance. I hadn’t reckoned on the extent of the service that would come free of charge! I walked away with the report believing that they would never deliver on price as well and was more than pleasantly surprised. This proved that for some companies, service is of the utmost importance and the relationship continues to blossom. Catering has been an area where the learning curve has been steep. This is an area where the school felt price was the best measure of suitability. The expense of correcting this was not just of a monetary value but also came in management time and effort. The extra cost invested, interestingly in the skill base, has been immeasurable and has probably been one of those turning points for looking at how and why the school uses the suppliers it does. n


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