Independent Dealer June/July 2024

Page 1


the official publication of WSA


Editorial & Contents

Playing the field

First, I would like to express my congratulations to Team USA for their performance at the Cricket T20 World Cup— hopefully now you guys will realize what a fantastic sport it is!

Now that’s out of the way, I’d also like to point you in the direction of a few articles in this issue (it goes without saying that it is all well worth a read, of course).

It was great to catch up with Mike Maggio and find out what he is up to these days. It should come as no surprise that, despite his alleged retirement, he is still very much involved in helping IDC members succeed and he has wise words to offer dealers in the interview on page 36

One of the key points in Mike’s interview is, once again, the need for diversification—something we have talked about a lot in these pages over the last few months. Bearing out this point even further are two dealers featured in this issue.

Both our anniversary dealer, Suburban (page 4), and our Secrets of

Success dealer, Zuma Office (page 14), have increased revenues by looking into other channels. If you haven’t already, don’t wait any longer. It’s also interesting to read Mike Tucker’s article on page 33, in which he harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI). Now, this is something I wouldn’t normally welcome— there have already been enough suggestions that AI might make journalists redundant—but, given the amount of talk there has been in our industry (and elsewhere) recently, I thought it an interesting experiment; and it certainly shows that AI can act as a useful research tool. I am much more doubtful as to whether it can ever the replace the natural charm and rapier-sharp wit of human writers, naturally.


Good things happening to independents


Zuma Office Supply, Houston, Texas


We catch up with former SPR CEO Mike Maggio


Furniture fortunes: Can furniture sales maintain their post-pandemic pace?


We take a look at some of the award-winning products on display in Chicago


52 Troy Harrison: Joining the buyer’s journey midway?

40 Marisa Pensa: the ultimate four-step guide to expanding categories


Editor and publisher

Rowan McIntyre

Associate editor

Lisa Veeck

Head of media sales

Chris Turness

Finance and operations

Kelly Hilleard

Head of creative

Joel Mitchell

AT OPI CEO Steve Hilleard Director Janet Bell An OPI publication
Digital manager Aurora Enghis
the official publication of WSA


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Suburban, Inc., Middletown, Connecticut, turns 45

Forty-five years ago, Dave Shulman and his partners opened Suburban Stationers, a card and gift retail store in Middletown, Connecticut. Soon thereafter, a friend told him about a new product—Post-it Notes—which he decided would be a good addition to the store’s inventory. Then, the local police department asked him to stock the envelopes they needed; and before long, the company was a fully fledged independent office products dealer.

Over the years, Dave and his partners opened additional locations. In 2003, Suburban split, with two partners taking over the six retail stores and Dave and partner Ray Bourret continuing to own and operate Suburban, Inc., the renamed B2B side of the business. In 2006, Dave’s son Bob and Ray’s son Jeremy took over the company.

Today, Suburban has 48 employees and covers all of Connecticut and western Massachusetts. Its largest customer segments are government, education and healthcare. Office products account for about 25 percent of the company’s sales, furniture makes up about 30 percent and the remainder is comprised of janitorial

and packaging supplies. Since 2003, the company has doubled its sales from $10 million to $20 million.

“We’ve expanded our geographical territory, adding new drivers and routes,” says president and co-owner Bob Shulman, explaining how the company achieved this significant growth. “In the last four or five years, especially since COVID-19, we’ve hired 11 new sales reps, bringing our total to 19. Also, office products have been dwindling, so we added breakroom

and are expanding into packaging and maintenance, repair and operations.” Bob attributes the company’s longevity to a few key factors: “Growing up, my parents instilled in me the golden rule—to treat people like you want to be treated—and I’ve kept that in mind. But it’s also our people who make the difference. We have a lot of employees who have been with us for 20 or 30-plus years. Some started when they were teenagers. They stay because we take care of them. We

» Winner’s Circle
Suburban’s warehouse and driver team (above) and the office team (right) l-r Jeremy and Ray Bourret, Bob and Dave Shulman


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Winner’s Circle

work to keep morale up and make sure they know they are valued, and we try to make work as fun as possible, doing things like going to baseball games. As a result, our employees really care. They want to see our customers and us succeed, which drives sales.”

Bob gives an example of how this employee loyalty is fostered. “During COVID-19, even though they were still successful, our reps weren’t able to visit customers,” he recalls. “We knew their commissions were down significantly, so we took the average they made over the year and paid them that through the pandemic. One, it was the right thing to do; and two, we wanted to retain them.”

Happy employees also help Suburban find new employees. “The office products industry is not the most glamorous, so it’s not always easy to recruit new people,” explains Bob. “We rely on word of mouth and referrals from

our current employees. That way, there’s someone to vouch for new people and new employees know what to expect.”

The company’s longevity also means Suburban has had its share of competitors, including Staples and Amazon in retail. On the commercial side, Bob believes W.B. Mason is their biggest competitor now, but he’s not worried as long as Suburban sticks to what it does best. “It’s difficult because some of the bigger companies can afford more feet on the street and can keep up with technology and market changes more easily,” he admits. “But we stay focused on who we are and what we are good at, and that’s service. It’s our value proposition. Everyone says they have good service, but our people go above and beyond. They call customers back; they get answers. Also, there’s accountability. The buck stops with me. If we screw up, I will

be the first to apologize and make it right. Our customers have direct communication with our ownership and top management, and they don’t have that with the big companies.”

While he doesn’t purport to have a crystal ball, Bob sees a future that includes the company growing its geographic market. “We will also become more dominant in the janitorial and packaging areas as there are opportunities there that so far have gone unnoticed,” he says. “In the furniture market, I see us expanding with new lines and taking even more of a consultative approach. I think these things will help us grow in the next 10 to 30 years.”

For other independent dealers looking to stay ahead of the game, Bob recommends: “Be open to change and listen to people—to your sales reps and your customers.”


New era at New York dealer Weeks Lerman

Leading New York independent dealer

The Weeks Lerman Group is under new ownership.

The new owners of the business comprise a key group of managers and salespeople. COO Rob Paar and CFO Harris Meth are jointly responsible for the day-to-day running of the company. Paar’s focus is on operational aspects, while Meth is looking after the financial side of things.

Industry icon Sid Lerman—who became CEO of the company in 1996 following the merger of Weeks Office Products and The Lerman Company— has been given the title CEO emeritus and will continue to provide high-level guidance to the management team.

“We are delighted to announce the successful recapitalization of The Weeks Lerman Group, made possible through

the partnership and support of our new investors,” said Sid. “This marks a significant step forward for our company, enabling us to unlock even greater value for our customers and employees. I feel confident that the new management team of Rob Paar and Harris Meth will provide stability for the organization for the foreseeable future aligned with this new ownership structure.”

Paar and Meth told INDEPENDENT

DEALER that the immediate goal was to revitalize volumes and the top line. Their strategy includes growing the sales force, winning new business and, potentially, making acquisitions.

Weeks Lerman’s core market of New York City has witnessed great change in the past four years, with return-to-office (RTO) numbers hovering at around 70 percent of their pre-COVID-19 levels.

Meanwhile, recent concerns that a proposed $15 congestion charge for vehicles entering Manhattan’s business district could slow down RTO trends have been allayed slightly. The fee was due to come into effect on June 30, but the plan has faced legal challenges and was indefinitely postponed by New York Governor Kathy Hochul on June 5.

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A&B Business Solutions wins two local awards

A&B Business Solutions, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has claimed two prestigious prizes in the Rapid City Business Journal’s 2024 Elevate Rapid City Business Awards.

The company was named as both Small Business of the Year and winner of the Business Expansion Award. The awards recognize companies that have made significant contributions to support the Rapid City, South Dakota community.

The dealership “prioritizes community involvement, supporting numerous local organizations and encouraging employee volunteerism through [its] Bring It Home program,” read the judging statement. “Dedicated to employee development, A&B invests heavily in training and leadership

to nurturing talent is reflected in their impressive sales achievements and internal promotions. As a cornerstone of the community, A&B Business Solutions exemplifies excellence and service.”

The Elevate Rapid City business awards have been established to celebrate and recognize the businesses, nonprofits and people in the community who have made significant contributions to the journal’s mission: to elevate the region for all.

June proved to be a busy month for A&B. The company hosted a reception for the Rapid City Business Journal’s Under 40 honorees. The reception was held at the A&B-owned wine and liquor company Cask and Cork Distributing in Rapid City. Each recipient received a plaque to commemorate the occasion.

community leaders who are making a difference in the region and their industry. Honorees come from a variety of backgrounds and industries. Selections are based on those who have accomplished a lot in their careers and have given back to the community where feasible. They must be under the age of 40 at the time of recognition.

Meanwhile, on June 6, A&B hosted a customer appreciation reception at its Fargo, North Dakota location. The event featured a food truck, drinks,

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Porter’s Office Products expands furniture showroom

Porter’s Office Products, Rexburg, Idaho, invited the local community to the grand reopening of its new furniture showroom, which has been upgraded and expanded to 1,000 feet. The event, held on June 13, featured a ribbon cutting, food from local restaurants, giveaways and goodie bags.

Porter’s sales manager, Shawn Call, said the company will continue to offer office supplies but is shifting its focus to office furniture to be more competitive in the marketplace.

“There’s a hole in the office furniture (space),” Call told “A lot of places have stopped selling or it’s just really hard to get to. Everybody that buys furniture wants to come in,

look at it and try it out. I think it’s going to be great for the area.”

According to Porter’s president, Mark Porter, the company has been primarily a Steelcase dealer but carries other brands, including HON. The new showroom better accommodates Porter’s ongoing expansion in the furniture marketplace.

“We’re thrilled to unveil the expansion of our Rexburg furniture showroom at Porter’s Office Products,” Porter says. “This space allows us to showcase a wider range of furniture solutions, providing our customers with an even more inspiring and comprehensive selection to create the perfect workspace for their needs.”


The Office BOSS Announces the pARTicipate Winners

The Office BOSS, Truckee, California, has announced the winners of its ninth annual pARTicipate Amateur Art Contest, celebrating the creative talents of local amateur artists. This year’s theme was “The Fire Within.”

The annual contest welcomes submissions in various media, including watercolors, colored pencils, photography, digital, acrylics, gouache, graphite and more. Artists of all ages participated, with entries organized into three age brackets: Kids, Youth and Adults. This year’s submission period ran from April 1-May 5.

Akira Avila Lopez was the People’s Choice winner in the Kids category with a colored pencil artwork called “See Your Fire.”

The Youth category winners were:

• First: Lila Kangelaris for “Made of Stars” graphite pencil submission.

• Second: Ennis Graham for “My Fire is My Passion” digital artwork, which also won the Youth category’s People’s Choice.

• Third: Zoey Carillo for “Chinese Dragons” acrylic on canvas.

The winners in the Adult category were:

• First: Sarah Manning for “East Ridge” gouache with acrylic ink.

• Second: Emily Rademacher for “Life and Death” watercolor.

• Third: Zakiya Stubbs for “Friday the 13th” digital artwork.

• People’s Choice: Citlali Lopez for “Phoenix” pastel.

The awards were presented in a ceremony on May 9. This year’s panel of judges featured local artists Sarah Smith, Trina Gold and Cathee Vanrossem-St. Clair. The judges were impressed by the diversity and quality of the submissions. “Finding your style isn’t easy,” they noted. “For many artists, the journey involves experimenting and evolving over time. Feedback can help highlight the natural consistencies in your work that you might not even notice.”

Nathan Gamett—The Office BOSS director of marketing who helps organize the contest and helped plan and produce the award ceremony—is already looking ahead. “The Office BOSS has held the pARTicipate amateur art contest for the past nine years because we love to support

and encourage local artists of all ages to continue their passion in creating beautiful art,” he said. “Truckee is a small mountain town just a river float away from Lake Tahoe that has a collective of talented artists, including watercolorists, wood carvers, photographers and many more. The pARTicipate Amateur Art Contest is important because it gives these upcoming artists the experience of showcasing their work in an art show with the support of the community.”

The 2024 contest’s winning artwork is currently on display at The Office BOSS headquarters in Truckee. The exhibition is open to the public until June 17.

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Cancer’s early detection is about to get earlier.

Researchers at City of Hope® have developed and tested an innovative machine-learning approach that could enable the earlier detection of cancer in patients by using smaller blood draws. Working in the background is a learning algorithm they developed. Instead of analyzing specific mutations, City of Hope and colleagues at John Hopkins University came up with a new way to detect the di erence in patterns of cancer and normal cfDNA.

This new technology gets patients closer to receiving a blood test annually to detect cancer earlier, when it is more treatable and easier to cure.

As always, City of Hope is ahead of the cancer curve.

Wednesday to Thursday, July 17 to 18

2024 NBPI Bourbon Tour Hosted by Distribution Management, Deflecto, Lexmark and The Resource Group – Midwest

Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Hotel Distil, Louisville, Kentucky

Sunday to Monday, August 11 to 12

Honoree Golf Outing Hosted by Harry Dochelli and Essendant The Philadelphia Cricket Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

CITY OF HOPE’S NATIONAL BUSINESS PRODUCTS INDUSTRY’S 2024 UPCOMING EVENTS For more information, visit or contact Matt Dodd at

Tuesday to Thursday, September 3 to 5

Annual NBPI/HHI City of Hope Industry Golf Challenge at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach Resort, Pebble Beach, California

Wednesday, September 18

The NBPI Memorial Golf Classic, Hosted by Essendant

The famous No. 4 Course – Dubsdread Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Lemont, Illinois

Thursday, September 19

2024 NBPI Spirit of Life ® Gala Honoring Harry Dochelli of Essendant

Renaissance Schaumburg, Schaumburg, Illinois

2024 Spirit of Life Honoree Harry Dochelli President and CEO, Essendant

Strive Workplace Solutions participates in Business-to-Business Expo

Strive Workplace Solutions recently participated in the Business-to-Business Expo in Twin Falls, Idaho. The networking event was hosted by the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce and is designed to connect local Twin Falls businesses.

“As a new business member to the Twin Falls Chamber, we felt it was important to support the chamber by attending the Business-to-Business Expo with a Strive booth and lots of free samples to expose the Strive brand, service and offering to the Twin Falls business community,” says president Jeff Lurcook. “Chambers are just one of many great tools for networking and prospecting, and we know there is a great untapped opportunity in this market.”

Eakes Office Solutions offers ducks to support United Way

Eakes Office Solutions, headquartered in Grand Island, Nebraska, recently hosted a “ducky” event to raise funds for the Columbus, Nebraska area United Way. For the event, Eakes invited the community to visit its Columbus location on June 3 between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to purchase a rubber duck for a $10 donation to the charity. The event also featured complimentary snow cones and the opportunity to win a new office chair.


Secrets of Success

Zuma Office Supply, Houston, Texas

Zuma Office Supply opened its doors in 2009. President and chief operating officer Mason Kramer bought into Zuma in 2017; while CEO Jacob Walker was formerly president of Buy on Purpose, a company that merged with Zuma in 2022. Mason and Jacob bought and consolidated the companies in 2023, and then purchased North Carolina-based dealer Anything Office in 2024, bringing it into the Zuma fold. Both men believe consolidating under the Zuma banner is key to the company’s success; as has making ordering from Zuma as easy as possible.

“We branded the companies under the Zuma name and it has solidified us in the market, especially in the online space,” Mason explains. “Also, our customer service team is what sets us apart from all our competitors. The experience an existing or a first-time customer gets when ordering online or over the phone is the best in the industry. We treat each customer as if they were our only customer. This has set us up for long-term success and keeps them coming back.”

A willingness to look beyond traditional sectors and products is another USP. “We are open to selling to all verticals,” says Mason. “In addition to

office supplies, jan/san and breakroom, we offer a full scope of school supplies, technology products, promotional items, auto supplies, printing, industrial, furniture, food service, special order items and ink and toner.”

Yet both owners believe that while you can have the best brand, easy ordering and a vast array of products, ultimately one ingredient trumps the rest. “Our people are the number one reason for our success,” insists Mason. “We have very low turnover and I think that’s because of our culture. Our people feel part of the team. To them, it’s not just a job. They feel part of our success and are the reason for it.” In fact, Jacob reports that the company has a designated “celebration team” with its own budget to celebrate employee birthdays, anniversaries and other life events.

Giving back pays dividends

Headquarters: Houston, Texas

Top management: (l-r above)

Mason Kramer, president and chief operations officer; Jacob Walker, CEO; Eddie Martinez, vice president—sales; Matu Cooklin, vice president—accounting; Joanne Hu, vice president—customer service

Number of employees: 13

Annual sales: $13 million

Online business: 80%

Main wholesaler: Essendant

Another vital aspect of Zuma’s culture is giving back to the community. The company donates 10 percent of its net profits to local charities that serve the most vulnerable populations. Customers also have the option to round up or donate to a specific nonprofit chosen by the Zuma team each month.

“That’s just who we are,” says Jacob, who acknowledges it is also good business. “Giving back is also important to our team. They know that selling and growing our business is not our sole goal. The people who work for us share this desire, so it helps us recruit

the type and quality of people we want. And customers don’t see the option to donate until they check out, so while it may not attract new customers, it helps solidify that second order.”

Up for the challenges

With success, of course, come challenges. “The two biggest problems we currently face are product sourcing and shipping,” reports Jacob. “Sourcing from overseas and not knowing when it will arrive causes inventory issues, and shipping is tougher and more expensive than before.”

As for Amazon? “I don’t see it as a competitor,” says Mason. “Customers want to know they have a team and support behind their orders. We’ve done a good job of putting people in the right place, giving clear direction and implementing good processes. Customers can feel this, and it is a differentiator. Customers who want the lowest price are not the customers we are after.”

When it comes to advice for other dealers, Mason muses: “I honestly think it’s about being aggressive, proactive and not thinking in the traditional way many dealers think. Employ people who dare to be different. If you want to be complacent, I’d suggest going out of business or being bought.”

Jacob adds: “Having a strategy and not getting stuck is important; but I strongly believe that if a company doesn’t focus on its employees and culture, it will be severely limited.”

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AOPD engages members in Orlando

Dealers and business partners of national accounts organization AOPD met up at the beginning of May in Orlando, Florida at the Engage 2024 annual meeting.

Engage is one of the US industry calendar’s most anticipated events, with the opportunity for AOPD dealers to spend quality, face-to-face time with their suppliers through a series on one-on-one meetings and marketing seminars.

That said, there is always a very convivial atmosphere and a strong social aspect to the gathering, with the organizers realizing how important it is for colleagues to catch up in less formal surroundings and develop their personal relationships as well as their professional ones.

This year was no exception and the event started with a welcome reception at

which attendees were greeted by a short speech from AOPD general manager/ director of national operations and marketing Angela Price, as unfortunately executive director and regular host Mark Leazer was absent due to health issues—the only dark cloud over a very enjoyable occasion.

The following morning saw the opening session, which included a short speech by Angela Price, welcoming attendees to the start of business. Then, outgoing AOPD board president Beth Freeman addressed the crowd. She spoke of the impressive growth the organization has experienced over the previous year, highlighting a 12 percent increase during just the first quarter of 2024. She also highlighted the positive trends in the healthcare sector, the addition of new opportunities for sales on AOPD’s

Omnia contract, as well as a new partnership with procurement specialist AFFLINK. Finally, she recognized the dealers in the room who had helped add 22 new dealer-written contracts to the organization’s books.

Freeman’s speech was followed by an enlightening talk by former owner and president of Twist Office Partners Wendy Pike on navigating sales in today’s business environment. She spoke of the changing sales landscape and how rapid technological advances, and artificial intelligence in particular, might be harnessed to help independent dealers improve both sales and marketing.

The rest of the day, dealers attended one-to-one meetings with vendors, peer-sharing networking sessions and group marketing workshops.

The following morning saw a

Industry News JUNE/JULY 2024 INDEPENDENT DEALER PAGE 16 If you have news to share, email it to »
l-r: Angela Price, AOPD; Betsy Hughes, AOPD; Justin Carpenter, Stationers Inc; Todd Issenberg, Petter Business Systems; Beth Freeman, FSIoffice; Craig Church, Miller’s Supplies at Work; Kimberley Cleland, Office Products Plus Inc; Dutch Jones, The Supply Room; Tom Buxton, AOPD.

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dealer-only gathering followed by another day of one-to-ones and marketing workshops, punctuated by a meeting entitled “AOPD’s Greatest Hits,” during which national healthcare sales director Betsy Hughes shared some of the big success stories AOPD dealers have enjoyed over the past year. She opened by noting that AOPD is projecting over $72 million worth of sales from its national accounts in 2024. She then enlisted the help of a number of dealers, who explained how they were able to use AOPD’s contracts with the likes of Premier, Vizient and OMNIA Partners to attract significant business wins.

The event concluded with the traditional cocktail reception and awards dinner, at which seven awards were presented to recognize the success of dealers in 2023. The winners were:

• Apex Office Products: Highest percentage growth by a contracting dealer

• The Supply Room: Highest dollar growth by a contracting dealer

• Office Products Plus: Highest percentage growth for the OMNIA contract

• Miller’s Supplies at Work: Highest dollar growth for the OMNIA contract

• Petter Business Systems: Highest percentage growth for the Premier contract

• FSIoffice: Highest dollar growth for the Premier contract

• Stationers, Inc. – Highest dollar growth for the Vizient contract

AOPD also presented the President’s Award for dealers to Andrew Atkinson of Preferred Business Solutions in Irving, Texas; while Nathan Saldin, from Lysol was the business partner recipient.

The new 2024 AOPD board of directors elected at the earlier meeting was also announced:

• Chair of the board: Beth Freeman, FSIoffice

• President: Dutch Jones, The Supply Room Companies

• Vice President: Justin Carpenter, Stationers, Inc

• Treasurer: Wayne Stillwagon, Miller’s Supplies at Work

• Secretary: Jon Rossman, Chuckals, Inc

• Director: Lincoln Dix, Storey Kenworthy

• Director: Tommy Sansom, Officewise Angela Price then thanked the sponsors for this year’s meeting: HP (Platinum Sponsor); Avery, ECI and Fellowes (Silver Sponsors); and BIC, Essendant, Essity and Lysol (Bronze Sponsors).

“We appreciate all our sponsors for helping us put on a phenomenal event,” she concluded. “The first quarter of this year, coupled with an

Acme acquires first aid supplier

Acme United has made another acquisition, expanding its first aid category.

The vendor has purchased the assets of Elite First Aid, a North Carolina-based supplier of tactical, trauma and emergency response products. In 2023, Elite First Aid reported revenues of approximately $4.2 million.

Walter Johnsen, Acme chairman and CEO, said the acquisition will provide a platform to increase sales to domestic and global customers as well as open new markets. The vendor has expanded its successful first aid category with several acquisitions over the past few years, including Canadian companies Hawktree

amazing Engage 2024, will propel our dealers and business partners forward with optimism and shared goals and objectives.”

AOPD’s new president, Dutch Jones, commented after the event: “What a great Engage 2024! Being able to connect with familiar faces and meet a lot of new ones always provides an opportunity to learn and grow from one another. I know everyone left feeling optimistic about how the independent dealer has an opportunity and advantage over the big box stores, now more than ever. Hearing the success stories from dealers utilizing AOPD’s co-ops and GPOs left me focused on how my dealership can gain new business through the AOPD contracts.”

Solutions in 2023 and First Aid Central in 2020.

“The founder and management of Elite First Aid are joining Acme United. We also look forward to welcoming all the employees to the company,” Johnsen said.

The purchase price has not been disclosed.

News »
Betsy Hughes

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Industry News

NAOPA shortlist revealed

The shortlist for the 2024 North American Office Products Awards (NAOPA) has been announced. The awards will take place during Industry Week ’24 powered by ISG, which is being held in Orlando, Florida, September 21-26.

Shortlists have been finalized for the five product categories. They are:

Best Product – Core Business Product

• 3M: Scotch Paper Tape

• C-Line Products: Dry Erase Dot Decals

• Fellowes: Fellowes AutoMax 100MA Auto Feed Shredder

• GoodsiQ dba Amax: Bostitch Office Konnect Desk Organizer and Charging Station

• Kensington: Kensington W2050 Pro 1080p Auto Focus Webcam

• Newell Brands: DYMO LetraTag 200B Bluetooth Label Maker

Best Product – Facilities, Breakroom, Safety & Infection Control

• Egal Pads: Pads-on-a-Roll

• Essity/Tork: Tork 2-in-1 Scouring and Cleaning Foodservice Towel

• Essity/Tork: Tork Carbon Neutral Certified Dispensers

• Reckitt/Lysol Pro Solutions: Professional Lysol Disinfectant Bathroom Cleaner

• Satco Products: Satco LED T8 Tube with Battery Backup

• Satco Products: LED 2-Piece 8′ T8 Tube

Best Product – Furniture

• ACCO Brands: Quartet InvisaMount Magnetic Glass Dry Erase Boards

• ErgoAV: ErgoFx Adjustable Height Standing Desk

• Ghent: GRVT Mobile Collaboration Hub

• The HON Company: SoCo

• The HON Company: Cofi

• Victor Technology: The Worky Home Office

Best Product – Technology

• ECI Software Solutions: EvolutionX

• ErgoAV: Monitor Desk Mount With Docking Station

• Luxor: KwikBoost EdgePower

• Kensington: Kensington SD4880P USB-C 10Gbps Quad Video 17-in-1 Driverless Dock

• Prima Edge: Prima Engage

• S.P. Richards: printSMART

Innovation of the Year

• 3M: Scotch Paper Tape

• Essity: Tork 2-in-1 Scouring and Cleaning Foodservice Towel

• Ghent: GRVT Mobile Collaboration Hub

• Newell Brands: Sharpie Creative Markers

• PS Furniture: Revolution Shield Handgun Bullet Shield Fliptop Tables

• Satco Products: LED 2-Piece 8′ T8 Tube

A further shortlist will be announced in the coming weeks for the Young Executive of the Year award. Two additional individual awards, with no shortlists, will be revealed during Industry Week: Professional of the Year and Industry Achievement. Finally, INDEPENDENT DEALER readers will have the opportunity to vote for the highly anticipated People’s Choice product award, selected from all the shortlisted products listed above. Online voting for this award opens on Monday, June 17 here More information about Industry Week ’24 can be found here

Highlands appoints new business development manager

Sales, marketing and e-commerce agency Highlands has announced that Deb Hoedel has joined the company as business development manager in the Midwest territory.

Hoedel was part of the Highlands field sales team for six years from 2015 – 2021. Most recently, she worked as territory manager for furniture and home furnishings manufacturer AIS.

In her new role, Hoedel will support Highlands’ brand partners and independent distributors in the Midwest region and manage day-to-day activities, including

product training, site visits, quotes, order procurement and other essential sales team tasks.

“We’re excited to welcome Deb back to the Highlands family,” said Alex Gordon, senior director of wholesale. “She has extensive sales experience and we anticipate her contributions with great enthusiasm.”

“I am thrilled to be rejoining the Highlands family and look forward to working with this incredible team of people,” said Hoedel. “I truly believe in the vision and mission of Highlands, and I am excited to be a part of its continued growth and success.”


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OPWIL gathers for annual retreat

Office Products Women in Leadership (OPWIL) hosted its annual retreat from May 16-19 in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The event, now in its eighth year, continues to provide a unique opportunity for senior women leaders in the business supplies industry to step away from their busy schedules, connect with peers and enhance their leadership skills.

The retreat’s agenda was designed to offer both professional development and personal wellbeing activities. Attendees participated in sessions focused on self-connection, skills assessment and

Fellowes expands portfolio following acquisition

maximization, and personal planning for improved productivity. In addition, it included relaxation activities such as pilates, reflection and meditation. There was also ample time for networking, allowing participants to share ideas and experiences within the sector.

OPWIL’s annual retreat is always tailored to meet the evolving needs of attendees. By hosting it in different locations, the organizers are keen to ensure a fresh and engaging experience for all participants.

“Life has become even busier post-pandemic and there is little time for

self-development. The OPWIL retreat provides a fantastic opportunity to not only grow as a leader but also connect with others in the industry, learning and sharing valuable experiences,” said OPWIL board member Janet Bell.

Those interested in next year’s event should contact Bell at

Hospeco to purchase SSE assets

Fellowes Brands has announced a category-expanding launch of markerboards to complement its line of contract interiors products.

This strategic move follows last year’s acquisition of North Carolina-based supplier Springboard Working Surfaces. Since then, Fellowes has expanded the markerboard product range to include custom and quick-ship programs for its contract customers under the Fellowes brand.

The markerboard offering will comprise multiple series falling under mobile boards, wall-mounted boards and accessories. The offer will include premium materials such as magnetic and non-magnetic glass, while porcelain wall boards will also be available.

“Adding yet another important accessory to our portfolio is a testament to our dedication to providing businesses with the tools they need to create inspiring and efficient workspaces,” said Todd Holderness, general manager of Fellowes Contract Interiors. “The full markerboard offering will complement our existing portfolio, reinforcing our position as a leader in specialty products.”

North American jan/san supplier Hospeco Brands Group has entered into an asset purchase agreement (APA) with Supply Source Enterprises (SSE) in a “stalking horse bid.”

SSE was established in 2014 by S.P. Richards (SPR) and comprised jan/san, safety and PPE brands The Safety Zone and Impact Products. It was purchased by private equity firm HIG Capital in 2020, following Genuine Parts Company’s divestment of SPR the same year. In 2022, Impact, Safety Zone and Malt—the latter was acquired by Impact in 2015— became one fully integrated streamlined provider.

Under the terms of the APA, Hospeco Brands—through parent company Tranzonic—will serve as the stalking horse bidder in a court-supervised sale. To facilitate the sale process, SSE has filed voluntary petitions under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code.

The APA is subject to higher or better offers and bankruptcy court approval, among other conditions. If Hospeco Brands is found to be the highest or best bidder for the assets, the transaction will be completed mid-summer.

Tranzonic president Tom Friedl said: “Hospeco Brands Group has a proven track record of growing through acquisition in our core markets, including cleaning and safety, so we are well-positioned to complete this transition smoothly and efficiently for all parties involved.”




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Katun appoints marketing VP

Print aftermarket supplier Katun has appointed Kay Fernandez as VP of global marketing, effective immediately.

The experienced industry exec has joined Katun from Konica Minolta Business Solutions USA where she spent the past 11 years—most recently as SVP of global branding and marketing. Previously, she spent more than 11 years at Toshiba America Business Solutions.

“In her new position, Fernandez will lead Katun’s marketing efforts, including brand development, digital marketing, public relations, and customer engagement strategies. She will work closely with the executive team to drive awareness, accelerate growth and strengthen Katun’s position as a trusted partner to businesses worldwide,” said a company statement.

AIS adds five territory managers across regions

After a year of record sales, Leominster, Massachusetts-based furniture manufacturer AIS has responded to increased demand for products with a recruitment effort in markets across the country.

To date, five new members of the sales team have been added in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest and Southern United States. The new team members and their territories are:

• Taylor James, Michigan

• Adam Neumeister, Oregon, Hawaii, central Washington

• Chandra Smith, Metro Seattle, Spokane, Alaska

• Cristina Stoker, Florida

• Jana Turner, Tennessee

The AIS sales team is managed by two senior vice presidents: Ben Maxwell in the east and Doug Bowen in the west. According to Maxwell, “Our sales teams are busier than

they’ve ever been. The volume of interest in AIS has increased dramatically and with these additional sales leaders, we are able to respond promptly to help our dealers succeed. As regions continue to grow, onboarding new sales reps just makes sense.”

Bowen concurs: “We are experiencing a season of growth, not only for our teams, but also with exciting new products that will take AIS into new areas including outdoor furniture and expand upon our proven laminate expertise with modular caseworks. There is great momentum at AIS and we’re pleased to be adding talented people to the team to help our dealers win.”

Meanwhile, earlier this year AIS was recognized for achievements and leadership in workforce development by the region’s business publication, the Worcester Business Journal, at their annual manufacturing excellence event.

l-r Taylor James, Adam Neumeister, Chandra Smith, Cristina Stoker and Jana Turner

Orlando will become the epicenter of innovation and ingenuity as the Sunshine State hosts Industry Week ’24, September 21-26*!

This year’s agenda features unparalleled networking opportunities, cutting-edge seminars, and game-changing insights. Whether you’re a seasoned industry leader or a budding entrepreneur, this event is your gateway to unlocking new possibilities and driving your business to unprecedented heights.

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✸ Dynamic Seminars: Dive deep into the latest industry trends, strategies, and best practices through educational workshops led by industry experts and your peers. Gain practical insights and actionable takeaways to fuel your business.

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✸ Be Inspired: The thought-provoking Industry Week ’24 Keynote Speaker will captivate you and provide valuable perspectives that will empower you to lead with confidence and vision.

Don't miss your chance to be part of this transformative event. Mark your calendars, gather your team, and prepare to ignite innovation at Industry Week '24 in Orlando, Florida!


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Date: September 21-26, 2024*

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MPS Monitor and Nexera consolidate leadership

Managed print providers MPS Monitor and Nexera have confirmed a new management set-up.

One year after Nexera was acquired by MPS Monitor owner Valsoft, the two companies have integrated their remote management and service analytics technologies under a unified leadership team. A company statement described the development as “a pivotal moment” and “a transformative step” that will “revolutionize” the managed print industry.

“Print and imaging dealers can expect unique functionalities, streamlined workflows and optimized print fleet management capabilities tailored to their business needs,” the statement promised.

Joining the business as regional director for North America at both MPS Monitor and Nexera is Sarah Henderson. Henderson is an experienced print exec, having spent more than nine years at Clover—where she led the company’s MPS program—and five years at Great America Financial Services’ office equipment division. Most recently, she was area sales manager at Kyocera Document Solutions.

Henderson reports to Alessandro Cirelli, now COO of Nexera as well as MPS Monitor. Meanwhile, former MPS Monitor CEO Nicola De Blasi has assumed the role of chief strategy officer at both companies.

BradyPLUS acquires in Idaho

Leading jan/san, foodservice and packaging distributor BradyPLUS has grown its presence in the west.

The latest addition to the BradyPLUS fold is Idaho Packaging Company (iPAK), an industrial and agricultural custom packaging distributor serving the Greater Idaho, Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington regions. iPAK, founded in 1983 by Doug Hix, is today headed by CEO Conn Hix.

“The acquisition of iPAK enables us to scale a priority geography and expand our industrial packaging capabilities,” said BradyPLUS CEO Ken Sweder.

SugarCRM purchases sales-i

Leading customer relationship management (CRM) player SugarCRM has acquired revenue intelligence technology platform provider sales-i.

The move comes almost a year after Sugar announced a partnership with sales-i to improve B2B sales performance by delivering AI-powered revenue intelligence that leverages the data of a company’s ERP system and CRM.

While businesses often have plenty of sales data, the challenge can be examining large volumes of data to find cross-sell or up-sell opportunities, or ensuring existing customers meet their buying commitments. The two companies have been working together to address this issue, with sales-i serving as a sales revenue intelligence tool which captures product, price, quantity and frequency insights from customers’ ERP systems. The information is then shared with the Sugar solution, before providing specific insights into the trends between the organization and the customer.

“This combination delivers actionable, intelligent sales strategies that will improve revenue, maximize profitability, increase customer satisfaction and produce more efficient salespeople,” said Sugar CEO Craig Charlton. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.


SSI releases major software update

Dealer software provider Systems Solutions Limited (SSI) has released a new version of its SSI Edge backoffice software. The new release contains dozens of new features and enhancements, primarily focusing on efficiency and security.

The most noticeable improvements are to the user interface, with selections in the dropdown menus reorganized and new selections added. These include a new Purchase Order Inquiry submenu which lets users choose between the standard summary inquiry, a new detailed inquiry with additional search options and a relocated history inquiry. Similar changes have been made to other system menus to simplify

navigation and improve usability, providing faster access for both new and experienced users while making it easier for dealers to restrict employee access to specific software modules.

There are also several enhancements to Salesperson Edge, the software’s integrated sales intelligence module. Among other changes, the module’s inquiry window now provides one-click access to order entry for faster order changes and there is a new option to display consolidated sales statistics for salespeople with multiple salesperson numbers.

Other new features include the ability to duplicate an existing quote for use with other customers; automatic

Boom launch videobar audio expansion combo kit

Fast-growing video conferencing manufacturer Boom Collaboration has launched a new version of its innovative HALO videobar that features expandable audio.

The Boom HALO Business Edition includes a high-performance videobar plus an additional microphone/speaker to dramatically increase the audio range in larger rooms.

Launched earlier this year, the standard HALO delivers crystal-clear audio and 4K video with enhanced artificial intelligence facial framing and speaker tracking. Multiple additional microphones and speakers can be daisy-chained.

To further accelerate demand, the company has created a dedicated dual combo package.

Co-founder Fredrik Hörnkvist says the Business Edition overcomes traditional acoustic limitations of standard videobars: “It is ideally suited to a wide range of use cases where extra audio reach is required, such as flexible rooms, dedicated tasks and growing teams.”

cost calculation by vendor code for manually created furniture orders; consolidated PDF-format invoice, statement or purchase order reports; and the option to assign reason codes to customer credits. The user-defined codes are reportable and can be assigned to individual line items or the whole credit ticket.

The new version has already been released to existing SSI customers at no additional cost.

Imperial Dade expansion shows no sign of slowing

Imperial Dade’s slew of acquisitions continues, with four new additions to the company roster since the beginning of May.

Most recently (at the time of going to press), the jan/ san and facilities giant has bought Regional Distributors, a leading supplier of cleaning, hospitality, foodservice and packaging products in Western and Central New York. Regional was founded in 1994 by Tracy and David Scalen and is headquartered in Rochester.

Prior to that, the company added to its presence in Canada with Canpaco, an Ontario-based business that includes the Crystal Poly Converters, Arcadian Paper Converters and Canadian Paper & Packaging go-to-market brands. The distributor sells across Canada as well as in certain parts of the US.

That followed another New York acquisition in the form of 3G Packaging, a firm established by Vince Stango in 2016 following the merger of Acker-Pak and CIPS, two companies in the industrial distribution industry.

Finally, in early May, Imperial Dade strengthened its grip in the Midwest with RD McMillen, a second-generation family business based in the city of Decatur in Central Illinois.

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The power of collective voice: why small businesses need advocacy programs through professional associations

In the vast landscape of commerce, independent dealers often find themselves navigating turbulent waters, facing challenges that are unique to their scale and resources. From limited budgets to fierce competition, these enterprises stand at the forefront of economic activity, yet their voices are often drowned out amid the roar of larger corporations. In the realm of policymaking, this discrepancy becomes even more pronounced, with independent dealers struggling to make themselves heard in the corridors of power. However, there exists a beacon of hope in the form of advocacy programs offered by professional associations like the Workplace Solutions Association (WSA). These programs serve as a vital conduit for independent dealers to amplify their voices, advocate for their interests and effect meaningful change in public policy.

Small business landscape

Before delving into the significance of advocacy programs, it’s essential to understand the landscape in which independent dealers operate. According to recent statistics, small businesses such as independent dealers constitute a significant portion of the global economy, accounting for a substantial percentage of employment and gross domestic

product contribution. In the US alone, small businesses make up over 99 percent of all businesses, employing nearly half the private sector workforce and generating approximately two-thirds of net new jobs. These statistics underscore the crucial role small businesses play in driving economic growth and fostering innovation.

Despite their economic significance, independent dealers face an uphill battle when it comes to advocacy and representation, particularly in legislative arenas such as Washington. Unlike their Fortune 500 counterparts, which boast substantial financial resources and dedicated lobbying teams, independent dealers often lack the resources and bandwidth to engage effectively in advocacy efforts. This discrepancy creates an imbalance of power, in which the voices of large corporations carry more weight in shaping public policy, leaving independent dealers marginalized and overlooked.

Time constraints and financial disadvantages

One of the primary challenges independent dealers encounter in participating in advocacy campaigns is scarcity of time. Unlike Fortune 500 companies, which may have dedicated personnel and departments


tasked with advocacy initiatives, small business owners often wear multiple hats, juggling various responsibilities to keep their operations running smoothly. The demands of day-to-day management, coupled with limited staffing and resources, leave little room for active involvement in advocacy efforts. Moreover, the financial advantage enjoyed by Fortune 500 companies exacerbates the disparity in advocacy participation. Large corporations can allocate substantial budgets toward lobbying activities, hiring high-profile lobbyists and investing in sophisticated advocacy campaigns. In contrast, independent dealers must prioritize their limited resources, allocating funds to essential areas such as payroll, inventory and marketing. As a result, they may find it challenging to justify the expense of participating in advocacy programs through their professional associations, despite recognizing the potential benefits.

The power of one: independent dealers as the agents of change

Despite these challenges, independent dealers have a potent weapon in their arsenal: the power of one. Individually, a single small business may struggle to make a significant impact on public policy. However, when united under the umbrella of a professional association like WSA, these businesses form a collective force capable of driving meaningful change. By pooling their resources, expertise and voices, independent dealers can amplify their advocacy efforts, garnering attention and influence that would otherwise be unattainable.

Moreover, independent dealers have a unique advantage in advocacy campaigns: their authenticity and grassroots appeal. Unlike large corporations, which may be perceived as self-interested or disconnected

from the needs of ordinary citizens, independent dealers are deeply embedded in their communities. They are employers, neighbors and pillars of local economies, lending credibility and legitimacy to their advocacy efforts. Policymakers are more likely to listen to the voices of small businesses, recognizing them as representatives of Main Street rather than Wall Street.

Overcoming obstacles, celebrating successes

Of course, the path to advocacy success is not without obstacles. Independent dealers must overcome bureaucratic hurdles, navigate complex regulatory landscapes and contend with entrenched interests. However, history is replete with examples of independent dealers triumphing over adversity and effecting change through advocacy. Whether advocating for tax reform, regulatory relief or access to capital, independent dealers have the power to shape public policy in ways that benefit not only themselves but also the broader economy.

Moreover, the return on investment (ROI) from participation in advocacy programs through professional associations like WSA can be substantial. Beyond the tangible benefits of policy outcomes, independent dealers stand to gain valuable networking opportunities, access to expertise and resources, and enhanced visibility within their industries. By aligning themselves with likeminded peers and leveraging the collective strength of their association, independent dealers can amplify their impact and secure a seat at the table where decisions are made.

The role of your professional association

Central to the effectiveness of advocacy programs for independent dealers is the role played by

professional associations like WSA. WSA serves as an invaluable platform for independent dealers to elevate their voices, connect with peers and access resources that are essential for advocacy success. Whether operating at the local, regional or national level, professional associations like WSA offer a range of benefits that can empower independent dealers to make their voices heard and influence public policy.

First and foremost, WSA provides independent dealers with a collective voice that carries greater weight than individual efforts. By banding together under the WSA banner, independent dealers can amplify their advocacy efforts and command attention from policymakers and stakeholders. Professional associations often have established relationships with government officials, regulatory agencies and industry leaders, allowing them to advocate more effectively on behalf of their members. Furthermore, WSA offers independent dealers access to expertise and resources that may otherwise be out of reach. From research and analysis to legal counsel and strategic guidance, these associations provide invaluable support to members, equipping them with the tools and knowledge needed to navigate complex policy issues and make informed decisions. By tapping into the collective wisdom of their association, independent dealers can enhance their advocacy efforts and achieve better outcomes.

ROI: belonging to your professional association

The ROI from belonging to WSA extends far beyond advocacy alone. While advocacy programs offer tangible benefits in terms of shaping public policy, professional associations like WSA provide a wide range of


additional advantages that can contribute to the success and growth of small businesses.

Networking opportunities are one of the most significant benefits of belonging to a professional association. By connecting with peers, industry leaders and potential collaborators, independent dealers can expand their networks, forge valuable partnerships and access new opportunities for growth and development. Whether through conferences, workshops or online forums, professional associations facilitate meaningful interactions that can lead to business opportunities, mentorship and knowledge sharing. Additionally, professional associations offer educational and professional development opportunities that can enhance the skills and capabilities of small business owners and their employees. From training programs and certification courses to webinars and seminars, these associations provide access to valuable resources that can help independent dealers stay competitive in a rapidly evolving marketplace. By investing in their professional development, independent dealers can strengthen their capabilities, increase their efficiency and position themselves for long-term success.

Finally, belonging to WSA can enhance the visibility and credibility of independent dealers within their industries and communities. By affiliating themselves with a reputable association, independent dealers signal their commitment to professionalism, ethics and excellence. This can help attract customers, investors and partners that value these qualities, ultimately contributing to the growth and success of the business.

The ROI from belonging to a professional association is undeniable. From advocacy and networking to professional development and visibility, associations like WSA offer a wealth of benefits that can empower independent dealers to thrive and succeed. By actively participating in advocacy programs and leveraging the resources of their association, independent dealers can amplify their voices, influence public policy and achieve their goals. In doing so, they not only benefit themselves but also contribute to the collective strength and vitality of the small business community as a whole.

Advocating for your business or industry and belonging to your professional association go hand in hand. You need both to be successful today. As independent dealers, we

have challenges our Fortune 500 counterparts don’t. But we also have advantages—and one of those advantages is the fact that we have thousands of independent dealers in every congressional district. This advantage is real and our professional association helps us harness it in Washington.

It is imperative for independent dealers to engage in advocacy programs through professional associations like WSA. By uniting their voices, resources and efforts, independent dealers can overcome the challenges of limited time, financial constraints and unequal representation. They can leverage their authenticity, grassroots appeal and collective power to shape public policy in ways that foster innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth. In doing so, they not only advocate for their own interests, but also champion the broader cause of small business success. As the saying goes, “In unity, there is strength”—and nowhere is this truer than in the realm of advocacy.

The power of one can be a potent tool in Washington. If you’re not yet a member of WSA or part of our advocacy team, it’s not too late. Partner with us and see the ROI.


Independent resellers vs. Amazon in the office products industry


I used ChatGPT to help me write this article. After months of listening to various articles and presentations on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI), I decided to give it a try. For several years, the Workplace Solutions Association has done presentations and webinars on competing with Amazon. The time that went into research and preparation was significant. The draft of this article took less than 15 minutes and only minor changes were needed to personalize the article and ensure accuracy.

WSA is currently exploring ways it can help its members lean into AI in productive and logical ways that align with a company’s goals and culture. Stay tuned for more information and opportunities on AI for the workplace solutions industry.

The office products industry has long been a bustling marketplace, catering to the needs of businesses, government agencies and individuals alike. Traditionally, small independent resellers have been the backbone of this sector, offering personalized service and local expertise. However, the advent of e-commerce behemoth Amazon has revolutionized the way office supplies are bought and sold, posing significant challenges for independent players. This article explores the dynamic competition between small independent resellers and Amazon in the office products industry, tracing its historical evolution, analyzing market trends and exploring strategies for survival and success.

Before the rise of Amazon, the office products industry was dominated by a network of small independent resellers.

These local businesses thrived on building strong relationships with customers, providing tailored solutions and offering personalized service. Whether it was sourcing specialized supplies or providing timely deliveries, independent resellers became integral partners of businesses and government agencies alike.

However, this landscape began to shift with the emergence of e-commerce platforms in the late 20th century. While some local resellers adapted by establishing online storefronts, others struggled to keep pace with the rapidly changing market dynamics.

Amazon’s entry into the office products industry marked a seismic shift in the competitive landscape. Leveraging its vast resources, technological prowess and logistical infrastructure, Amazon quickly »

WSA Focus

emerged as a dominant player, offering unparalleled convenience and choice to consumers worldwide. With competitive pricing, expansive product catalogs and streamlined ordering processes, Amazon posed a formidable challenge to traditional brick-and-mortar stores and independent resellers alike.

One significant battleground for both independent resellers and Amazon is government contracts. Local, state and federal governments are major consumers of office supplies, procuring everything from paper and pens to furniture and electronics. Historically, independent resellers held a significant share of this market, leveraging their local presence and personalized service to secure lucrative contracts.

However, Amazon’s foray into government procurement has disrupted this status quo. Through its Amazon Business platform, the tech giant has aggressively targeted government contracts, offering competitive pricing, streamlined purchasing processes and some level of compliance with procurement regulations. As a result, independent resellers now face intensified competition for government business, forcing them to adapt their strategies to remain competitive.

Statistics reveal a complex picture of pricing dynamics and market share in the office products industry. While independent resellers may offer competitive pricing on certain products, Amazon’s economies of scale often enable it to undercut prices significantly. According to industry reports, Amazon commands a substantial share of the office products market, with its competitive pricing and vast product selection appealing to a wide range of consumers.

In contrast, independent resellers differentiate themselves through personalized service, product expertise and flexibility. While their prices may

not always match those of Amazon, many customers are willing to pay a premium for the convenience and support offered by local suppliers.

Competing effectively in a global marketplace

In today’s global selling environment, independent resellers face an uphill battle against giants like Amazon. However, they can still carve out a niche and compete effectively by leveraging their unique strengths and adopting strategic approaches. Here are some key strategies for independent resellers to remain competitive:

• Emphasize personalized service and expertise: Independent resellers can differentiate themselves by providing personalized service, expert advice and tailored solutions to meet customer needs. By building strong relationships with customers, resellers can cultivate loyalty and differentiate themselves from larger competitors.

• Focus on niche markets and specialized products: Instead of trying to compete head-on with Amazon’s vast product catalog, independent resellers can focus on niche markets and specialized products where they can provide added value. By catering to specific industries or offering hard-to-find products, resellers can attract

customers seeking unique solutions.

• Harness the power of partnerships: Collaborating with other local businesses, manufacturers or industry associations can provide independent resellers with access to exclusive products, discounts and marketing opportunities. By engaging in strategic partnerships, resellers can enhance their competitive position and expand their reach.

The competitiveness of the office products industry hinges on the dynamic interplay between small independent resellers and e-commerce giant Amazon. While Amazon’s dominance poses significant challenges for independent resellers, there are still opportunities for them to thrive by leveraging their unique strengths and adopting strategic approaches. By emphasizing personalized service, focusing on niche markets and forming strategic partnerships, independent resellers can compete effectively in today’s global marketplace while preserving the unique value they offer to customers and communities. Ultimately, the future of the office products industry will be shaped by how well independent resellers adapt to evolving customer preferences, technological advancements and competitive pressures.

WSA Focus

Mike Maggio

Mike Maggio officially left his post as senior advisor at S.P. Richards at the end of January, having stepped down as CEO 12 months earlier when the wholesaler was purchased by CNG. We caught up with him to find out what he’s been up to and to ask his opinion on the current state of the IDC

INDEPENDENT DEALER: It’s a while since you stepped away from your role at S.P. Richards (SPR)—what have you been up to since you left?

Mike Maggio: One of my passions has always been helping dealers, especially in an advisory capacity. I did it for years—most recently at SPR, but also at ActionEmco and a lot at TriMega. So, I sit on a couple of advisory boards for some dealers and help them, mostly with the strategy side of their business. Not a lot of day-to-day nuts and bolts, but some of that.

I’ve also been working with Bryan Stevenson and Tanya Ross. They used to be part of TriMega on the technology side. Brian has a company called footPRINT in Canada, which is a technology-based company that helps dealers with their managed print services (MPS) backend. I’ve been spending time with him and Tanya, communicating with dealers about how to get involved in, if not managed print, then at least contractual ink and toner, because HP has made it clear that resellers that are not involved on

the contractual side may ultimately be unable to continue to sell HP. They may lose their authorization.

Then—and some of those who know me might find this a little bit farfetched— there is a local university called Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, which has a fairly active business school called Rohrer College of Business. My neighbor is a professor there, and one day he showed up at my door and we started talking. That led to me doing a lecture for his class; and now I sit on three advisory boards at the university and—I have to chuckle—I was recently appointed a professor of business practice executive in residence.

ID: Excellent—that’s very impressive. MM: So, I’ve started mentoring students and working with them. When they asked me: “What do you think you’ll be bringing to the table? What are you hoping to do?” I replied: “Well, I’ve made about every mistake possible when it comes to being in business. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of people around here that are helping them with how to be successful; if I can help somebody just make one less mistake than I made, or just not make the mistakes I made, I will consider myself of value.” And of course, everybody chuckled at that. And I said: “No, I’m serious.” And I really was. And the dean—who is a fascinating guy—finally looked at me and said: “You know, nobody’s ever approached it that way.” And I said: “Well, that’s the only way I know how to approach it.”

So that’s my goal. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a lot of fun. It does not require an enormous amount of time—just enough that I do a little bit and keep busy.

ID: You mentioned that you are sitting on the boards of some independents, advising them on strategy. What, typically, are the strategic challenges or issues that you assist them with? »


MM: Obviously, the biggest challenge for any business—and certainly in our neck of the woods—is growth strategy: “What do I need to be doing to grow my business?” The fact that the office products sector is in decline is now accepted. Nobody questions anymore that office products is no longer the future of our business. It’s a mainstay— nobody’s getting out of office products; but if you think you’re going to grow your office products, that’s very difficult. So, there’s growth; and then growth either organically or through acquisition. Then: “What are the key categories that we should be exploring and in today?” And then: “What are the adjacencies and opportunities of tomorrow?” Those are the biggies.

The other key matter, of course, is succession planning. As you’re well aware, most resellers are woefully short of succession planning. In fact, most don’t have a plan. And I’m not talking about small businesses; I’m talking about robust $30 million, $40 million, $50 million, $100 million organizations and up that don’t necessarily have good succession plans.

So those are the standard bearers of the conversation. Some of it is cookie cutter. If you’re not selling cleaning and breakroom today, you’ve got a real problem, because it’s almost passing you by. They overlook the fact that furniture continues to be a significant growth area; so what do you do there? And then, of course, technology is an area that for some reason we have always ignored—even though the modern office, which we say is still the cornerstone of our business, is highly technology based.

Those are the key points; and then you start talking about the adjacencies. Obviously, we’ve seen guys like Kevin Johnson [at Warehouse Direct in Des Plaines, Illinois] get into food service and he’s not alone in that. There are dealers now that are providing cleaning

services. Safety is another big category; medical supplies—and durable medical equipment especially—is an untapped area that some are toying with which will be an opportunity, there’s no doubt in my mind. And it’s very similar to how we sell things: it’s through distribution almost exclusively. There are some manufacturers that will allow you to buy direct.

These are the kinds of conversations that are ongoing. At the same time, we’re talking about business structure: how the business should be developed and laid out; how the organizational structure should look today and how it should look in the future.

I enjoy it. I really like the fact that I can be a third-party arbiter. I don’t have to make a decision or make it sound like I have a dog in the fight. My goal is just to get them to think and to act. It’s been a lot of fun.

I have talked to some manufacturers about working with them and I suspect at some point, I’ll have further discussions there. But right now, I’m at a pretty good cadence between free time and doing some work. So I probably won’t do much more.

ID: Let’s talk about the future for independent dealers. You just stated the relatively obvious fact that if dealers are not in jan/san and breakroom, they are missing out a massive opportunity. I can’t believe there are many dealers out there anywhere on the planet in established markets that haven’t figured that one out?

MM: None that we would consider progressive, right?

ID: So I guess that the difficulty has always been: how do you move past just tinkering in that particular sandpit? I think our industry has always done a very good job of shifting boxes, but it’s always gone

in at the commodity end—the paper towels and the cups.

MM: Yes, consumables.

ID: But to fully play in that space, you have to really get into it. To me, as an observer, that seems to be where most come up against a bit of a brick wall. Would you agree?

MM: Yes, absolutely. You almost have to start at the beginning. When you look at the structure of our industry today and how we got here, the one thing that stands out is that if you look at dealers’ balance sheets, they are often underinvested in key areas of their business.

Marketing has always been a stepchild. IT, their own computer infrastructure, has always been a stepchild. Even their growth plans. Very few dealers recognize the investment that is needed to do what they should be doing. So, they’ve got to change.

Do you remember [former SVP of merchandising at US Office Products] Ed Walper? Well, Ed used to use a phrase all the time which drove me crazy: “Paradigm shift.” I came to hate those words. But the fact is that we have built a structure that is not capable of taking us into the future. The marketing that wholesalers provided is not adequate to grow your business into the future. It’s good for OP—like you said, it’s good for selling consumables. If you want to sell paper towels and toilet paper, it’s great for that. But if you really want to establish your organization for the future, you’ve got to look at the world differently.

First, you’ve got to acknowledge that you have to invest—and that’s an investment both in people and in infrastructure. Which comes first? To me, it’s always been about people. I learned a long time ago that there is a huge difference between effectiveness and efficiency. We tend to think about them as one and the same, but they »


absolutely are not. You have to be effective first, because once you’re effective, you can pay for efficiency.

You and I have seen the world littered with companies that have gone out and tried to make themselves more efficient, but they were ineffective to begin with. And in some cases, that literally put them out of business. So, the effectiveness comes first. And I think the key investment has got to be in people. Now, you can do that through acquisition. A lot of good dealers have acquired jan/san assets and that’s a very good way of doing it, because it’s a different business. It requires a different way of looking at the world. It’s the same thing with furniture. You want to be good at it? Buy a furniture business. The thing that is most interesting about furniture people is that they recognize the difference between service and products. And they expect to get paid for service. We, for some reason, have always thought service should be free. And we can’t live that way anymore. None of us—wholesalers and resellers alike. We’ve got to unbundle what we do and how we do it.

So, to me, the first resource that you should concentrate on is getting the right people on the bus. That’s the way it was always referred to, when you look at strategic planning, and that still is true today. If you bring in the right people, you can do wonders with your business. If you think you’re going to do it all with the people you have, you’ll get the same results that you get today. And the one thing we’ve always found is that people can be led. But if you think your folks are going to go out and figure all this out on their own, they’re not. So that’s always my advice on where to start. Also, you need to establish a budget and know that you are going to spend some money. The question then becomes: where’s that money going to come from? Well, traditional sources. It’s going to come out of your current

cashflow. It’s going to come from loans. In some cases, vendors will provide some resources to help you grow your business, but nothing like they used to do. They used to pay for salespeople. They used to pay for trucks. Those things are gone.

ID: It sounds like there’s a real mind shift that’s needed for independent dealers?

MM: Yes. I don’t want to downplay the fact that a number of dealers have made that shift already. There are a bunch of very progressive dealers out there. I have already mentioned Kevin Johnson—he is probably at the forefront of most of this. Dave Guernsey has always had an organization that has looked to the future. The Supply Room Company boys are doing an incredible job with their business. And they’ve always had a tradition of doing it through acquisition—almost never organically, always through acquisition. And then there’s other bits and pieces: Eakes in the Midwest. Steve Danziger has doubled his business in the last 12 months in San Francisco. So, there are plenty of dealers that get it and are doing it. But as an industry, we’re woefully short of that.

ID: I imagine you’d agree that it’s probably easier for the Eakes, Guernseys and Innovatives of this world to do that, because they already have a certain scale and probably were a bit more robust coming out of the pandemic. If you took a smaller dealer, would you say that the challenge for them to get on board the diversification bus is more difficult?

MM: Yes and no. I think the difficulty lies in the fact that they have very little outside input. One of the things I have mentioned is my passion for an advisory board. I don’t care how big or small you are—having some level of accountability, even though it’s in an advisory capacity,

forces you to examine your business on a periodic basis.

From personal experience, one of the things I did early on in my career was that my cousins and I bought a small dealer in Center City, Philadelphia, and I ran that for a number of years. It was the only time we were partners in anything. And I got involved in the Chamber of Commerce and the chamber had a small business advisory group that was invaluable. We took that business from—I want to say it was a couple of hundred thousand a year to $1 million within four years, and this was in the 1980s. And a big reason was because I had a whole bunch of outside advisors that were helping me.

So the problem is not necessarily that they don’t have the resources to do it, because everything’s scalable, right? You don’t start by going out and buying somebody five times your size; but you can certainly hire somebody. There’s no reason why you can’t go out and find an expert and yes, it’s going to cost you some money. But it’s more



about getting that dealer to think a little more strategically versus day to day; and that’s really difficult for the smaller business, because you don’t have three people in your operations group. You have you, and maybe you have a guy. So therein lies the challenge. But I don’t think it’s insurmountable. It’s more about forcing yourself to take a step back, at least on some sort of semi-regular basis—quarterly is obviously optimal, but even every six months at the worst.

ID: As we look at the typical OP dealer—if we even want to call them that anymore; we can’t, I suppose—but typical independent dealers as they evolve: some major in furniture, others go into cleaning and a variety of other categories. Their businesses all start to look very different. You can’t compare one to another as easily as you could two or three decades ago. That must make benchmarking your own business against others fairly difficult, as

resellers start to have much bigger portfolios of products?

MM: That’s a great question and a great point. Benchmarking has always been a challenge. There’s a dearth of it. There’s very little benchmarking that we can point to today. In fact, I had a conversation with a dealer just the other day who has developed a small peer group around the country. And one of the things he and I talked about was that the next step there is to do some benchmarking. And I offered to help develop that for them.

The one thing that’s universal, no matter what business you’re in, is the balance sheet, because you can look at what you’re spending in certain major categories. You’re right—currently those categories are very different; but a balance sheet is a balance sheet, and that has always been the true measure of a healthy business versus an unhealthy one.

So, you start with the balance sheet: you pick some key categories that everybody has interest in and then

you try to find some common ways of measuring those. It can be done, but it is certainly very different than the old NOPA days, when they gave you a chart of accounts and you filled it in and boom, because everybody was filling those out. But I used to love that report—it was extremely valuable. So, as I say, it can be done; and that’s always my advice as to where to start, because of the differences today in how we do business.

ID: What else should dealers be doing?

MM: We touched on technology earlier. The one thing I keep trying to remind dealers is: you can get into the contractual space without getting into managed print. You don’t have to do managed print to sell contractual ink toner. In fact, HP just came out with a brand-new program to incentivize dealers even more to do it. Brother has a very good program. Lexmark has a program. Xerox has a program. They all have programs to get into contractual ink and toner, and not to do it is a huge mistake.

ID: What’s the difference between the contractual selling of ink and toner versus MPS?

MM: With managed print, you’re basically selling and billing on a per-page basis. So, the big challenge, when you switch to a managed print relationship with a customer, is that your volume drops, because now every month you’re just billing them two or three cents a page or whatever. You’re not selling them two toner cartridges or three toner cartridges at $150 a pop. But long term, it is more profitable and it locks them in. They can’t go anywhere else. They can’t do anything. They can’t buy equipment anymore without buying it from you.

So, the contract is really robust. But salespeople hate it because

Interview »

their volume goes and you need to understand how to compensate your people for that. I’m sure you’ve heard dealers tell you: “Oh, yes, we tried that and it was an abject failure.” Well, that’s because it’s a truly different business.

On the contractual side, you’re still selling toner; they just have to buy it from you. And the only difference is the printer now tells you: “I need a new toner cartridge.” They are locked in for three to five years; the pricing is locked in. And it’s all automatic. You electronically get a notification from the printer that it’s down to X number of days of toner. That order then gets sent over to your distribution partner and it’s either drop shipped or, with some partners, you can still wrap, label and deliver it like you deliver everything else.

So the main difference is that volume number still is there. It doesn’t go away. That’s so much easier for a salesperson to relate to. But it locks in a customer the same way. And it is a very effective way to get into the contractual side; and we expect that once you start that way, you will eventually migrate to MPS at some

point. But I will tell you: dealers that are not doing it have already started to see some loss in revenue and will continue to see loss in revenue.

ID: At Industry Week last year, there was a lot of talk about diversification. We’ve spoken about a number of channels mentioned, but there were also some good speakers on promotional products and maintenance, repairs and operations (MRO). What are your views on those? MM: Promo products is an established business today. I don’t know why I didn’t mention it. If you’re not in it, you need to get into it. Your peers are in it—again, all the names that I mentioned. They’re all in it in a big way.

It’s a very profitable piece of business. It requires almost no expertise—basically one person to manage it for you. There are websites that you can then use to make your own. It’s one of the easiest businesses to get into. So that is a today business and I missed that. Thanks for mentioning it.

MRO is most definitely an opportunity. Some guys are doing it. Interestingly enough, it’s one of the attractions of ECi and Dave Bent’s EvolutionX platform, because one feature that he has in his web store is that you can add SPR’s content, Essendant’s content—you can add anybody’s content and it all gets integrated.

I am aware that a few dealers are using hardware wholesaler Do It Best. It’s the easiest one to get into, because they’ve made it very simple; but you can also work with Ace and Grainger. So MRO is certainly an untapped opportunity and should be in that vision for the future.

ID: Before we draw this interview to an end, is there anything else that we haven’t spoken about that you think is worth mentioning?

MM: I still think this is one of the most exciting industries to be in. The opportunities are enormous. There are a number of new entrepreneurs in this business. They bring a new energy. There are a lot of young people. All of these dealers that we mentioned have young people involved in their businesses.

So, this is not a dying industry. It’s a mature industry. That is a very different way to look at it; and for those that think it is dying, that’s unfortunate, because it’s not only not dying, but think about it—25-30 years ago, not only was office products all we were selling, but that’s all we could sell.

Today, we just rattled off seven or eight major categories that are absolute opportunities for any independent reseller that wants to devote the time, energy and resources to making it happen. So, I think this is the most exciting time. I’m disappointed that I’m 69 years old and basically retired, because I can’t think of a better time to be in our industry than today.


No one needs to tell independent dealers that, on average, office product sales are dwindling. This means diversification isn’t just an option—it’s a necessity to make a profit. One of the major sectors savvy dealers have been exploring for this reason is furniture. But since COVID-19, many employees have been working remotely on hybrid schedules in home offices that have already been kitted out with everything they need. In this scenario, can furniture remain the sales driver it has been over the past few years? While no one can predict the future, the dealers we interviewed provide insight into current market conditions and trends and ponder on what might lie ahead.

Meet the dealers

San Diego, California-based Business Office Outfitters and Office Furniture Outlet combined do about $8.2 million in annual sales, most of which come from furniture. While the companies sell some high and low-end lines, most of their sales are in the mid-market range. They also sell refurbished furniture. Emerald Business Supply and Emerald Business Interiors are headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Of their $17 million in annual sales, furniture accounts for just under $6 million. This figure is expected to grow—in part due to the addition of seasoned talent such as Nick Faragasso, who joined three years ago as director of workplace interiors after 14 years with W.B. Mason. Spry, Anderson, Indiana, enjoys annual sales of $27 million, with up to 6% generated by furniture. About two years ago, Spry acquired Lee Graphics, a company with a stronger furniture focus, which Spry continues to build upon. Most of its sales are budget and lower-end furniture is supplied largely by S.P. Richards.

GBP Direct, Kenner, Louisiana, entered the furniture business in 2008, when it brought three employees on board from a competitor with more than 75 years of combined furniture experience. Today, furniture accounts for 50% of the company’s $20 million in annual sales. Like other dealers, GBP Direct sells all furniture grades, including purely transactional sales, through the company website. However, most of the family-owned furniture business is in the mid-market sector.

Who’s buying what—and who’s not “In California, rents are so expensive that a lot of companies are struggling with their leases—something I’m sure is happening elsewhere, if to a lesser degree,” says Jerry Sinclair, co-owner and vice president of Business Office Outfitters and Office Furniture Outlet. “If they can’t negotiate a reasonable lease, many are downsizing or letting their staff work remotely. When their leases are up and they can’t negotiate a reasonable price, others say, ‘We’re out.’ The real estate companies have been hit especially hard. Home sales are down and rent prices are up, so a lot are closing their offices. We buy back a lot of that furniture.”

According to Sinclair, residential

sales aren’t helping much: “Most remote employees have already purchased things like their high-end ergonomic chair, and they don’t need more than one desk and chair. I think many companies are still trying to get employees back in the office, but most people are working hybrid two or three days a week and I don’t see this trend stopping.”

So, who is buying furniture? “Our sales in healthcare and education are strong,” reports Sinclair. “Some administrative employees in these sectors can work remotely, but the frontline workers can’t; they must be in those facilities.”

According to Mike O’Connell, Emerald’s managing partner and president, and Faragasso, director of workplace interiors, their most significant furniture accounts are in healthcare, education and corporate. But there has been a decline in office sales. “In the city, the employees are not coming back to the offices as quickly as the mayor or the companies would like,” admits Faragasso.

“What we sell depends on the industry,” says David Sager II, Spry’s national director of office supplies and furniture. “Most of our sales are to healthcare and financial institutions.


In healthcare, we sell a lot of tables and chairs for training facilities and other areas of substance abuse clinics where furniture can get beat up, so they aren’t looking for top end. Many are federally funded, so they are careful with their spending. Their grants usually end in June and September, so they will buy more then if they have money left. Financial institutions have been very cautious this year; they are more conservative in what they purchase. Last year, eight to 10 financial entities spent $20,000-plus in furniture. This year, I think only one has spent that amount.”

GBP Direct’s largest furniture customers are in government, education and one other rather specific sector. “Some of our largest furniture customers are oil, gas and chemical companies, like Shell, Exxon and BP,” explains president and owner Randy Durbin. “We are very fortunate—they all have processing centers here. We did a project for one and others heard we did a great job, so they called us. We currently have three projects for $400,000 each on oil rigs.”

Sales and business development manager Cody Durbin enthuses: “We’ve seen amazing growth in the furniture market, with projects that range anywhere from $20,000 to $600,000.”

Changing times, changing trends “Laminate is the most popular material right now, versus wood or veneer,” reports Business Office’s Sinclair. “But now, people are using many beautiful color combinations. The move is away from dark laminate, like mahogany and cherry, in favor of lighter colors, like birch or driftwood. Black is still popular for chairs, but there is more color overall. Companies want things that look better and more modern. Going back to old styles is not going to happen because employees like and want to work for more modern companies, so keeping up with these trends is critical.”

Another ongoing trend is the type of furniture being bought, which continues to be aimed at enticing employees back into the office. “We are selling more lounge and collaboration furniture,” confirms Sinclair.

“Companies are buying more large high-top tables and sit-to-stand desks are still popular. Employers are trying to make the office more like home, to make employees feel like they are returning to a house.”

In the south, GBP Direct finds laminate and more color also reign supreme. “People are starting to get away from the wipe-down vinyl that was popular during COVID-19,” says Cody. “They want more color, including fabrics and patterns. They are moving away from gray, black and white. Instead of neutrals, they want to introduce color into everything. “

Randy gives an example: “We recently did a project for the local zoo and they used lime green, mustard yellow, orange and a beautiful blue. More people want vibrant, refreshing colors instead of depressing black and gray.”

Cody reports that height-adjustable furniture is also selling: “Sit-to-stand desks are still popular, although I am not sure how much they are actually used after installation. Taller collaborative tables are also being purchased. We installed one big, long, tall table with plastic chairs for the zoo. We are seeing that a lot because people want something more collaborative and less formal. I think this trend is here to stay.”

Emerald is also selling more collaborative pieces. “We are not seeing individual areas being outfitted with furniture,” explains Faragasso. “It’s more spaces for people who come into the office for a few hours to touch down. We are seeing more lounge spaces, with laptop tables versus cubicles. We are also seeing panels coming down. During COVID-19, panels were 65 inches; now, people are asking for 30 or 42 inches.

“Regarding material, we are seeing a move away from wood or wood-framed chairs in favor of laminates and fabrics like lighter

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gray. In the education sector, we are seeing more lightweight furniture that can be moved about and tables and chairs that can be reconfigured for communal or individual work. In classrooms, there’s a move away from desks toward chairs that allow kids to wiggle and jiggle, and bookshelves on castors that can be moved.” He agrees with the other dealers that height-adjustable desks, especially sit-to-stand models, remain popular.

Sizing up the competition

According to Sinclair, the main competition in the furniture arena is different from that in the office product category: “Our biggest competitors are the local competition and Wayfair. Amazon still plays a role, but with online retailers, customers can’t sit in the chair. They can’t test and kick the tires. This is why we have a retail store with a big showroom. Customers can take their time and sit in a chair for two hours if they want.”

So how do Business Outfitters and Office Furniture Outlet deal with the local competition? “We stock a lot of product, which many dealers don’t,” says Sinclair. “So if a company needs

the order quick, we often have 100% of it in stock and can have everything ready to deliver a whole office in as little as a week.”

At GBP Direct, Cody suggests the reason why Amazon has made less of an impact in the furniture marketplace comes down to trust: “Amazon is very much a competitor for a single transactional sale chair; but at least right now, it is not in the position to supply services like installation. The company doesn’t offer installation, but people also do not trust Amazon to be able to install it. I know I am not going to trust a third party—you’d get someone you don’t know who might say, ‘I think I can build that.’ We have a credible history and are a trusted company in the area.”

Spry’s Sager agrees that service is the key to competing against Amazon and making money in the furniture market. “Most manufacturers offer the same discounts on product, but doing a job in three hours versus two days means labor savings,” he elaborates. “That’s where your profit margins are.” Yet he acknowledges that supplying services such as installation can be challenging, especially in rural areas:

“We have installers on our payroll, but finding workers for larger projects can be difficult.”

Looking to the future

Sinclair believes that expansion may still be on the cards for Business Office Outfitters and Office Furniture Outlet in the next two to five years. “It’s a tough industry and always changing, so it’s a gamble to say what we will do too far ahead,” he admits. “I don’t see us opening 10 more furniture stores with people continuing to work from home and companies closing their doors. However, we will continue to look at different revenue streams and market sectors. Being in business for 66 years doesn’t mean staying the same. You have to pivot and try different things.”

O’Connell suggests the best thing dealers looking to get into the furniture sector can do is recruit top talent and Emerald plans to continue down this path: “Emerald has sold furniture since 1988, but we were selling, not competing. Hiring sales reps with expertise in the furniture industry was a gamechanger for us. So was hiring a talented in-house designer. Before, sales reps had to get renderings from an outside firm or be restricted to what the manufacturer offered. Now, we can provide 2D and 3D plans. Previously, the lead times were much longer and we had to pay piecemeal. The turnaround time was two or three weeks, and the design firm was in a different time zone, which made it hard to coordinate. With an in-house designer, our turnaround time is usually under a week.”

GBP Direct is also clear on its plans for the future, according to Cody: “We will still seek out experienced people and we’ve invested in our website, marketing and space planning and logistic programs. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to understand what we do and how we do it.”


Seen at NeoCon

In was in June 1969 that the very first National Exposition of Contract Interior Furnishings (now simply known as NeoCon) took place. The scale of the event was unprecedented for the industry at the time, attracting 750 exhibitors and over 100 speakers. Fifty-five years on, the great and good of the office furniture world continue to gather in June, now at the regular venue The Mart in Chicago, to attend one of the most important events in the commercial design industry calendar. This year, organizers claimed a strong attendance approaching 50,000 over the duration of the show. Much like last year, there was a lot of talk about hybrid working and the ongoing uncertainty as to if, how and when a more concerted return to the office might take place.

Much like last year, there was a strong focus on the need to provide spaces

and products that offer opportunities to connect and collaborate, but also allow flexibility. In this vein, both GRVT by Ghent and Collaborative Spaces by Global Furniture Group showcased mobile, flexible solutions that can transform collaborative environments at a moment’s notice.

Other trends at the show included a continued emphasis on sustainability, with a number of manufacturers looking to materials that have a lower environmental impact, such as recycled plastics, reclaimed wood and biodegradable composites.

The Best of NeoCon awards were also back for their 34th edition. With an event the size of NeoCon, it’s impossible to present a comprehensive overview, but here are some of the new products that caught the judges’ eyes at The Mart in June.

an Innovation Award is the GRVT mobile collaboration


GRVT (apparently pronounced “gravity”) is, Ghent claims, the first mobile collaboration hub combining a table, writing surface, seating and power that is suitable for both indoor and outdoor environments, empowering employees to tailor their work environment to their changing demands. It features a tempered glass writing surface that adjusts from mobile to table using a pneumatically assisted folding mechanism.

Scooping hub Ghent.

HAT Collective of Easton, Pennsylvania, received a Gold Award for its E5 monitor mounting system. One of E5’s core advantages is simplicity for specification, installation and adjustability. It has a base-weight range of 5 to 45lbs and features a simple a top-down mount, single-tool installation, a built-in tension gauge and a user-adjustable rotation stop. Pole and arm joints feature universal push-button connections, which offer quick installation and easy expansion, with 14 different screen configurations.

Via Seating picked up a Gold Award for its All-Ways Stacking Nester seating solution, with judges highlighting its outstanding adaptability and design. Suitable for a variety of environments, it stacks up to 20 high and nests efficiently to save space. Equipped with razor wheels or stable glides, All-Ways is available in black or chrome frames, with a poly seat and back in black or gray, and optional upholstery.

Following the sustainability trend is the Gold Award winning Breck office chair fromn Haworth. The firm claims the chair has a lower carbon footprint as it is made with recycled materials and comes in smaller, lightweight packaging. The chair is available in six back color options and is easily assembled in under a minute, without the need for tools.


Sustainability is once more the key focus of the OTS20 Batteryless lock from Ojmar US, which won an Innovation Award in the Integrated Solutions category. This RFID lock functions with no wires and no batteries, as it is self-powered by “Push Power” technology. It can be used in office environments or for lockers in fitness centers. All components are fully recyclable and it is manufactured using 56 percent less plastic compared to standard locks on the market. Lock management occurs through your mobile device and the company’s user-friendly software.

Winning both a Silver Award and a Business Impact Award, Ally from OFS is a private office solution designed to build trust and reimagine the role of leadership in the workplace today. The range of lounge seating, occasional tables, workstations, storage and interactive details combines to produce a more collaborative environment. This means the boss’s office becomes a less rigid, intimidating area, fostering collaboration and adaptability, and aligning more closely with evolving modern work practices.

Winning a Silver Award this year is the Smart Dock from ClearSpace Design. The Smart Dock includes an AC power outlet, video output and USB-A and USB-C outputs. The top cover allows a variety of office themes and can be customized with the customer’s own logo. User-friendly design enables toolless installation or removal in seconds. The smart dock can be combined with ClearSpace’s monitor arm to help conceal all cables for a cleaner, more spacious workstation.



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Troy Harrison

When you join the buyer’s journey in the middle

When a buyer calls “just wanting a price,” they have already completed a significant portion of their buyer’s journey—at least in their minds. In 2019, Forbes magazine published a study saying that the average B2B buyer has completed 57 percent of the buyer’s journey before ever contacting a sales rep. In researching this article, I found a number of posts that argued with the 57 percent figure, but I never found one that could effectively argue with the concept that buyers are conducting much more of their own due diligence and research before involving a salesperson. As I’ve been saying for years, it’s a different world. Today’s buyers are more educated and informed than they used to be—which presents some significant challenges for us.

These include the following:

• Your buyer doesn’t trust you: A 2017 HubSpot study concluded that only three percent of buyers consider salespeople to be trustworthy. That’s a kick in the pants, isn’t it? At least we beat lawyers and politicians, but that’s not exactly good. When a buyer calls saying that they know what they need and just want a price, that

is an expression that they don’t trust salespeople to accurately define their needs and assist in a solution.

• Your buyer has done a lot of research—and not all of it may be correct: Research on nearly any topic is both plentiful and readily accessible nowadays, but that’s a double-edged sword. Most articles, guidelines, whitepapers and other forms of online research are nonspecific and one-size-fits-all. The buyer’s journey may be different between

industries or even companies and product lines within the same industry. That means that your buyer can access a lot of information that might run counter to what they really need, because it’s not specific to their situation.

• Buyers don’t know what they don’t know: Even when defining their own needs, buyers might be asking the wrong questions of themselves and their counterparts and co-workers. We add value when we can be a part of the investigation phase of

Troy Harrison is the Sales Navigator and the author of Sell Like You Mean It and The Pocket Sales Manager. He helps companies navigate the elements of sales on their journey to success. He offers a free 45-minute sales strategy review. To schedule, call 913-645-3603 or email troy@

the buyer’s journey—if the buyer will allow us in.

• Competitors may have guided their research: We have all seen this one. We get a request for proposals with specifications that are obvious attempts to limit offerings to one company’s products or services and we know that a competitor helped


set the standard. Today, it doesn’t have to be a bid spec. A buyer with a pre-existing relationship could have had that salesperson point them to sources of research that favor their competitor, thus setting the standard for the purchase. The road here is uphill.

What you must realize is this: when a buyer calls asking for a price, or even a demo on a specific product, they believe that they have completed a substantial part of their own buyer’s journey—and they believe that they have completed it correctly. Whatever you do from here, you absolutely must respect the work that they have done— or they will disconnect from you and buy

elsewhere. Here are some ways to position yourself as a key part of their process:

• Show respect: If you come off as know-it-all or condescending, your buyer will immediately assume that you are trying to get one over on them (remember that three percent figure) and either disconnect or make it incredibly difficult for you to impart your knowledge and expertise. Instead of saying, “How do you know that’s what you need?”, ask a question like: “Wow, you’ve obviously done your homework! Knowledgeable customers make my life a lot easier. Just out of curiosity, would you mind telling me how you researched and found our product to be the one

you need?” Hopefully, they will give you enough information to let you know exactly where they are in their journey.

• Have two or three questions to ask: If your buyer believes that they already have the answers, they’re not going to give you much time for full discovery. Instead, have two or three great, incisive questions to ask to pinpoint their needs. Sometimes, the answers to these questions will let you know that their research is right on target—and other times, that it’s wrong. If their research is on target, you may want to move ahead with them in their journey to the evaluation step. If they’re wrong, a gentler approach is needed.

• If there’s a pitfall, expose it, but in a different way: Sometimes there are common pitfalls with products or services that nobody talks about, and that you can’t easily find through online research. These are things that your buyer must know—but remember, you have to respect their knowledge. The approach here is to say, “Well, as much research as you’ve done, I’m sure you already know about X problem. Should we talk about that?” If the buyer isn’t aware, this could be a “Wait, what?” moment for them. Now you have the credibility to back them up and go back

through the investigation phase.

• Don’t sell them the wrong stuff: Sometimes you will go through as much due diligence and questioning as possible, and not only is your buyer determined to buy something that won’t fix their problem, they’re getting mad at you for attempting to guide them. This situation is no fun at all. Believe me, I’ve been there. Sometimes you have to lose a sale now to win a relationship later. Politely but firmly explain that, based on your experience and expertise, they will not get the result they are looking for and that you’d rather not sell them something that won’t meet their needs. Further, you hope that you can recontact them down the road. Keep the relationship whole; few things build trust and credibility quite like refusing to make a sale. That’s pretty much the opposite of the behavior of those salespeople who created that three percent trust stat.

Joining the buyer’s journey in the middle is a challenge; and it’s a challenge that becomes more common each day. As I always say when people complain about the new trends in customers: get good at dealing with them and you can separate yourself from the pack. Within change lies opportunity. Let’s capitalize on it.



Think about the last time you got a call or email from a vendor. Did it look like it was sent to a group or specifically to you? If it was a phone call, did your representative quickly connect the purpose of their call with why they called you?

Personalization: it’s the key difference between sounding generic like everyone else and demonstrating you’ve put thought and purpose into the call.

Whether you’re calling

about workplace safety, furniture and design, or packaging and shipping needs, if we want to expand on the categories the customer is already buying, the key is to quickly answer the following questions:

l Who am I calling?

l What do they already buy from us?

l Where are they buying what I’m calling about?

l What motivates the person I’m calling in their role?

l What’s in it for them to pause and talk today?

To help with personalization, here is a four-step roadmap to guide you through having these conversations smoothly and effectively.

Step 1:

What prompted the call

Initiating a call or conversation with a clear and honest reason helps set the tone for a transparent and purposeful interaction. Start by explaining why you’re reaching out and what prompted the call.

Here are three examples of what that could sound like:

l “After doing some research I noticed …”

l “After reviewing the items, you wanted me to quote, I noticed …”

l “I was thinking about you and wanted to share a couple of ideas with you. One trend we are seeing in other similar facilities …”

You are the expert and the key is to quickly personalize why you called them.

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.

Step 2: Vendor/product

After explaining the purpose of your call, introduce a new category that aligns with the customer’s needs or preferences. This should not feel like a hard sell but rather a thoughtful suggestion based on what you know about the customer.

For example, you could say: “We are partnering with [vendor] to help our customers who do _________ and wanted to bring this to your attention.” Here, you’re not just pushing a product; you’re presenting a solution that fits the customer’s business, demonstrating that you have listened to and understood their needs.

Step 3:

Three questions about the past, present and future I hear too many calls where a new category is introduced and then the representative quickly offers to send information. (Dead end.) The key in this step is to engage the customer in a conversation by asking questions that help you understand what they are doing now and their future plans. In any sales process, whether for supplies or furniture (two very different sale cycles), 75 percent of the time should be spent learning and asking questions.

Furniture example questions could include the following:

l Past: “What have you done in the past when you have added space/expanded?”

l Present: “What is the culture of your office and how do you collaborate now? What spaces have you created to do this

together in person?” [A tour may also answer this question naturally.]

l Future: “What future needs will you have?”

These questions can help you dig deeper to gather information that can further personalize your recommendations.

Step 4:

Making a micro commitment and setting a next set time

Interest is demonstrated by action. That action is often in the form of a commitment to talk or meet again. Always ask for a “next set time” (NST) to meet or talk again. You took the time to pre-call plan and call with intention; end every interaction with a clearly defined micro-commitment from your customer.

The bottom line: Websites, the power of AI and a host of other tools for the savvy independent

Marisa Pensa

dealer are all key to success. At the same time, nothing can or will replace the value of a personalized and intentional two-way conversation with your customers to expand on what they are already purchasing from you. Take the 10-call challenge: challenge your team (or yourself) to pick 10 customers and make intentional category growth calls following this roadmap. Out of 10 calls, can you or your team convert at least two of those to NSTs with a micro-commitment? Create a little office contest to try to do just that. Cheering you on, and good selling and leading to you!

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