Independent Dealer June/July 2023

Page 1


the official publication of WSA


Editorial &

Changes Two

It is around this mid-point of the year that we start to take stock of our performance thus far.

I spoke in this column last month about some of the changes that have taken place in the industry since the pandemic; and over the past six months, these pages have carried news of a change of ownership at a number of different dealers, vendors and wholesalers. We’ve had changes in leadership in all those categories as well; and, of course, our trade body (of which we are the official publication) has rebranded as the WSA.

You may also have noticed some changes in the publication itself. Since the beginning of the year, we have been making a few subtle changes to the design of the magazine, the most recent of these being the addition of a contents column (just to the right of where you are looking now). This is in response to a request from readers to help

them navigate the magazine more easily.

We very much hope you like the tweaks we have been making; but if there are any others you think would improve the magazine, please don’t hesitate to let me know. (I can’t promise they will all be made, but they will certainly be considered.) I look forward to hearing from you.

Going foward, we will continue to evaluate what we are doing at INDEPENDENT DEALER to ensure you get the most from the magazine.

All that remains is for me to say have a fantastic summer and a wonderful July 4 holiday. We’ll see you again in August…


Good things happening to independents


Office360, Indianapolis, Indiana




Part of the furniture: There has been growth in furniture sales since the pandemic; but is that growth sustainable?



We take a look at some of the winners from this year’s show in Chicago


44 Tom Buxton: Fishing, hunting or dating?

46 Troy Harrison: Managing your processes

48 Marisa Pensa: Answering customers on pricing

50 Mara Gannon: Tips for humanizing your brand

Finance and operations Kelly Hilleard Head of creative Joel Mitchel Digital manager Aurora Enghis

Rowan McIntyre, editor and publisher
Editor and publisher Rowan McIntyre Associate editor Lisa Veeck Head of media sales Chris Turness
An OPI publication INDEPENDENT DEALER the official publication of WSA
Hilleard Director Janet Bell

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Emerald Business Supply celebrates 35 years

Emerald Business Supply, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has never had a customer service department—and after 35 years of commercial success, it plans to keep things that way.

“At Emerald, we view customer service as the entire company, not just one department,” explains vice president of sales and operations Jaret Lyons. “It’s been part of our company’s fabric since our founding in 1988. This way of thinking has become even more critical over the past few years as most of our competitors have moved away from a true customer service model. They have lessened their ‘feet on the street,’ focusing more on driving sales via telemarketing and website analytics; and if we are blunt, they don’t care about the customer as much as we do. Our team approaches every day with one goal: to make every customer feel like our only customer. It’s something we live by at Emerald; and it’s demonstrated every day with the hoops we will jump through to ensure 100 percent customer satisfaction.”

And whatever those hoops, the company ensures the outcome is the same. “Need a delivery at 5:00 am? We will be waiting for you at 4:45 am,” adds Lyons. “Need something right away for that important afternoon meeting that’s just popped up? If it’s not in our warehouse and not available by Will Call at one of the wholesalers, our reps will go anywhere and everywhere to get the products you need. Customers will never forget when their sales rep comes through during the most critical times. Some of our biggest accounts have come from these types of opportunities.”

“Emerald Business Supply was founded 35 years ago by my father and

four uncles,” says managing partner Mike O’Connell Jr. “Three worked for one office products dealer and two worked for its biggest competitor. Eventually, the brothers decided that, given their combined experience, they should open their own business—and Emerald Business Supply was born. I grew up at Emerald and took over about eight years ago. My dad retired four years ago. All my uncles are still involved, as are my cousins and aunts. It’s a true family business.”

That business has really taken off in the last two years, according to O’Connell. Although he says the company is open to expanding through acquisition if the right company comes along, Emerald’s recent growth is attributable to other factors. “We have made a conscious effort to invest in the company, which has included hiring a few seasoned sales reps,” he explains. “As a result, our furniture sales have doubled in the last two years. Before, office products were 80 percent of our

sales and furniture 20 percent; now it’s more like 60 percent to 40 percent. In dollars, furniture now accounts for about $4 million out of our total sales of $16 million.”

A beefed-up social media presence has also helped Emerald’s expansion. “Jaret likes to be hands on and he’s done a lot on social media, especially LinkedIn,” says O’Connell. “I’ve been in business myself for 25 years, and we’ve rarely gotten the calls we do now. The fact that they can find us on social media creates great business opportunities.”

Another growth factor is the company’s deep roots in the community. “Since our inception, we’ve championed our community,” explains O’Connell. “Since COVID-19, the Philadelphia area has really preferred buying from local businesses and the ‘buy local’ push has been extremely successful for us. It helped us land a $1 million contract. Of course, we must also provide good service and reasonable pricing.”

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And O’Connell has some other tips for companies keen to emulate Emerald’s success. “Invest 100% in the business,” he advises. “We’ve always been a good company but hiring the right people has made it great. We invest in our people, technology, trucks and whatever is needed. Also, we are nimble and able to make changes on the fly. How we are set up makes us flexible—a trait that has come in handy, especially over the last two years. Many companies, especially the big box stores, have a lot of red tape that we don’t.”

Lyons suggests the company’s future fortunes lie in continuing to do what they do best.

“First, consistency will be key for our continued success,” he predicts. “We know our greatest success will be achieved by focusing on never losing a customer over product, pricing or service. Those are things within our control, and we will remain heavily focused on consistently delivering on those keystone concepts. Referrals are the lifeblood of our company’s success. We focus on providing the same level of service to a two-person office as we do for a 500-person office. Employees no longer stay with the same company for decades. This allows us to grow our business because employees have such a great experience with us, they recommend us to their new employers.

“Second, we will continue to invest heavily in personnel, technology and

real estate,” he continues. “While we like to swing for the fences when it comes to company and talent acquisitions, we also love the grind of growing through baby steps. As long as we continue doing the right things, our revenue and customer growth will be proportionate with our infrastructure. Just like in Monopoly, we need to build evenly or we risk spreading ourselves too thin in terms of service and customer intimacy. We will never get away from that.”

While both men are sure Emerald’s future is bright, Lyons is careful not to over-forecast. “What will keep us successful in coming years may be different today than in a year or two,” he says. “We are enjoying this journey and all the challenges along the way. But we want to ensure we don’t get

too far ahead of ourselves. It’s easy to get wide-eyed and want to take on the world. We have much more to accomplish in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. While our revenue has doubled in just one year for all the right reasons, we are just scratching the surface.

“With rapid growth comes inevitable growing pains,” he acknowledges. “The silver lining is that it leads to better communication among team members—even when it comes from a place of frustration. When team members stop giving their opinion, it means they no longer care; so we are constantly inviting feedback from every employee in every department. So, when it comes to where we see ourselves in the next 35 years, we don’t want to look past these next few critical years. If things continue going our way, we will be in the $30 million to $50 million range quicker than we ever imagined. While we feel we have the core group of talent to grow our company geographically, we also want to make sure we don’t lose focus on the necessary steps along the way. Emerald is all about singles, doubles and triples. The home runs will come as a result of all the work we are putting in every day. We feel it’s our destiny.”

Winner’s Circle

Midwest Single Source, Wichita, Kansas, acquires Roberts Hutch-Line

Midwest Single Source, Wichita, Kansas, has acquired Hutchinson, Kansas-based Roberts Hutch-Line. The acquisition creates a combined company that will serve more than 5,000 customers and generate a forecasted $16 million in revenue in 2023, up from about $12 million in 2022. The financial terms of the deal were not released. Roberts Hutch-Line is expected to transition to the Midwest Single Source brand within the next three months.

Midwest Single Source opened its

doors in 1976; while Roberts Hutch-Line was established in 1894 under the name Leigh and Roberts Printing and Stationery.

“Joining forces with another independent dealer enables us to compete in today’s world and continue exceeding customer expectations,” says Midwest Single Source president Kevin Ulwelling.

Mike Lindt, president of Roberts Hutch-Line, believes joining Midwest will

allow the combined company to leverage strengths and lead to advantages, including expanded promotional products, increased branded apparel capabilities and an enhanced online shopping experience for customers. “Combining purchasing power and upgrading online technology for our customer base makes for an exciting future for our customers, employees and the local community,” Lindt says.


FSIoffice recognized for free furniture installation

FSIoffice, Charlotte, North Carolina, was named a Gold Table Sponsor and presented with an Impact 2023 Award by the Salisbury, North Carolina-based North Hills Christian School. The award was presented at the school’s annual fundraising dinner to thank FSIoffice for donating the installation costs of the school’s large furniture purchase.

“North Hills received a grant from the State of North Carolina for the furniture purchase grant that did not include installation costs,” says Beth Freeman, FSIoffice executive vice president. “An

order of this size needs to be professionally installed, so we donated almost the entire installation cost. The school was extremely grateful for the gift.”

The four-day installation project was completed by FSIoffice’s installation and sales crew, school staff and parent volunteers during the school’s spring break week. Impact 2023 was attended by 250 to 300 people, including current faculty, staff, students, parents, alums and other long-time contributors.

According to Freeman, the donation was in keeping

with the company’s values. “We view our customers as partners in the communities where we conduct business, so we look for ways to improve them in meaningful ways,” she says. “We focus on education because we want each of our communities to continue to grow and prosper, and education is one of the keys to that success. Unfortunately, many of the teachers in our area don’t have all the resources they need to provide top-notch instruction to their students and often spend a significant amount of their hard-earned money on school supplies. Our FSIoffice

Teacher Program is in its 14th year, providing much-needed classroom supplies and furniture to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia schools. When we became aware of the situation at North Hills Christian, we saw it as another way to help educators improve students’ lives.”

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Winner’s Circle

Office360 named Top Workplace

Office360, Indianapolis, Indiana, has been named a 2023 Top Workplace by Indy Star. This marks the fourth year the company has earned the prestigious designation. Company employees select Top Workplace award recipients through a third-party survey of 24 questions about the company’s culture. For 2023, 1,711 organizations were invited to survey their employees. Based on the feedback from the survey, a record 124 organizations earned a Top Workplace recognition. Apparently,

Office360’s 150 employees gave the company high ratings.

“As an owner of Office360, I can’t even express how stoked I am that we’ve been named one of the best places to work in Indy for the fourth year in a row!” says Office360 co-owner Steve Nahmias. “It’s all thanks to our kickass employees, who bring their A game every single day. Seriously, they’re the real MVPs! I’m beyond grateful for their hard work and dedication, which make Office360 such an awesome place to be.”

Perry Office Plus, Temple, Texas, participates in derby

Perry Office Plus, Temple, Texas, recently participated in Temple College’s inaugural Kentucky Derby fundraiser, including entering the stick horse race with “A Perry Fast Pony.” In addition to the mock derby race, the event included drinks, dinner, a silent auction and an awards ceremony for the winner of the stick race, the best-decorated horse and the best hat.

“H.B. and I were born and raised in Temple,” says Lynnsay Macey, who co-owns Perry with her husband H.B. “We both attended Temple basketball and baseball games and camps when we were younger, and H.B.’s grandfather served on the foundation board for many years. I was lucky enough to enroll in Temple College as a junior in high school for dual credit English, and H.B. and I took summer courses there during our college careers. For us, it was an affordable way to receive a top-quality education. We have also seen first hand, through other boards that we sit on, how Temple College positively impacts the youth in our community through programs like the Texas Bioscience Institute and dual credit. Long story short, it is a great

cause—and it didn’t hurt that the event seemed really fun!”

Several organizations entered the stick horse race, with each team creating its own stick horse that reflected the organization. To ensure a level field, each team received a Boardwalk mop as the base of their horse.

“We used a wide variety of items to reflect the various product categories we offer,” said Bonnie Johnson, Perry’s marketing manager. “Everything on our horse is something we have available to purchase—from the rubber gloves to the promotional sunglasses, right down to the googly eyes! The 103 yellow file folders we used for our ‘saddle blanket’ represent our 103 years in business.”

According to Johnson, each stick

horse had a team that included a “jockey,” an “owner” and a “pooper scooper”—roles filled by Lynnsay, H.B. and the company’s former owner, Harry Macey, respectively. The whole team had to participate in the race, which was set up similarly to an obstacle course.

Proceeds from the event are used by the Temple College Foundation to fund programs, including scholarships. Last year the foundation awarded nearly $300,000 to more than 300 students.

“We know the importance of local support and we consider it an honor to have the opportunity to give back to local foundations and non-profits that positively impact our community,” Lynnsay says.


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Fireside Office Solutions partners with Bismarck Cancer Center for Project HOPE

Fireside Office Solutions, Bismarck, North Dakota, staff joined the Bismarck Cancer Center to support Project HOPE Week, May 1–5, 2023. Fireside Office Solutions staff dressed in casual clothes of various colors to support the fight against cancer.

Project HOPE is a week-long community event designed to bring awareness and provide employees of participating businesses and organizations with tips about healthy lifestyles, cancer prevention and early detection of four of the most prevalent cancers in North Dakota, which also include breast, skin and gynecological cancers.

Participating businesses were asked to allow their employees to dress casually and/or wear the cancer

ribbon colors on the designated day to support cancer awareness. Although not mandatory, participants were also asked to make a $10 donation to the Bismarck Cancer Center Foundation. The donations are used to support cancer patients with financial,

transportation, lodging, emotional care, massage therapy and additional needs. The Bismarck Cancer Center provided each participating business with posters, awareness newsletters, stickers, wellness information and more.

DBI We Do Office owner wins Businessperson of the Year Award

Steve Klaver, co-owner, vice president and chief operating officer of DBI We Do Office, Lansing, Michigan, received the Businessperson of the Year Award at the 35th annual South Lansing Business Association award reception on May 17, 2023.

Klaver was chosen from around 20 nominees. To qualify, nominees must be actively involved in the operation of a business. The business must demonstrate creativity and innovation in its various departments, as well as the flexibility to change with the evolving business market. The nominees must also enhance the community’s wellbeing.

“It’s an honor to be nominated,” Klaver says. “Great businesspeople in the Lansing area have won the award previously. It is nice to be recognized by your peers.”

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INDEPENDENT DEALER is saddened to learn of the passing of John Condry of Oklahoma-based independent dealer Sundance Office.

John died at home on May 25, in the arms of his wife Dyan, at the age of 74. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 20, 1949 and attended Edison High School (class of 1967) and the University of Tulsa, graduating in 1970 with a degree in business. He went on to hold many executive roles in retail and apparel in his early career.

John had two children, Jay and Tara, from previous marriages when he met and married Dyan in 1986 and together they had one son, Tyler, born in 1988.

In 1989, John and Dyan purchased a struggling office products business

and started Sundance Office Supply (as it was then known). Despite the fact that Office Depot opened in the city the same year, the couple placed a firm focus on customer relationships and steadily grew the business to become one of the largest independent business supplies dealers in Oklahoma. Their son, Tyler, became president of the dealership in 2021, allowing John and Dyan to step back and enjoy retirement—with John taking up the new hobby of pickleball.

A celebration of life service was held at the beginning of June, and it has been suggested that donations in his honor be made to St. Jude’s, one of Sundance’s favorite charities and a cause that was close to John’s heart.


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Secrets of Success

Office360, Indianapolis, Indiana

Office360 has gone through a few makeovers since it opened as Atlas Office Supply in the 1960s. In 1998, the company was sold to Boise Cascade. The three former Atlas owners— Scott, Steve and Lenny Nahmias—stayed on with Boise for a few years. By 2004, they had all left Boise and opened NowRecords, a document management company, which they sold in 2012. However, before this, in 2008, they decided to get back into office supplies and bought The Office Mart in Fishers, Indiana. In 2010, the company’s name was changed to Office360.

Today, the company enjoys annual sales of an estimated $80 million, selling primarily to the healthcare, legal, state government and nonprofit and commercial markets throughout Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and parts of Michigan, along with some national accounts.

Top secrets

Office360’s principals know the main reasons for the company’s success.

“We are unique in that we do our own IT, including writing all our code for the front and back of our website, rather than relying on a third party,” says Steve. “This allows us to customize our site and do special things for our customers with a fast turnaround time.”

Scott adds: “If we had to send the customizations to a third party, it could take three months and cost a fortune. Having IT staff allows us to implement special programs quickly and is much less expensive.”

Another “secret” that has propelled Office360 to success is the excellent reputation Atlas enjoyed. “When people heard we were getting back into the industry, we were able to bring back many of our senior management, former employees and even some of our competition who wanted to work with us,” Steve explains. “So we have a knowledgeable team.”

On this front, both principals feel strongly about employing specialists. “In my opinion, having specialists on staff is

essential to growth,” Steve elaborates. “We don’t expect our sales reps to be experts in breakroom, furniture, janitorial supplies, promotions and office products. Our reps’ job is to get in the door, then bring the specialists with them.”

Scott agrees: “Our sales reps sell Office360; their job is to get us in the door and build relationships.”

The brothers also believe “buy local” has helped. “The Midwest is very open to buying local,” says Scott. “And we are in a sweet spot between a mom-and-pop company and the big box stores. We have the sophistication of a big company to handle tech needs, but we offer clients a local customer service experience.”

According to Steve, the company’s community work is a further point of distinction: “Community plays a big role in our success. When people buy from us through our Partners in Giving program, the rebates go to nonprofit organizations.”

And the company’s marketing function has done much to promote awareness of these advantages among actual and potential customers. “Marketing is incredibly important, especially in today’s society,” emphasizes Scott; while Adeline agrees: “In today’s competitive market, businesses need to keep their brands out there in front of current customers and prospects.”

According to Adeline, Office360 is active on social media, posting on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram two to three times a week. “It’s important to have your brand recognized on social media,” she explains. “If someone is looking for your company and doesn’t find you on social media, it’s a red flag, especially when you are marketing to millennials.”

Company name: Office360

Headquarters: Indianapolis, Indiana

Top management: Scott, Steve and Lenny Nahmias, principals; Adeline Border, marketing manager

Annual sales: $80 million

First-call wholesaler: Essendant

Number of employees: 150

Online ordering: 94%

Culture club

“Success also requires a good company culture,” she continues. “We have a relaxed, professional culture. People are happy doing their work; many coworkers have formed close personal relationships. A lot of companies have a hierarchy that makes it hard for employees to feel involved. The owners here are transparent; they have an open door, which helps communication. There’s no red tape—it’s not necessary.”

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WSA announces 2023 scholarship recipients

The scholarship committee for the Workplace Solutions Association (WSA), powered by ISSA, is proud to reveal the recipients of the 2023 Independent Office Product and Furniture Dealers Association (IOPFDA) scholarships. The committee—chaired by WSA board member Robin King, former owner of Schwegman Office Supply—awarded a total of US$40,000 to students pursuing higher education.

Established more than 50 years ago by the WSA (formerly known as IOPFDA), the annual scholarship program has awarded nearly $3 million in scholarships to deserving families of office products and office furniture dealers and is supported entirely through individual and member contributions.

“We extend our heartfelt congratulations to these exceptional students for their well-deserved scholarship awards,” said Charlie Kennedy, WSA president and CEO of Kennedy Office Supply. “Each recipient has demonstrated outstanding academic achievements, remarkable leadership qualities, and unwavering motivation. We take great pride in supporting their educational journey and wish them immense success in all their future endeavors.”

This year’s top scholarship recipients, recognized for their exceptional accomplishments, are as follows:

Recipient Name

Carolyn Wei ($6,000 scholarship)

IOPFDA Member Organization


Madeline Brown ($5,000 scholarship) S.P. Richards Co.

Raynor Singleton ($4,000 scholarship) Kennedy Office Supply.

Madison Litzinger ($3,000 scholarship) McCartney’s Inc.

Additionally, the committee announced that the recipient of the George A. Thompson Award, accompanied by a $2,000 scholarship, is Abigail Benson, representing Bluefin Office Group. The annual award, named in memory of George A. Thompson, is presented to an exceptional applicant who not only excels academically but also dedicates their time and effort to community service and assisting those in need.

HNI closes Kimball transaction

US residential and workplace products group HNI has completed its acquisition of Kimball International.

The $455 million deal was announced in March and received approval from Kimball’s shareholders on May 31, having already cleared all regulatory hurdles. Taking out HNI’s hearth division, it will become the number four player in the workplace furnishings sector with sales of approximately $2.2 billion. MillerKnoll and Steelcase each

generate revenue of around $3 billion, while number three, Haworth, recently reported 2022 sales of $2.5 billion.

“The combined companies will have an unmatched comprehensive product offering positioned to benefit from post-pandemic trends,” enthused HNI CEO Jeff Lorenger, who will lead the enlarged organization.

HNI’s corporate HQ will remain in Muscatine, Indiana, while Kimball will continue to be based in Jasper, Indiana.

The winners of additional $2,000 scholarship awards were:

• Sophia Bettinger, Cartridge Savers Inc.

• Savannah Brosius, Guernsey, Inc.

• Kara Dix, Storey Kenworthy

• Rachel Gauthier, Sayes Office Supply

• Julian Hisarza, The Weeks Lerman Group

• Samuel King, Kennedy Office Supply

• Ally Lance, FSI - Asheville Office

• Maria Sickmeier, Complete Printer Source

• Patrick Spencer, Dawkins Office Supply & Equipment Co. Inc

• Tyler Summerville,

The IOPFDA educational scholarship committee and the WSA commend all the winners for their remarkable achievements and look forward to witnessing their continued growth and success. These talented individuals serve as inspirations to future generations, embodying the spirit of excellence, compassion and leadership. For more information, visit

Industry News JUNE/JULY 2023 INDEPENDENT DEALER PAGE 18 If you have news to share, email it to »

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US bans imports from Ninestar

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has banned goods made by Chinese printing giant Ninestar Corporation and several of its subsidiaries from entering the country.

Ninestar and eight of its Zhuhai-based businesses have been added to the entity list of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). The UFLPA—signed into law at the end of 2021—prohibits goods from being imported into the US that are produced either in Xinjiang or by entities identified on the UFLPA entity list, unless the importer can prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that the goods were not produced with forced labor.

“This Administration is committed to eradicating forced labor from US supply chains,” said Alejandro Mayorkas,

secretary of homeland security. “Our department will not tolerate governments abusing human rights and will continue to restrict all goods at our ports of entry that use materials or workers from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where the People’s Republic of China aggressively oppresses and exploits Uyghurs and other Muslim-majority communities.”

Effective June 12, 2023, products made by Ninestar and the following eight subsidiaries will no longer be allowed through US ports of entry: Zhuhai Ninestar Information Technology, Zhuhai Pantum Electronics, Zhuhai Apex Microelectronics, Geehy Semiconductor, Zhuhai Pu-Tech Industrial, Zhuhai G&G Digital Technology, Zhuhai Seine Printing Technology and Zhuhai Ninestar Management.

In a stock market statement, Ninestar said it “strictly abides … by the applicable standards of international labor protection” and “fully protects the legitimate rights and interests of workers.”

It added that it was assessing the potential impact of the ban and would “fulfil the obligation of information disclosure.”

The Chinese government condemned the DHS’s actions. According to Reuters, the country’s Ministry of Commerce said the claims over human rights abuses “lacked factual basis and transparency,” and that China would “take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises.”

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Fellowes opens stateof-the-art Design and Experience Center

Business products vendor Fellowes opened its new Design and Experience Center on June 12 during the first annual Fulton Market Design Days in Chicago. The 12,000-square-foot center has been created to showcase Fellowes’ full range of WorkLife products.

The new center provides an educational and interactive creative space for designers, architects, dealers and end users to collaborate and inspire workplace solutions. The center brings together the full range of Fellowes products under one roof, including furniture, modular walls, air quality, workspace products, and business machines. State-of-the-art technologies allow customers to mix and match and envision their workspace outfitted with Fellowes’ innovative solutions.

“Fellowes is continuing to expand its offering to include a broader range of workplace products and selection,” says CEO John Fellowes. “As part of our 2023 brand relaunch, we felt it was important to re-envision our showroom and in-person brand experience. In developing our new Design and Experience Center, we took a blank sheet of paper approach. We created a vision and concept that honored our legacy but also carried us forward.

“Each area of the new center has been developed for a distinct and specific purpose, to imaginatively serve our customers, the industry, and the market better. I can’t help but also mention that this opening is special to us for symbolic reasons. Just over a century ago, my great-grandfather founded our business just across the river from our new location, and we are excited to reengage in the Chicago neighborhood where it all started. Fulton Market is a growing hub of contract furniture and interiors manufacturers, and we are thrilled to be part of the community.”

The Fellowes Design and Experience Center is located on the ninth floor of 800 W Fulton Market, an award-winning building that is WELL Gold, LEED Platinum and WiredScore Platinum certified. 800 W Fulton was designed by renowned architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Fellowes opened its contract interior design division in 2020, following the strategic acquisitions of Trendway, ESI and AeraMax Professional—three companies strong in the sector.

“Fellowes is well known in the office products industry,” says Mike Smith, Fellowes’ regional sales director. “The new design center will help get the Fellowes name well known in the contract interior design sector.”


Acquisition for Clover

Clover Environmental Solutions has acquired a remanufacturing company as part of its diversification strategy.

Clover—which recently rebranded from Clover Imaging Group to Clover Environmental Solutions—has purchased all the operating assets of America’s Remanufacturing Company (ARC), a returns management and remanufacturing solutions business servicing original equipment manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Financial details were not disclosed.

Headquartered in Augusta, Georgia, ARC describes itself as “the only vertically integrated life cycle management company in North America to offer end-to-end returns management solutions, including receiving and processing, remanufacturing, technical services, recycling, and recommerce.” It operates in several product categories such as small home appliances and consumer electronics, floor care, home comfort, powered hand tools and outdoor power equipment.

Clover CEO George Milton called the acquisition a “pivotal moment

in our diversification and growth strategy.”

“The infrastructure, relationships and expertise that ARC has established during its 21 years of operation, coupled with Clover’s expansive geographic footprint, advanced engineering capabilities and financial resources, uniquely position the combined entity to go to market with true end-to-end returns management and recommerce solutions in North America,” he stated.

ARC CEO David Hogan said the combination was a “game-changer” for the consumer products returns space.

“By taking control of the entire returns, recommerce and recycling reverse supply chain, we can assist our clients in reducing the costs associated with processing returns while also providing them with valuable information on product quality and reasons for return. No other consumer products returns and remanufacturing company in North America can provide the services of the combined Clover-ARC entity.”

Essendant to hold virtual event

Wholesaler Essendant is to host a two-day customer event and virtual tradeshow in July.

The fully online event will take place on July 19-20. The first day will feature updates from Essendant’s leadership team, breakout sessions with guest speakers and a special keynote presentation called “Adapt & Thrive: Leverage Change and Transformation as a Catalyst for Growth” by sales and leadership expert Ryan Estis. Breakout topics include:

• reseller success in B2B ecommerce;

• the environmental, social and governance landscape;

• maximizing cash flow through the value of wholesale;

• cybersecurity; and

• growing your public sector business with PACE

On day two, customers will be able to watch Essendant’s annual supplier awards presentation, where vendors are honored in six categories. This will be followed by a virtual tradeshow featuring key suppliers across top product categories, including office products, janitorial and sanitation, food service, technology, print and imaging supplies, and office furniture.


Omnia Partners buys Premier assets

Group purchasing organization (GPO) Omnia Partners has agreed to buy the non-healthcare operations of Premier for $800 million.

Premier is a key player in the healthcare purchasing market, but has also expanded its membership beyond this vertical to include educational, hospitality and recreation organizations—numbering around 175,000 as of mid-2020. Essentially, this made it a competitor of Omnia and other providers of offered cooperative contracts.

Following the closing of the transaction—which is expected by early August—Omnia will become the primary GPO for these non-healthcare customers.

“The acquisition … strengthens our position in the market and allows us to provide additional value for our members,” said Omnia Partners CEO Todd Abner. “Premier members will continue to enjoy the benefits of Premier’s programs, coupled with expanded access to the extensive Omnia portfolio of contracts. Additionally, these members will benefit from the robust spend visibility and analytics tools that we offer, along with a senior team of subject-matter experts to assist in the procurement process.”

Premier said the move was an “important step in our ongoing review of strategic alternatives” that would allow it to focus on its core healthcare businesses. It didn’t say what it will do with the $800 million in cash it will receive.

Business products organizations that hold Premier GPO contracts include AOPD, Essendant (in partnership with Independent Suppliers Group), Staples and ODP Business Solutions. However, to what extent this transaction will

change things on the ground for them in the near term is not clear. Below is an extract from Premier’s regulatory filing related to the deal:

“For a period of at least ten years following the closing of the transaction, the non-healthcare GPO members will continue to be able to make purchases through Premier’s group purchasing contracts. Both Premier and [Omnia] will have aligned growth incentives and have the opportunity to economically benefit from non-healthcare GPO members’ continued purchasing through Premier’s contract portfolio.”

Holders of both Premier and Omnia contracts will no doubt be hoping for more clarity on the ramifications of the transaction at this week’s Premier Breakthroughs event taking place in Nashville, Tennessee.

New NBPI chair announced

RJ Schinner president Steve Schultz has been confirmed as the new chair of City of Hope’s National Business Products Industry (NBPI) Council and Committee.

Schultz will take over from Scott Light, who recently announced he is retiring from Georgia-Pacific after 25

years with the company. The new chair is a familiar face in the US business products world following a career of more than 30 years that has included senior roles at firms such as United Stationers/Essendant, GOJO, S.P. Richards and Supply Source Enterprises. He joined North American redistribution company

RJ Schinner earlier this year. Schultz has played a significant part in City of Hope’s fundraising efforts over the years; he is a former member of the NBPI Council and was the Spirit of Life Honoree in 2017.

Schultz will be just the eighth NBPI chair since the Council was established 40 years ago. He follows in

the footsteps of Jack Miller, Randy Larrimore, Bob Parker, Ron Shaw, Jamie Fellowes, Wayne Beacham and the retiring Light.



North America registration opens

Worldwide cleaning industry association ISSA has announced that its annual tradeshow—ISSA Show North America 2023—has opened for registration.

The show brings together leaders from the commercial, institutional and residential cleaning community. It is taking place from November 13-16 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is a new venue for ISSA, with the association highlighting the entire event—including the expo, accommodation and entertainment—will now be under one roof.

Industry members are being encouraged to register now for the event, which will host over 70 sessions to enable attendees to keep up to date with the latest developments, trends and issues in the cleaning sector.

BradyIFS acquires in California

Foodservice and jan/ san reseller BradyIFS has expanded its presence in California with the acquisition of Gorm.

Brothers Morten and Michael Riegg founded Gorm in 1992 and have been running the business ever since. The company is based in the city of Ontario, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. It supplies items in a wide range of product categories, including jan/san, food service, packaging, facilities and office.

California is an important market for BradyIFS. Individual Foodservice (the IFS in the company’s name) is headquartered in the Los Angeles area and several acquisitions have been made in the state over the past couple of years.

The terms of the Gorm transaction were not disclosed.


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SSI announces webstore redesign

Dealer technology provider SSI has announced its next major development project.

The Canada-based company is set to launch a new version of SSI Web, its e-commerce platform. It said work is well underway on phase one of the project, which is scheduled for release at the beginning of the third quarter, with additional phases to follow in the coming months.

Fully integrated with its Edge back-office system, SSI said the new webstore will have a redesigned user interface as well as changes to the system architecture to provide a “better and faster” online experience.

“The phase one release will include a redesigned home page and shopping cart, an improved checkout process, and other new features. Subsequent phases will add enhanced item display, improved product search, new admin tools and more,” said the tech provider in a press release.

“Things change quickly on the web,” stated SSI president Charles Russell. “It’s not just features; it’s about the entire user experience, and dealers have to be able to keep up with that. Software providers that aren’t continually improving their

product put their dealers at risk of losing customers.

“For this project, we hired a Google-certified UX designer to work with our developers. He has been analyzing industry websites and helping us incorporate the latest e-commerce best practices.”

The software will be provided to all current SSI Web customers at no additional charge.


AFFLINK names Riffer successor

Jan/san and facilities supplies organization AFFLINK has chosen an internal candidate to succeed outgoing CEO Dennis Riffer.

The marketing and supply chain solutions provider announced in April that Riffer would be stepping down after 20 years in the role. Moving into the hot seat is Michael Wilson, another AFFLINK veteran, who joined the subsidiary of Performance Food Group (PFG) in 2005.

Since then, Wilson has led various business units, including industrial packaging, national accounts, and marketing and events. He was most recently SVP of business development.

In addition to Wilson’s promotion, AFFLINK has named Chip Shields as its chief financial officer and chief operating officer. In his second spell at the organization, Shields has served as VP of finance since 2011.

“AFFLINK is an important division for PFG and continues to be a critical resource to its independent members and preferred suppliers,” said Patrick Hagerty, PFG’s chief commercial officer. “Michael and Chip have done a tremendous job helping grow the AFFLINK business, and we are excited about the prospects for its success under their leadership.”


Senior appointments at Lexmark

Print OEM Lexmark has announced some executive leadership changes.

Company veteran Tonya Jackson has been named chief people officer. Having joined Lexmark on its inception in 1991, Jackson has held various leadership roles in engineering, manufacturing, sustainability and experience design. She was named chief product delivery officer in 2020 and has led global supply chain operations since 2013.

In her new role, Jackson succeeds Sharon Votaw, who will retire after nearly 32 years with Lexmark.

Taking on Jackson’s chief product delivery officer position— responsible for Lexmark’s hardware

and supplies development, supply chain, manufacturing and service delivery—is Billy Spears. He has been with the business since 1997, most recently serving as VP of global service delivery and supply chain operations.

Both Jackson and Spears report to Lexmark CEO Allen Waugerman.

CEO leaves Logitech

Integra Seating appoints Chandra Putnam as new president

Furniture manufacturer Integra Inc. has appointed Chandra Putnam as its new president. Putnam, who has served as director of sales and marketing for the past 19 years, will continue overseeing those functions for the immediate future, while taking on several new responsibilities. These include working with all company department leaders to meet the organization’s business goals; participating in product research, design and development; maintaining budgets to ensure the company’s financial health; and leading Integra’s sustainability efforts.

“I’m excited to take on this new position and help lead Integra as it enters its next chapter of vision and growth,” said Putnam. “We are fortunate to have the finest people working with us who do outstanding

work every single day. I’m looking forward to working more closely with everyone at the company to provide even greater support to our employees and to bring more solutions and innovations to our operational processes and to our customers.”


Darrell has stepped down with immediate effect after more than 10 years in the job.

The 60-year-old is leaving to “pursue another opportunity.” He will stay on with the company for another month to assist with the onboarding of director Guy Gecht, who has been named interim CEO. Darrell joined Logitech in April 2012, becoming CEO at the beginning of the following year.

When Darrell took over, Logitech was heavily reliant on the computer mouse and keyboard categories, which accounted for around half of its revenue of $1.8 billion. Today, the company’s annual sales are over $4.5 billion, and its two biggest segments are gaming ($1.2 billion) and video collaboration ($890 million)—both of which surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gecht, who joined the Logitech board in 2019, will now hold the fort while the company conducts a global search of internal and external candidates for a permanent CEO.

CEO Bracken

Lesro celebrates 50th anniversary

Connecticut-based furniture manufacturer Lesro Industries celebrates its 50th year in business in 2023. Founded in 1973 by Israeli immigrants Alice and Adam Leshem, Lesro has been a steadfast member of the greater Hartford area business community.

With over 100 employees at its Bloomfield headquarters, Lesro makes reception, lounge and waiting area seating for the commercial, healthcare, education and corporate markets, and has manufactured more than 3 million chairs in its 50-year history. Still family owned and operated, Adam Leshem’s sons

Jerry and Ed share ownership and operational duties.

“Having been raised in central Connecticut and afforded many opportunities to relocate our manufacturing business to lower-cost cities outside the state, we made a conscious decision to keep our company here, enabling our employees to work and raise their families in one of the more desirable parts of the country,” said Jerry Leshem.

Lesro Industries’ contributions to the community go well beyond the economic benefits to the area. Giving back and being a good corporate

citizen have always been hallmarks of the Leshem family. The land adjacent to the Bloomfield factory is leased to a farmer. Any revenue generated by this lease is donated annually to veterans’ causes. Additionally, more than 3,200 solar panels were installed on the facility’s roof, enabling Lesro to generate enough energy to operate almost entirely off the electric grid.

Ed Leshem added: “As instilled by our parents, we have always treated our business as an extension of the community insofar as we want to leave behind more than we have been given”.

AIS introduces the new Chelsea Task Chair

AIS introduced its new Chelsea Task Chair at this year’s NeoCon, which took place at The Mart in Chicago in June. It will take orders starting on July 15.

The chair features intuitive adjustments, flexible lumbar support, simplified finishes and toolless, quick-connect assembly.

Key features:

• Striped finish, with black mesh and black upholstered seat with waterfall edge and white frame accents;

• Simple to adjust, with intuitive ergonomic features, including a slim, synchro-tilt mechanism with a two-in-one lever for pneumatic lift;

• Pneumatic seat height adjustment;

• Width-adjustable 3D arms;

• Four-position back stop;

• Black five-star base with black hard casters; and

• Toolless, quick-connect assembly in under three minutes.

Brianne Devine, vice president of product management and design for AIS, is looking forward to the launch: “The feedback we’re getting about the new Chelsea Task Chair has been very positive. Designers are especially pleased that we have an offering that makes a bold, modern statement as they work to create unique and highly functional spaces for their customers.”


Supplying the office of the future

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the slow return to the office, many have opined on how to modernize the work environment to make today’s office more appealing. However, there has been little discussion about the challenges associated with supplying these new offices and how dealers can help their customers.

I came across a National Office Products Alliance special report from Spring 1977 that was dedicated to this topic. In the 1970s, they were already talking about the paperless office. Businesses were just starting to use word processing and trying to determine if it was more than a fad. Micrographics were also coming on

the scene with modern microfilming techniques that could store a whole library in one file drawer.

The electronic miracles that seemed very far out in the 1970s are realities today. However, the alert dealer realized long ago that their business is not simply selling specialty products, but solving the problems of the changing office. The office of the past was designed to provide workers with a functional/comfortable space to do manual tasks. The office of the future is asking you to work out how to:

• optimize the space;

• provide a frictionless home and in-office work experience;

• provide interactive space and

audiovisual solutions;

• ensure strong cybersecurity;

• ensure a clean and healthy environment, including indoor air quality and infectious disease protocols; and

• improve energy conservation and support sustainability initiatives.

Dealers who are helping their customers answer these questions will have great success supplying the office of the future. Don’t get left behind!

WSA Focus

GSA Online Marketplace the new haven for counterfeiters

When you hear “counterfeiting,” your mind doesn’t immediately jump to office products (unless maybe you are in the business). But the rise in counterfeiting of products like office supplies is costing the US economy trillions in lost revenue and causing real hardship for American businesses. According to the Imaging Supplies Coalition, the annual market for counterfeit printer cartridges adds up to roughly $3.5 billion in market value. That hurts your business and your opportunity.

When people hear the word “counterfeiting”, their attention generally turns to counterfeit currency. Did you know that it’s estimated that about 0.01 percent of all money is counterfeit? This may not seem like a lot; but when you consider that there are over $2.27 trillion in circulation, it’s a pretty big number.

And currency isn’t even the biggest problem today. According to studies, as many as 10 percent of all brands are counterfeited and 80 percent of us have bought counterfeit items (not intentionally). I suspect businesses ordering your products are not getting genuine items each time they order and instead are getting these counterfeit products. You get what you pay for; and when you see an original toner cartridge for $300 and then the same item for $50, a lot of small businesses opt for the lower cost

without thinking about the issue of the item being counterfeit or how it will perform for them. Cost is the factor.

The problem with counterfeiting is that it’s getting worse and becoming truly a global issue. It generated nearly $3 trillion in 2022, which is expected to reach over $4 trillion in 2023 (compared to $1 trillion in 2013). Yes, you heard me correctly: $4 trillion. In the US alone, counterfeiting costs our businesses over $200 billion annually. And counterfeiting doesn’t just hurt the businesses’ financial bottom line; it costs jobs. The Library of Congress estimates counterfeiting has led to the loss of over 750,000 US jobs. Like so many other industries, we face worker shortages, and issues like counterfeiting complicate this problem even more. We are talking real dollars and real jobs impacting your business’s growth and frankly its survival.

Now imagine if the federal government decided to create an easy-to-use online ordering platform like Amazon and forced all government buyers to purchase their goods from it. Now envision this platform being controlled by the largest online commercial platform provider in the world. Also envision you having to pay your current industrial funding fee and then another platform provider fee just to be able to sell on this platform. And then finally envision no real protections or rules for selling on this platform or protecting your business. Imagine what this type of government-funded (with your tax dollars) program would do to your business in the future? Wait, that’s right: we don’t have to envision anything—this is already happening.

The General Services Administration’s (GSA) pilot online marketplace program is just another haven for those selling counterfeit office products. You would think a government program like this would have very strict standards. Considering Congress and a lot of consumer protection agencies create a lot of red tape for us companies to do business with the government and consumers,


you might have thought they would create a regulatory framework to protect the government from buying counterfeit products. (I had a hard time keeping a straight face when I typed that sentence.)

The reality is security and rules don’t seem to be high on GSA’s priority list when it comes to its online marketplace. If security and good business practices were part of GSA’s objectives, it would not let one company be the platform provider and also be a reseller of its own products on the platform; but that is exactly what GSA is allowing today. If your business wants to sell to the federal government, you have to cut through a lot of red tape and jump over a lot of overburdensome hurdles to do so. You must prove you are a legit company. You must prove you can provide the products you are offering the government. And you must provide the government with the best possible prices. This is if you want to apply and be approved for a GSA schedule. These same processes are not going to be in place once the GSA’s online marketplace goes live beyond a pilot program. This lack of true oversight and vetting of businesses will create the new Wild Wild West of selling to the government.

According to plans outlined by the GSA during industry day events, the GSA’s online marketplace will not have these same types of rules and regulations. That’s not for lack of trying by the Workplace Solutions Association (WSA) and other industry allies. We have spent several years trying to get the GSA to focus on these issues, without success. It’s hard to compete with the richest platform in the world and the money it has to spend on ensuring the process works in its own best interest and not yours.

It’s also ironic to think that with the government spending $6.5 trillion annually, it would want tighter

restrictions on who it does business with (or even know who it is really doing business with). You would think that’s when the military need computers, USB sticks and other items, they would want to make sure they were not buying counterfeit products or even buying from countries that do not look favorably on the US, but that is exactly what could happen on this new platform.

This is not me saying we need to be worried. In a January 2020 report the Department of Homeland Security issued this concern:

Counterfeits threaten national security and public safety directly when introduced into government and critical infrastructure supply chains, and indirectly if used to generate revenue for transnational criminal organizations. Counterfeits also pose risks to human health and safety, erode U.S. economic competitiveness, and diminish the reputations and trustworthiness of U.S. products and producers. Across all sectors of the economy, counterfeit goods unfairly compete with legitimate products and reduce the incentives to innovate, both in the United States and abroad.

This is exactly what is going to happen if the GSA does not put tighter reins on this platform and provide greater direct oversight.

The Department of Homeland Security’s report went on to add:

In other words, on these platforms, the counterfeit and pirated goods compete unfairly and fraudulently against the genuine items. While counterfeit and pirated goods have been sold for years on street corners, alleys and from the trunks of cars, these illicit goods are now marketed to consumers in their homes through increasingly mainstream e-commerce platforms and third-party online marketplaces that convey an air of legitimacy.

The GSA will provide a new plaform to those who previously sold their counterfeit items “on corners and out of the trunk of their cars.” It may sound ridiculous, but it’s true. The GSA’s online marketplace has the potential to create a new underground marketplace for counterfeits. The kicker here is it will be all done above ground and in plain sight—none of it legal, but accepted based on the lack of rules that will be part of doing business on this platform.

We can’t fix this ourselves. We need other industries to join with us in fighting both the GSA model and the lack of rules governing it. The WSA has worked and continues to work with key allies in Congress toward setting a standard for good government. We are working with members of Congress on a study to show just how counterfeits are currently impacting the marketplace (and your business). We are also asking this study to review the GSA’s approach and how it will open the floodgates to counterfeiting, thus causing great harm to U.S. businesses and creating an even bigger national security threat.

This isn’t a world-beating action, I know; but before we can succeed, we need to prove there is and will be a problem. In Washington, nothing is easy—especially today, when the partisan lines are drawn and it’s harder and harder to find bi-partisan compromise. This is part of our challenge, but WSA is up for it and is going to win. Join WSA in this fight. It’s a problem that touches your bottom line in both the commercial and government markets. As small businesses, we have the juice in Washington to win this battle—but we need your voice!

Let’s do this together. Let’s put Washington on notice that we are willing to protect US businesses—are they?

By Lisa Veeck

So far, so good

Kendall Smith, vice president of office products at Workplace Solutions-Barefield, Jackson, Mississippi, estimates $17 million of the company’s $22 million in annual sales is contract furniture, with most projects being in the $200,000-plus range. “There was a little slowdown in 2020–21; we did some home office sales, but not enough to get excited about,” he says. “But furniture sales have grown since COVID-19. We’ve recovered well.”

Furniture sales have likewise been rising for Ball Office Products in Richmond, Virginia—so much so that

they now account for more than 50 percent of Ball’s total sales, according to owner Melissa Ball.

According to Alan Bird, president of Complete Office Supply, Indianapolis, Indiana: “Business is strong in both types of furniture we sell—the contracted furniture for large projects, which take six to eight weeks from assessment and review to install to complete; and the transactional, where a customer calls looking for desks for two offices. Transactional sales are usually rather quick. These clients want convenience, and the item is usually not for them, so they don’t care so much about the features, like if a chair is

ergonomic. They go on the website and see if it is a good price. Or they say, ‘I have $200 to spend.’ Our transactional sales are typically $20,000 or less. The transactional sales have been quite good and are often more profitable, since large projects include more players and require more aggressive pricing.”

Brad Armacost—principal and president of Contract Furniture Professionals, an independent contract interior rep firm in Louisville, Kentucky—also confirms the furniture market is strong. Yet not everyone is entirely confident this strength will endure into the future.

Vertical growth and slowdowns

While Smith says Workplace Solutions-Barefield tries not to focus on specific verticals, the most significant growth in the last two to three years has been in the banking industry. He attributes this in part to the strong relationship that one of the seven companies Workplace Solutions acquired in the last seven years has with a major bank. However, he admits

There’s no need to discuss the obvious: inevitably, commercial furniture sales were down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, the shutdown is now behind us. However, as with most things in life, there are silver linings—and one of them seems to be the furniture market. The segment is not only recovering but has been booming for many independent dealers—in part thanks to employers’ efforts to lure workers back to the office post-pandemic. Yet some dealers wonder if this growth is sustainable in the long term…

Cover Story

to a slight cooldown in the past six months. “Due to the bank failures in New York and California, a lot of projects have been put on hold,” he explains. Another vertical that has been spending money on furniture is education, specifically colleges and universities. “Many schools received COVID-19 relief money and grants directed to upgrade their facilities,” says Smith. “There is a lot of competition for students, especially at the state university and college level, so most of these are really big projects.”

The company’s third-largest vertical is healthcare, where it has enjoyed growth until recently: “We aren’t the primary vendor, but we have received a lot of business from one very large Louisiana hospital chain that has made a lot of acquisitions. However, some healthcare facilities are putting capital expenditure projects on hold due to concerns over higher interest rates and the country’s rising debt.”

But other verticals are bucking this trend. “We’ve seen an uptick in the

legal segment, with several large law firm furniture projects,” Smith continues. “That growth is primarily through acquisition.”

Bird has found furniture sales to be most robust in the healthcare arena outside of hospitals, such as mental health and addiction facilities; followed by professional services and manufacturing. Other dealers cited similar segments, with many sales driven by a common theme: the effort to entice workers back to the office.

A feeling of home

J.D. Ewing—CEO and chairman of COE Distributing, a 100 percent manufacturer/wholesaler headquartered in Smock, Pennsylvania—has noticed several trends in the office furniture space: “There’s a significant increase in collaborative soft seating. Businesses want to create a homey feel to get people back in the office, even part time. Workers may only go into the office for four hours, but they want to

see more than a reception desk. They want it to be more inviting. Another trend is mobility: companies are buying foldable, storable furniture to create flexible spaces.”

Armacost similarly sees a move toward comfort: “Companies are trying to make the corporate environment more like home by creating the feeling of a café, with upholstered, collaborative areas to sit around rather than just desks and chairs. They want a more comfortable living room atmosphere. Corporate uses a metal or wood base; in K-12 and higher education, it is predominately metal.”

According to Smith: “Post-COVID-19, there is much more concentration on interior design and many companies are sparing no expense on breakroom lounge areas, buying new furniture and things like flat-screen televisions. Even firms that are not expanding are renovating their breakrooms to create spaces so employees will want to return to the office. The spaces are also more collaborative. After all the


Zooming during COVID-19, people missed interacting with their peers. For example, there’s been a move toward open, collaborative spaces in the legal sector, especially with paralegals. Attorneys primarily had hard walls and so did paralegals; now, we are beginning to see them in more open spaces. And the education sector wants touchdown spots where people can plop down, pull out their laptops and plug in instead of having a student union. Hipper furniture and a coffeeshop atmosphere are driving factors in student recruitment, which is incredibly competitive now.”

Interestingly, Smith also sees a trend that links to the past: “We are one of the original 50 Steelcase dealers,” he explains. “In the late 1940s or early 1950s, Steelcase did a rendition of a Frank Lloyd Wright desk. Everything comes full circle. Now people like it.”

Bird likewise sees a growing willingness to spend more for an employee-centric focus. “In the early 2000s, price was the issue,” he recalls.

“It wasn’t about an ergonomic, properly fitted chair or nice textiles. If customers needed chairs, they’d ask how much and buy about a $200 chair. They aren’t going crazy or throwing their budgets out the window, but now they will spend $350 to $400 a chair. It’s all about employee happiness. They want to keep their best employees and attract the best. So employers are creating cool designs and spending money on nicer-looking, better-made furniture. One client of ours owns a donut chain. Getting workers to come in at midnight to make the donuts was hard; but if they didn’t come, the shops couldn’t open. The owner spent 35 percent of his budget on opening a single, more conveniently located manufacturing facility for all the shops and created a really cool breakroom space to ensure the employees understood their importance.”

Ball agrees that a more comfortable workplace is increasingly a priority, especially for specific age groups. “Before COVID-19, workers showed up; now businesses are paying more

attention on getting them to show up,” she says. “There’s more focus on making workers happy. Employees work at home next to their dog and five feet from the refrigerator. Employers are paying a little more attention to the physical environment if they want their employees to come in.”

And sometimes, this increased focus includes adding some fun and games. “We have had a few more requests for corporate games to entice people back,” says Ball. “One mortgage bank wanted to add a shuffleboard to make the workplace fun. Coincidently, we own a gaming company, so we could get it easily.”

But the most significant trend Ball reports is the lack of one: “Everyone wants something different. Last week, I had one client that wanted taller panels and another that wanted us to come in and lower the panels. Also, since COVID-19, some employees are more sensitive to being in close proximity. Some need open spaces and meeting rooms. Others need private areas, »


almost like phone booths or pods. Some clients want collaborative spaces and ones that are private and independent. It depends on who the clients are and what they do.”

For Ball, this is unsurprising given the times we are living in and companies’ efforts to stand out from the competition. “For decades, schools looked for ways students could work together,” she says. “Then came COVID-19 and they spent a year figuring out how to separate people. And it’s rare for people to walk in and say, ‘My company is just like all the others.’ They are more likely to say, ‘We are really different.’ It’s our job to see what makes them different and speak to that.’

Living color

When it comes to color trends, opinions run the spectrum.

“They are definitely bringing more life to the office using bold, bright colors

and getting the designer involved,” says Armacost.

Bird agrees: “Our customers are moving away from black, blue and gray, and it’s incredibly refreshing. We are seeing them choose different colors. They are not just supporting their culture, but trying to create it. I am excited to see what the next few years bring.”

Smith says he leaves most furniture trend-watching to others in his company, but ventures: “It seems companies are moving away from gray, black and tan in favor of more pastel colors that make people feel better.”

Meanwhile, Ball reports: “We are still seeing neutrals with accent colors. Customers are looking longer term, especially smaller and mid-sized entities. They are not looking to redesign their interiors in five years, so they are not looking to be trendy. They want design sustainability.”

Sustainable diversity

According to Ball, environmental sustainability is not a priority for most customers: “Only one of our customers wants sustainable products, even though they cost more. There are beautiful, sustainable bamboo and other products, but they tend to be expensive. Most clients are not willing to spend more for them. They say they want them, but often what they say and what they do are two different things.” Smith, however, suggests the opposite is true: “Clients are making their breakrooms more attractive with bright colors and an emphasis on fabrics, especially eco-friendly ones. Traditional office product customers still want transactional furniture imported from China bought from wholesalers. But the larger, more progressive customers and designers are using materials that help the environment. They are choosing panels and fabrics made of recycled material from floating pumps and other repurposed plastics.”


Looking ahead

Smith believes the outlook for the furniture sector will hinge on many variables. “The younger generation might never be 100 percent back in offices,” he predicts. “In San Francisco, whole office buildings are empty. I also see people leaving larger cities because of taxes, potential reparations and crime, and moving to less populated states. The healthcare sector will continue growing due to an aging population. Down the road, I also see the big furniture manufacturers selling direct. They do some now, but I think it will increase. They will do it out of necessity, a desire for greater revenue to please their stockholders and because mergers and acquisitions will leave fewer local dealers.”

Ball fears that continued fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with inflation, could make the furniture market skittish in the near future. “I am concerned people are becoming more cautious and will be holding on to their money now that grant, PPE and COVID-19 relief money is no longer flowing,” she says. “Many companies used the money to keep afloat and now it is time to fly on their own, but banks aren’t looking to lend money.”

Armacost forecasts the pace of mergers and acquisitions will continue to rise. “Smaller independent dealers are already few and far between,” he says. “The big boys are buying a lot of them out. It’s all the more reason for independent dealers to stick together and share ideas and best practices.”

According to Bird, the best way for small to mid-sized independent dealers to do this is to take advantage of all that the Workplace Solutions Association can offer (see sidebar).

The WSA adds value

As many of you know, the Independent Office Products and Furniture Dealers Association (IOPFDA) recently changed its name to the Workplace Solutions Association (WSA). The dealers we spoke with who serve on the WSA council were enthusiastic about the name change. “It better portrays what our industry does,” said Kendall Smith. “We are not just sellers of office supplies and furniture. We are solution providers. Also, it’s less confusing than IOPFDA and easier to remember!”

As important as the name change is, members are more impressed with all WSA offers and urge other independent dealers to take advantage of its benefits. Of particular interest is the recently appointed WSA Furniture Committee.

According to Alan Bird, the WSA Furniture Committee is a diverse group of nine members organized by Mike Tucker, who saw a need for the WSA to provide more assistance, particularly to mid-market independent dealers.

“There’s a focus on small and big distributors, but the mid-size ones often get lost, so we put this committee together to see how we can help this group flourish,” Bird says.

According to Smith: “The association conducts surveys that allow us to benchmark our commissions, sales and employee salaries with other dealers. There are many other tools, too, that the majority of dealers aren’t taking advantage of.”

Bird lists a few: “WSA has tools to help dealers adopt technology, business management tools, government advocacy, tools to help them expand into different verticals. The surveys they provide can help dealers with market forecasting.”

Melissa Ball especially likes the advocacy the WSA drives: “As business owners, advocacy is important, and that’s what caught my eye about the association. There can be a piece of legislation where you think, ‘That can’t happen.’ Then it does. It’s great to have this organization to watch and keep us up to date and tell us what we need to do; when to take action.”

What resonates with Brad Armacost and the other dealers is the need for independent dealers to share and learn from one another, and the opportunity the WSA affords them to do just this: “WSA provides resources like benchmarking and information that they would not otherwise have. It allows dealers to learn from one another, to see what has been successful.”

“I can pick up the phone and talk to a dealer in Denver, Colorado,” enthuses Bird. “I can network, and I can get advice. We all need to learn from each other.”

“Take advantage of the WSA tools,” advises Bird; while Smith summarizes: “A dealer that is going to stay in business and not be acquired needs to belong to WSA.”

For more information on the WSA, visit


The award for Best of Competition at this year’s show went to Hightower for its Flote lounge collection. Playing on the current trend for more relaxed workplace environments and the need to lure staff back to the office, Flote is designed to enhance the workplace and other public spaces with a range of comfortable seating options while also providing a distinct esthetic, inspired by the support, comfort and ease of relaxing in a classic pool float. The collection features a lounge chair, three-seat sofa and ottoman—all offering customizable options through fabric selection, metal finish options and a choice of oversized welt, chunky zipper or classic double needle stitching.


In June, the great and good of the office furniture world once again gathered at The Mart in Chicago to attend the 54th incarnation of NeoCon, one of the most important events in the commercial design industry calendar. Show organizers claimed a strong attendance of around 40,000 over the duration of the show, and certainly the constant lines for the elevators did little to dispute that claim. Much like last year, there was a focus on hybrid working and the return to the office, with many options for creating a welcoming and flexible environment to encourage employees back to the workplace.

Key to this was the demand for spaces and products that offer opportunities to connect and collaborate while also allowing users to accommodate their personal wellness goals and feel more balanced. This was backed up by global design and architecture firm Gensler Chicago, and took these growing demands of

wellness, community and comfort into consideration when designing the transformation of The Mart, unveiled to guests at this year’s show.

There was also a renewed emphasis on sustainability, with a number of manufacturers championing recycled and recyclable materials.

The Best of NeoCon awards were also back for their 33rd edition. With an event the size of NeoCon and with well over 100 awards on offer, it’s impossible to present a comprehensive overview; but here are some of the products that caught the judges’ eyes at The Mart in June.

Enwork received a Gold Award for its Cayman private office furniture system, which can also be used in video conference areas and collaboration spaces. On-trend, curved, height-adjustable work surfaces and integrated technology are combined in this easy-to-install system. Many components are preassembled and require minimal tethering— often only requiring one connection point to an architectural wall.

Perfect for the current trend in breakroom spaces, the Rowen café table by OFS, which took away a Gold Award this year, features a super matte oak or walnut butcher block top, or a painted top, and can be customized to suit any interior design scheme. Additionally, the powder-coated base is available in 18 different standard or studio powder coats, allowing for further customization. It has been designed with functionality in mind. It is available in both seated and bar height, making it suitable for a variety of different applications. Furthermore, the thoughtful bag hook designed into the column of the base adds an extra layer of convenience for users.

While it seems strange to use the words “75th anniversary” and “debut” about the same product, Haworth did debut the 75th Anniversary Fern chair at NeoCon 2023, scooping an Innovation Award in the process. In an orange, custom gradient offered exclusively for the celebration year, this is the first task chair with digital knit on the arms, back and seat. It also still has all of Fern’s traditional innovations—enhanced sitting experience, the ability to move with natural flexibility, comfort and total back support.

Designed for the healthcare market, the Silver Award-winning Soul Collection from Wieland is designed to address the necessity of multi-functionality, along with the premium value of patient room floor space. The Soul Mate “convertible cube” converts from a stowable ottoman to a comfortable guest chair in one step. While opening, the back to the chair position, the seat height raises simultaneously. When the sofa is in the sleep position, the ottoman can be partially out to be used as a nightstand. The Soul Mate’s double wheel swivel casters allow the user to slide out of the patient zone quickly.

Receiving a Business Impact Award was the innovative 4-UP chair from Via Seating. Created to accompany sit-to-stand desks with its “telescoping gas lift” crafted to access every “in between” or “perching position” available with a sit-to-stand desk. This facilitates a starting, seated height where the user’s feet are in contact with the floor, but then extends out from this position to elevate higher to where a foot ring is in place to support the feet.

Winning a Silver Award this year is the Vale seating collection from KFI Studios, featuring an armchair, side chair, lounge chair with ottoman, counter stool and barstool. With sustainability at the forefront of the design process, the PET felt shells used throughout the collection are crafted from recycled plastic bottle. The fluidity of the curved and rolled edges again highlight trends that were seen across this year’s NeoCon.



In addition to serving as national sales manager for AOPD, Tom Buxton, founder and CEO of the InterBizGroup consulting organization, works with independent office products dealers to help increase sales and profitability. Tom is also the author of a book on effective business development, Dating the Gatekeeper. For more information, visit www.interbiz

First of all, I would like the reader to know that my wife and I just celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary, so please don’t read the “dating” part of the title as something that might possibly be salacious. I also suck at fishing (I caught one fish out of a stream in my life); and I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a gun.

So, keeping the previous paragraph in mind, I hope you have guessed that this column is about sales

technique. These terms have all been used to describe the process of finding prospects and moving them toward becoming loyal customers. In the right situation, each of the techniques has its place; but there are strengths and weaknesses associated with all of them.

Fishing has often been associated with selecting the correct bait to attract fish, and there are even Christian organizations that use it as analogy for better

evangelism. (If you are interested, please Google “The Fishless Fisherman”—I have used parts of it with sales teams for many years.)

More recently, fishing has been applied more to marketing plans than just to salespeople. Good “fishing” plans incorporate many— but not too many—emails, social media references and stories that are focused on interesting the “fish” (customer) in products, services and people within

the sales organization. Sales growth can and does happen through “fishing expeditions”; but sometimes I wonder if some of these approaches leave out the human element.

In a recently updated book called MegaTrends, originally published in 1982, John Naisbitt argued that the higher-tech things become, the more all of us will need higher levels of interpersonal touch to enjoy life and connect with others.


Do your current types of fishing meet those goals?

Well, if there are questions about the efficacy of fishing, can there be any doubt that pure “hunting” is becoming less valuable in our technology age? One of the dumbest things I ever witnessed when I was with Corporate Express was an initiative that headquarters created to “blitz” the cities we served with cold calls. Our team in Denver called on hundreds of businesses in three hours and if I remember correctly, over time we gained fewer than five new accounts. And I hear some of you saying, “Wow—wouldn’t it be great to get five new accounts?”

We had over 30 sales reps participating and not one of those accounts became a significant contributor to hitting our budget. What did happen is that some of our reps were told never to come back and years later I spoke to a couple of prospects that still had hard feelings about our “blitz.”

By the way, do you realize that our big-box competitors still hire hunters, but the turnover has always averaged 80 percent or above every year? Is your training and HR team large enough to handle that much turmoil?

So, what about the “dating” concept (absent any innuendos, of course)?

By the way, I promise that I am not trying to sell more of my books that speak

about dating! I make a total of $3 a piece from them, so they are not a profit center. But the concept of caring for other people and trying to connect with them in a personal way really works. Excellent marketing (fishing) collateral that tells your story along with making the effort to encourage people on your team that aren’t too afraid to engage with others (hunting) through chamber events, lead sharing groups and asking for referrals can grow your business over time. But regular old cold calling can grow your company exponentially if you begin with the correct approach.

I am still involved in “dating” opportunities

through many of the dealers that I work with—and you know what? Most of the calls I have led or participated in during the past year have been extremely cordial. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. My basic strategy is to target a prospect that has 50-plus people to stay away from Amazon devotees.

Our goal for first calls should always be very limited. I want to meet the gatekeeper and not even ask about the buyer. Above all, I want to make the day better for the person I meet. I give away purple pens or other gifts and spend less than one minute on the account, unless they specifically ask me to stay.

Usually, we travel in pairs, which provides a bit more credibility; and we never do more than three to five cold calls in a day. This approach works very well with all but the most jaded prospects, even Generation Z (studies indicate that they want the right sorts of relationships more than almost any other age group).

If you have any questions about this approach or think I’m crazy, feel free to reach out. If you have a better approach, share it with INDEPENDENT DEALER readers; but above all, ensure that your team prospects or your company will die in the next few years. Relationship building is back—and actually, it never left.

Tom Buxton


In the last few years, I’ve seen a fad growing that I like to call “management by process.” Regular readers of this space know that I like processes. Sales processes, sales management processes, customer service processes—they’re all very helpful in building a great sales program.

But you can have too much of a good thing. And many of the processes I’ve seen recently are overwrought and overwritten to try to cover every eventuality. They are also attempting to substitute written process for basic management and leadership. Helpful hint: they fail to do so. The two most common areas I see these in are compensation processes and activity management systems.

The best compensation processes are the simplest. You have a base salary for the position. This base salary ideally covers the basic living expenses (at a minimum), and also compensates salespeople for work they do that isn’t directly tied to a sale—information gathering, paperwork, customer service and so on. It also includes a commission structure and a bonus structure for overachievement.

On top of the salary, the

commission is designed to compensate for sales achievement—that is, making sales. The comp structure can be, and should be, designed to incentivize the sales we want to make. More profitable, longer-term contracts, better terms, favored products or services are all factors that can and should be taken into account. However, it’s possible to overdo this. In a commission package, I prefer simple to overcomplicated. I like a salesperson to be able to

count their money as they are walking out the door with the purchase order. The simplest and most effective commission packages are based on profit, with the salesperson being able to know how much actual profit is in a deal.

I’ve seen a lot of commission processes lately that try to micromanage the sales process by having deductions for this, kickers for that, bonuses for the other thing and so on. I recently dealt with a client who had a three-page commission

Harrison is the author of Sell Like You Mean It! and The Pocket Sales Manager, and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive salesforces. To schedule a free 45-minute sales strategy review, call 913-645-3603 or email troy@

policy in an industry where a one-paragraph policy is common. When I asked the client to explain, the client said, “Well, there are some types of business that we don’t want, so we don’t pay much for those types of business.”

This is a classic example of

Troy Harrison Troy

trying to substitute process and paperwork for simple management. “Okay,” I said, “If you don’t want that business, why don’t you just say no?” The client looked at me with openmouthed astonishment. Apparently, the idea at that company was that once the salesperson brought the deal to the table, the deal was sacrosanct. It’s not—if you don’t want a particular piece of business, don’t take it. Further, empower your salespeople to say “no” to bad business. You’ll be surprised at how often they do.

Turning to activity management systems, you probably also know that I’m a fan of activity metrics. The reason is that activity metrics

are forward-looking— meaning that we can predict the results of a salesperson by having them perform certain activities in certain amounts. Remember the basic equation of sales achievement:

(Quantity of activity) x (Quality of activity) = Results.

In other words, the more you do and the better you are at it, the better your results will be. Makes sense, right? So, to build activity metrics, we work backwards from a desired result, using known ratios (from our history), to build a roadmap to success for our salespeople.

Let’s make it simple. Let’s say we want one new sale per week. We know our

closing ratio from proposals to sales is 1/2. Thus, we need two proposals per week.

We know that half of our presentations request a proposal. Therefore, we need four presentations per week.

We know that two-thirds of our discovery appointments result in a presentation. So, we need six discovery appointments per week.

And we know that it takes 10 calls to set an appointment for discovery. So, we need 60 phone calls per week.

And just like that, we have a set of activity metrics:

• 60 calls per week;

• Six discovery appointments per week;

• Four presentations per week; and

• Two proposals per week =

• One sale per week.

Bingo! We hit our target. Our metrics are simple; they are based on historical data; and reps can understand them. By the way, I should note—the numbers here are hypothetical; work within your own goals and historical ratios to get to your metrics. Don’t have historical ratios? Start tracking.

“But Troy!” you might say. “You just spent the first half of this article telling us that processes don’t manage and now you’ve given us a process. What’s the deal?”

The deal is that this process is SIMPLE. And it’s a process to manage to; it’s not a process

that manages for you or attempts to. Where metrics go wrong is when they become overcomplicated.

For instance, of those six discovery appointments, management says that two of them must be with customer type A, three with type B, and one with type C. That’s where it gets overwrought. Or management attempts to insert unnecessary steps.

For instance, years ago, I worked for a company where the regional manager discovered that we had very high close rates when the prospects came in for a plant tour. So, we should encourage tours, right?

Nope. The regional manager mandated tours. Sales went through the floor, because it was hard to get customers in for tours. My team? We just ignored the mandate and we were fine. Yes, I ignored one of my bosses—ask me again why I’m self-employed!

The reason why upper management puts overwrought processes in place is that they lack confidence in their sales reps and sales management. The problem is that overdone processes and procedures invariably result in higher turnover and lower job engagement; and ultimately, they do the opposite of what they are intended for. Keep your processes simple, trust and manage your people, and you’ll get the results you’re looking for.

Troy Harrison


When a customer asks why your price has increased on a particular item or category, what do you say?

In a recent Dish Network commercial, a gentleman walks up to two young girls at a lemonade stand and one of the girls asks, “Would you like some lemonade?” He says, “I’d love some lemonade!” The two adorable little girls say, “That will be $5, please.”

The gentleman reacts to the price and says, “Five … what?!”

One after another, the girls volley back and forth, sharing their reasons for the increase.

“Supply chain issues.”

“There’s a lemon shortage.”

“Have you seen the price of cups these days?”

This commercial truly captures the typical response to, “Why the increase?”

The responses sound flippant, with no value to the customer for why the price is increasing.

(To Dish Network’s credit, this is the point, and they are addressing customers who have “had enough of inflation.”)

Let’s rework the lemonade stand example and, instead of just sharing the reasons why the price has gone up, tell the customer what’s in it for them.

The reason for the price increase:

“Actually, yes, our pricing did go up. We have been able to absorb our increases up until now but we do have to pass

on some of the increases in costs we’ve had due to the lemon shortage and increased price of cups.”

What’s in it for the customer: “We have also improved the recipe to the lemonade for a better taste and removed all artificial sweeteners to create an all-natural product.”

Now, let’s take a closer look at the two ingredients that make this response so much more effective and how you can put these into action the next time you or your team have to address a price increase.

#1. The reason for the price must be explained clearly, confidently and concisely.

Telling loyal customers you

are raising your prices is not exactly at the top of anyone’s to-do list. But it’s one of those conversations that you must have.

The girls on the lemonade stand were on the right track, but their delivery lacked empathy and did not explain what was it for the customer. One extra sentence makes all the difference in sharing what the customer will get out of the increase.

#2. The reason for the price increase should be customer-centric.

The most effective price increase communications are customer-centric. They provide a value narrative—a vivid and compelling story for why the price is being increased that focuses on customer value.

Marisa Pensa
Marisa Pensa is founder of Methods in Motion, a sales training company that helps dealers execute training concepts and create accountability to see both inside and outside sales initiatives through to success. For more information, please visit www.methodsnmotion. com.

A value narrative can be effective even when the price increase is predominantly due to an increase in input costs. In such cases, tell customers that the only way you can continue to provide the current level of benefits is if you raise the price, and you are choosing to do so rather than degrade the quality of the product or service. That’s a powerful argument.

Most sales professionals are giving the “why” (#1), but we often miss the mark in making sure the customer walks away with what they will get out of an increase (#2).

For example, for the IDC, the “what’s in it for them”

might sound something like: “Increased availability of product; better service; innovation that will improve how we serve you in the future; increased wages/ staffing to better serve etc.”

When you frame potentially negative news with what’s in it for the customer, you can nip complaints or pushback in the bud and make the message positive; and you may even get more sales and loyalty based on how you handle the situation.

Tips for sales leaders and teams

• Nail down the reason and what’s in it for them: Work together as a team to

craft a customer-focused explanation of why the price increase is happening and what customers will get from it.

• Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: As you prepare what you’ll say, channel your best customers. Why do they already love your products and services? How can you frame your price increase message to include more of what keeps them coming back as repeat customers?

• Create muscle memory through practice: When you’re under pressure to respond or perform, it’s much easier—and will

come more naturally—if you practice handling the concerns or questions you may get when announcing a price increase.

Price increases are not what we want to talk to our customers about; but when you clearly, confidently and concisely explain the reasons why, while making it all about the customer, you’ll more effectively communicate the change and your customers will appreciate your ability to do so.

P.S. If you haven’t seen the commercial, you can check it out on YouTube by clicking on this link.”

Marisa Pensa



In today’s highly competitive business landscape, companies are constantly vying for consumers’ attention. In order to stand out, it’s essential for brands to connect with their audience on a personal level. And what better way to do that than by humanizing your brand?

Brand humanization is the process of making your brand more relatable and personable to consumers. It’s about showing the

human side of your company and creating authentic connections with your audience. It involves telling your company’s story, as well as the stories of your customers, in order to create an emotional connection.

Why brand humanization is important

There are several reasons why brand humanization is so important. For one, it helps establish trust and credibility with your target

market. People are more likely to do business with a brand that they feel they know and trust.

Moreover, brand humanization can also help you to differentiate yourself from competitors. When consumers see your brand as more personable and relatable than the competition, they’re more likely to choose you over them.

Another key benefit of brand humanization is that

Mara Gannon is the content marketing manager for Fortune Web Marketing. She has been writing professionally for seven years. When not writing, Mara likes the beach, her family, her two cats, punk rock music and Japanese food.

it can improve customer loyalty. If customers feel like they have a personal connection with your brand, they’re more likely to remain loyal over the long term.

Telling your company story

Every company has a story to tell. Your company’s history, mission, values and goals all play a vital role in humanizing your brand.

JUNE/JULY 2023 PAGE 50 »
Mara Gannon

Sharing your story with your audience helps them connect with your company on a deeper level, and allows them to understand your purpose and what drives you. Think about the past, the present and the future.

The past

When crafting your company story, think about the challenges and triumphs that have shaped your brand. How did you get started? What obstacles have you faced along the way? How have you overcome them? Sharing these experiences helps create a human connection with your audience and highlights your company’s authenticity.

The present

Another important aspect of your company story is your mission and values. What do you stand for? What are your guiding principles? Sharing these elements with your audience shows that your company has a purpose beyond just making a profit. It allows them to align themselves with your brand and feel good about supporting your products or services.

The future

Finally, your goals and vision for the future of your company are also important to share. What are you working toward? How do you plan to make a positive impact on the world? Sharing these aspirations shows that your brand is committed to growth and making a difference.

Sharing your customers’ stories

Another important aspect of brand humanization is sharing your customer’s stories. By highlighting their experiences with you and your products or services, you can build a more personal connection with your audience and establish trust.

Consider featuring customer testimonials on your website or social media platforms. You can also ask customers to share their stories through user-generated content campaigns or by participating in case studies. This not only gives your brand a more authentic and relatable image, but also showcases the real-life benefits and solutions your company offers.

When sharing customer stories, be sure to focus on personal experiences.

Highlight the challenges people faced and how your company was able

to help overcome them. This not only demonstrates the value of your brand, but also creates a sense of community among your customers.

The importance of trust in the sales process

In today’s market, trust is a critical component of the sales process. Customers want to feel like they’re making informed and educated decisions; they want to know that they’re dealing with a company that values their trust and will treat them with honesty and transparency. This is where brand humanization comes into play.

By humanizing your brand, you’re building that trust with your audience. People want to do business with people they know, like and trust. They want to see the people behind the company, and they want to understand the motivation and passion that drive your business. By

sharing your story and your customers’ stories, you’re demonstrating that you understand their needs and are willing to go the extra mile to help them succeed. When it comes to building trust, it’s essential to be consistent in your messaging and your actions. If you say one thing and do another, you’ll quickly lose credibility with your audience. But when you’re transparent and authentic, you’ll build a relationship that lasts beyond the sale.

How to incorporate brand humanization into your marketing strategy

• Develop a brand voice that is relatable and conversational. Your customers want to connect with your brand on a personal level and a humanized brand voice can help facilitate that connection.

• Show the people behind your brand. Use photos

Gannon »

and videos to showcase the people who make up your company, including your team members, customers and community members.

• Create content that tells stories. Instead of just promoting your products or services, focus on creating content that tells a story about your brand. Share the experiences of your team members or customers, or highlight a community project your brand is involved in.

• Encourage and respond to customer feedback. Actively seek out feedback from your customers and respond to their comments and questions in a timely and genuine manner. This can help show that your brand is invested in building lasting relationships with its customers.

• Show empathy and understanding.

Acknowledge the challenges that your customers face and show that your company understands their needs and wants to help them solve their problems.

• Use social media. Platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest and others provide an opportunity to have real-time conversations and interactions with your audience. Use these channels to engage with your customers and share behind-the-scenes glimpses into your brand.

Brand humanization in action

There are countless examples of companies successfully humanizing their brands to connect with their customers on a more personal level. Here are just a few examples to get your creative juices flowing:

• Dove: Dove has long

been known for its “real beauty” campaigns, which celebrate people of all shapes, sizes and ages. By featuring real bodies in its advertisements and sharing their stories, Dove has been able to connect with its audience on a deeper level than simply selling soap.

• TOMS: By incorporating its “One for One” model, TOMS has made a name for itself as a socially conscious company that cares about more than just making a profit. It has also leveraged customers’ stories to promote its brand by sharing pictures and testimonials of people around the world wearing TOMS shoes.

• Warby Parker: Warby Parker is an eyewear company that has successfully tapped into the power of storytelling to connect with its audience. By featuring customer

stories on its website, in its marketing materials and even in its in-store imagery, Warby Parker has been able to build trust and create a sense of community among its customers.

Trusting your brand to earn trust

Hundreds of companies have successfully humanized their brands and connected with their customers in meaningful ways. By incorporating storytelling, social consciousness and a sense of community into your marketing strategy, you too can create a brand that resonates with your audience and helps you win the relationship before winning the sale. Reach out to a trusted marketing agency to learn how you can incorporate brand humanization into your marketing strategies.

Mara Gannon


The OPI Global Forum offers special, discounted rates for independent dealers. The full standard price is $3,650, but as an independent dealer you can book early and attend for just $1950. The early rates ends on July 31, 2023.

“Two days of excellent, thought-provoking conversations, presentations and discussions. A great opportunity to step back from day-to-day operations, learn from others and take home new ideas.”

“The OPI Global Forum was a great opportunity to have all levels of the IDC together in one room sharing our successes, concerns and visions for the future. I am thankful I attended.”

This is a unique event where senior executives take time out of their business in order to work on their business. Don’t miss this opportunity to join them


JUNE/JULY 2023 INDEPENDENT DEALER PAGE 54 NOT A SUBSCRIBER? Sign Up Now NOT AN ADVERTISER? Start Next Month GOT AN ARTICLE IDEA? We Want To Hear About It. Call Rowan (703) 531-8507

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