the official publication of WSA
Editorial & Contents
Broadening horizons I wrote about my forthcoming travels in this space last month and I’d just like to say how great it was to see so many of you in New Orleans and Tampa (you can read all about those shows in the news pages). I still have one more stop to complete on my Fall Tour: Chicago, where I am writing. I’ve only just arrived so have little to report as yet, other than stating the rather obvious fact that it was warmer in both Louisiana and Florida, although it is still sunny here! The main theme of the Opening Session at Industry Week in New Orleans was the need for diversification, something that was echoed at the Office Partners gathering. It is also a subject we talk about a great deal within these pages. It’s vital these days for independents to look beyond traditional office supplies, and sometimes those categories come from unexpected places. Just look at our Winner’s Circle section to see news of Richter Total Office in Souderton, Pennsylvania, which recently made an acquisition outside
WINNER’S CIRCLE Good things happening to independents
SECRETS OF SUCCESS 1st Source Business Supplies, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Rowan McIntyre, editor and publisher email@example.com
most traditional dealers’ remit, but one that looks to be a perfect fit for them. It is the privilege of small to medium-sized independent businesses that they can adapt and adjust their offering if the opportunity arises. We have features coming up in the not-too-distant future on two of the hotter categories that dealers are currently moving into: MRO and print, promo and ad specialties. If you have experience of transitioning into these areas and advice you would like to share with your fellow dealers, or indeed are thinking of dipping your toes in these waters and have questions you would like answered, please do get in touch.
COVER STORY Vis-coms: seeing is believing: Many dealers find white boards an easy and profitable sell, but that’s not to say there are no challenges, Lisa Veeck finds out more
COLUMNS 42 Mike Gentile: Reflections on my tenure at ISG 44 Troy Harrison: On “training” and “learning” 46 Marisa Pensa: Empowerment over exhaustion 48 Mara Gannon: B2B is changing
An OPI publication
the official publication of WSA
Editor and publisher Rowan McIntyre
Finance and operations Kelly Hilleard
Associate editor Lisa Veeck
Head of creative Joel Mitchell
Head of media sales Chris Turness
Digital manager Aurora Enghis
AT OPI CEO Steve Hilleard Director Janet Bell
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At 65, Business Office Outfitters remains passionate about furniture Sixty-five years ago, three men opened an office supply shop outside San Diego, California. In 1990, Randy Sinclair bought the company; and as he already had a full-time job, he hired some people to manage it. But within a few months, he discovered his mistake as he realized the company’s business was spiraling downward. To reverse the trend, Randy asked his brother Jerry to come from Kansas to help troubleshoot. Jerry agreed and, as so often happens, was bitten by the office products bug. But there was something he had to do before he could move and take over the company. “Jerry came back to Kansas and proposed to me, following it with the question of, ‘How would you like to take on a challenge in San Diego?’” recalls Kelly Sinclair, Business Office Outfitters’ president. Happily, Kelly said yes to both proposals. “In the beginning, it was really rough,” she admits. “We moved in with Randy and took the business over completely without any real knowledge of office products.” But the couple turned the company around and it started showing a profit just when Office Depot and Staples entered the scene. “We decided we didn’t want to compete with them in the retail office products industry,” explains Kelly. “We had people come in for pens or pencils. We even had a post office in our store, but people would come in and not buy other items. We realized it wouldn’t be a profitable business for us.” So Jerry and Kelly decided to focus on furniture and in 2015 they bought Office Furniture Outlet. Today, the company offers new, used/refurbished NOVEMBER 2023
and liquidation sale furniture, from high-end to more affordable contract furniture. In addition to this focus on furniture, Kelly attributes the company’s success to several factors. “We try to remain recession-proof,” she says. “I credit my husband. He watches every dime and we spend conservatively even when times are good, so the natural ebb and flow won’t put us out of business. I also credit our culture. We are very blessed to have good people. I just finished an interview and told the candidate the next step was to meet some of our people. Our employees have accountability, passion and integrity; and we have to be sure new hires are a good fit. And finally, I’d say perseverance has made us successful. We never gave up—even when we had a negative bank balance of $100,000.” While Kelly attributes much of the company’s success to its culture, she acknowledges it took time to get the formula right: “Both our biggest INDEPENDENT DEALER
success and our biggest challenge have been our culture. When we bought Office Furniture Outlet, we found the two companies’ cultures were so different. At Business Office Outfitters, our salaries are paid based on teamwork. Office Furniture Outlet worked on commission and competition.” But here again, the couple soon found a solution. “We came up with a way to mix teamwork and competition,” explains Kelly. “We have 27 employees. When we hit our breakeven amount of $700,000 a month, every team member gets an extra $500 in their pay and managers get $1,000. This is the amount we need to cover our costs and the bonuses. An extra $6,000 and $12,000 a year is good money, so everyone works together to hit that mark. Debbie in accounting ensures all the invoices are in before the end of each month; our warehouse workers know that if they do those three more deliveries, we can hit the bonus mark. PAGE 4
Winner’s Circle It incentivizes them as a team.” The other major challenge for Kelly is one shared by many independent dealers. “I am in the office three days a week and am based at home two days to get work done,” she says. “I have an open-door policy, but I can’t make it out to the warehouse and to see people as often as I would like. I am looking into a virtual assistant and I delegate where I can, but it still feels like there is not enough time.” According to Kelly, the company not only survived but thrived during COVID-19. “2020 was better than past years, 2021 was even better and so far, 2023 is on track to be higher than last year,” she reports. “We work with hospitals and financial institutions, so we were deemed essential and were back at work after two days. Business
was slower, so we pivoted. We sell new furniture and buy and sell brands like Herman Miller and Steelcase and refurbish them. But during COVID-19, we shifted and sold more used, and more from Boss Office Products than the higher-end lines.” But this flexibility wasn’t the only key to the company’s resilience during the pandemic. “Our son, Nick, had been a snowboard instructor in Colorado when COVID-19 hit and shut his job down,” says Kelly. “He came back to San Diego and started working as a handyman for us, but got more involved in the business and now handles all the liquidations. He loves it. He’s found his niche.” Kelly offers this advice to other dealers looking to endure in business: “Think outside the box, don’t be afraid
to try something new and change with the changing times. Also, know your market, including which competitors are struggling. I give Jerry a lot of credit here—he talks to everyone and keeps up with the market. So talk to people, reach out to peers, research and read. Never stop learning.” And what does the future look like for Business Office Outfitters? “It’s a topic of conversation every day,” Kelly says. “We know it’s getting toward the time we should sell, but we both love working and the industry. We might hire a general manager so we aren’t as tied to the business. Otherwise, we are going to keep doing what we are doing, but figure out ways to do it more efficiently and bring in others. Nick might be our legacy. He is passionate about furniture.”
Richter Total Office acquires Synergy Richter Total Office, Souderton, Pennsylvania, has purchased Synergy Mounting Systems of Telford, Pennsylvania, effective October 30. Synergy owner Jeff Woertz will continue to lead the division. Previously, Woertz was Synergy’s sole proprietor and employee. The sale brings him Richter’s additional personnel and resources and a better work-life balance—three of his goals in selling the company. “Acquiring a mounting company was not something we were interested in, but then Jeff approached us,” says Richter Total Office president Andy Richter. “My dad had a prior relationship with him and we knew he was a great guy. His business has been successful, but it had hit the ceiling of what one person can do. Meanwhile, with the transition to online ordering, we have had less call volume and as a result, our customer services representatives have had more time available. The kind of work Jeff is doing is perfect for the staff we have here, so it aligned nicely with our desire to retain employees and give them more to do, rather than have them just wait for the phones to ring. We also had an empty physical space that exactly met the space requirements Jeff needed to operate. The deal had that ‘It was meant to be’ feeling!”
Woertz’s business acumen was also a factor. “Jeff has built a very impressive reputation—particularly through his eBay store, where he has more than 3,000 perfect reviews,” enthuses Richter. “We want to retain that brand equity and put it to good use. We plan to list items from other areas of our business under his name on some key e-commerce platforms where we can leverage his incredible seller status and reputation.
“Jeff also aligns with us in terms of our corporate values and dedication to customers. That’s what it’s all about for us: do business the right way; treat people the way we want to be treated; strengthen our communities; and strive for growth so we can create and sustain good jobs for our employees. You never know what growth opportunities will present themselves; but when you find a good one, with a good person or good team, you go for it!”
Strive Workplace Solutions, Portland, Oregon, strives to help young achievers Strive Workplace Solutions, Portland, Oregon, participated in the recent Metropolitan Business Association’s (MBA) golf and cornhole event at the Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, in aid of the Junior Achievement of Oregon and Southwest Washington program—part of a worldwide nonprofit organization dedicated to NOVEMBER 2023
giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their full potential. Strive supports Junior Achievement through the MBA, a Portland-based business networking group; Strive’s outside sales veteran Tim Baseel is a member of the MBA and serves as treasurer. INDEPENDENT DEALER
“Junior Achievement is a wonderful nonprofit that provides hands-on learning experiences for our community’s youth to prepare them for business life and introduce them to possible career paths,” says Strive president Jeff Lurcook. “We are happy to support such a fine organization.” PAGE 6
Winner’s Circle The Office BOSS finds the best bosses In honor of National Boss Day, The Office BOSS, Truckee, California, asked customers’ employees to send a message, email or picture of their Best Boss, to give them the chance of winning a Best BOSS award. This was the seventh year of the annual contest aimed at showcasing brilliant bosses in the Truckee/Tahoe community. Awards were made in several categories, including Best Hair, Nicest Smile, Best Working Space, Best Company Spirit and Best Dressed. The overall Best BOSS winner for 2023 was Karyn Stanley, executive director of Truckee Roundhouse Community Makerspace. She won the Golden Best BOSS Package, which includes everything a boss might need: a golden planner; a stapler with gold staples; a tape dispenser with gold tape; large golden paperclips; golden pens; and a golden sharpie. She also was presented with the official 2023 Best BOSS Golden Certificate. “The Office BOSS holds the Best BOSS competition to hear from the community how amazing their leaders and
bosses are,” says print services manager Nathan Gamett. “Our small town runs on great leadership and we love to honor those that have a large impact in the community. It also helps that we have the best bosses at The Office BOSS who love to give back to our community.”
Winner’s Circle Storey Kenworthy’s family of companies raises $24,554 for United Way The Storey Kenworthy Office Products family of brands, Des Moines, Iowa, recently hosted a trivia happy hour, raising $24,554 for United Way. The event was organized by the SERVE (Social Equity Recognizes Value in Everybody) Committee, which comprises employees from all the company’s brands: Storey Kenworthy, Workspace Solutions, Matt Parrott and Business Furniture Warehouse. The happy hour was held in two locations: in Central Iowa, at the Des Moines office; and in Eastern Iowa, at the company’s Coralville office. The afternoon featured global flavors, cultural trivia and a celebration of diversity in support of the United Way campaign. Those who could not participate
in person were given other options to donate, including online, payroll deductions, freewill donations and raffle events. Storey Kenworthy also selected United Way as its featured nonprofit for its third-quarter supply sales, which allows clients that spend a certain dollar amount to forgo a gift in favor of donating the funds to United Way. The company matched the funds raised, which were split between the Central and Eastern Iowa United Way chapters. “United Way has a long and successful history in our state, and it does a great job of taking a holistic approach to helping our communities thrive,” says Nicole Boyington, partner and executive director of Workspace Solutions. “United Way’s focus on
essential needs, early childhood and education success, economic opportunity, and health and wellbeing is an important piece in the complex puzzle of helping all individuals in our communities succeed. The organization also works closely with local nonprofits that we hold dear. These organizations are the ‘boots on the ground’ which inform United Way of the needs our community is facing. We have always felt that United Way is a great partner to give to: it has a deep understanding of where these funds are most needed and will put our dollars to use in critical ways. We are proud of our history of giving and feel blessed to have a team of employees that recognize the importance of giving back as well.”
» NOVEMBER 2023
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Custer donates to three local charities Custer Inc, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently donated furniture for the renovation of the café at Ronald McDonald House Charities West Michigan (RMH). The renovation is designed to expand the charity’s services to more families with loved ones in West Michigan hospitals. In addition to the café, the facility has made other updates, including adding eight more private suites and improving the kitchen and dining area. As a longtime partner of RMH, Custer donated
the furniture to give families a refreshed space to come together and unwind during their stay. Custer also recently donated two pilot classrooms to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. The classrooms, located within the college’s academic building, are fully equipped with furniture from Steelcase Learning, which is crafted specifically for educational environments. In separate news, Custer recently partnered with Steelcase to help Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI)
design spaces for a first-of-its-kind inclusion center. “The point of this building is to highlight ability,” says Jen VanSkiver, chief officer of strategic growth for SOMI, which provides year-round sports training for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. While each tenant will have its own space, “we’re creating a centralized place where people with intellectual challenges can access all the resources they need to work, learn, play and grow their contributions to the community.”
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Halloween The IDC always puts on a great show for Halloween! Here are some of the spookiest suppliers around... Witt’s Everything for the Office, Tehachapi, California
BOS - Business Office Systems, Roselle, Indiana King Business Interiors, Columbus, Ohio
Guernsey, Inc., Sterling, Virginia
Kennedy Office, Raleigh North Carolina Corporate Interior Systems, Phoenix, Arizona
Fireside Office Solutions, Bismarck, North Dakota McCoy Rockford, Houston, Texas
FSI, Charlotte, North Carolina NOVEMBER 2023
McCartney’s Inc, Altoona, Pennsylvania INDEPENDENT DEALER
Franklin Integrated Interiors, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Custer, Grand Rapids, Michigan Emmons Business Interiors, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Storey Kenworthy Office Products and Interiors, Des Moines, Iowa
Office Boss, Truckee, California
BBE Office Interiors, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
GOS, Greer, South Carolina
Midwest Single Source , Wichita, Kansas
Office Peeps, Watertown, South Dakota NOVEMBER 2023
Secrets of Success
1st Source Business Supplies, Minneapolis, Minnesota When Staples bought Corporate Express (CE), Greg McLeod—who was then president of CE’s Minnesota division—knew it was time to make a change. He wanted to find a position closer to where he lived to make it easier to raise a family. So he joined Innovative Office Solutions as a partner. During his four-year tenure with Innovative, Greg won contracts from heavy hitters such as the state of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota, helping grow the company from $8 million to $45 million. However, Greg realized if he wanted to go independent, he would soon need to make his move. So in 2013, aged 49, he started 1st Source Business Supplies.
Risk tolerance and flexibility
In the last 10 years, in addition to office products, 1st Source has branched out into janitorial/facility maintenance, food service, furniture and, most recently, maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) supplies. “One of the secrets to our success has been a willingness to take risks,” says Greg. “We are willing to try something new and make mistakes. We are willing to pay the dumb tax. We would not still be in business if we didn’t have this mindset.” Greg explains that for anyone attempting this approach, perseverance
Company info Headquarters: Minneapolis, Minnesota Top management: Greg McLeod, CEO; Delorce Smith, mid-south branch manager Number of employees: 10 Annual sales: $5 million Main wholesaler: S.P. Richards Online sales: 60%
is crucial: “When we try something new, we stick with it long enough for it to incubate. We are willing to fail—and some things we’ve tried have. But other things worked incredibly well when we gave them time.” Greg also believes 1st Source’s size and flexibility give it an advantage in the marketplace: “We can compete with the big companies on service and price because we don’t have the overhead of 15,000 employees in 30 locations they do. We can outmaneuver many of our competitors because we can respond quickly. Big companies can take weeks to get back to customers, if they do at all. We get back to them right away, which helps us form relationships. It’s taken some time, but these relationships are starting to pan out for us.”
Who you know matters
These relationships helped 1st Source survive the supply chain shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When no one could get nitrile gloves, we had the relationships needed to get them,” recalls Greg. “We talked to a guy we knew, who talked to a lady, who knew another guy and so forth; and we found a manufacturer that had them.” Greg goes on to suggest that these relationships should be built at all levels. “No matter how good a wholesaler is, you can’t rely on them to have everything,” he cautions. “Wholesalers, resellers, other independent dealers, manufacturers—our sourcing is a patchwork of all the above.”
Facing down the challenges And COVID-19 is just one of the challenges that 1st Source has had to contend with in recent years. “In 2019, our account was hacked using ransomware by the Russian Mafia,” INDEPENDENT DEALER
says Greg. “It almost brought us to our knees. We held on by the thinnest of margins. It was a miracle we survived. Then there was the pandemic. Traditional sales dropped 90 percent. We’d be gone, but our ability to pivot got us through. A third challenge was building the supply chain for the new MRO category. We had no idea how to find the products, who to buy from, what to buy. I know many people, but sometimes no one has the answers and you have to figure them out on your own. There were a lot of lonely moments when I questioned if it was the right thing to be doing. You have to have moxie to get through.”
Looking another 10 years down the line, Greg predicts a bright future for 1st Source: “I see us doing $30 million plus in sales, continuing to build new product categories and still being an independent family business. I didn’t start this company to sell it.” PAGE 14
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ISG announces awards winners
US dealer organization Independent Suppliers Group (ISG) has announced the recipients of its annual dealer member sales awards which were presented at Industry Week ’23 earlier this month (see right).
The winners of these awards were as follows: • Highest Dollar Increase for a Non-E-commerce Member:The Supply Room, Ashland, Virginia • Highest Dollar Increase for an E-commerce Member: Product Movement, Grand Junction, Colorado • Highest Percentage Increase for a Non-E-commerce Member: Liberty Office Products, Houston, Texas • Highest Percentage Increase for an E-commerce Member: Coral Port, Sacramento, California • Highest Dollar Increase: Heights Office Products & Interiors, San Antoni, Texas • Highest Percentage Increase: NuLeaf Office Supply, Issaquah, Washington • Member with the Most New Supplier Purchases: Warehouse Direct, Des Plaines, Illinois • Member who Purchased from the Greatest Number of Suppliers: Friends Office, Findlay, Ohio
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Industry Week ’23 hits all the right notes in New Orleans The IDC’s largest annual meeting— Industry Week, powered by ISG—enjoyed its third edition in New Orleans in October. Despite a slightly reduced program, it was once again hailed as a resounding success, with 1,000 attendees and over 100 booths exhibiting at the tradeshow. Although there was a hiatus this year for the one-on-one vendor meetings for ISG’s Pinnacle dealers, the first day of Industry Week ’23 was once again given over to the large dealer group, with a dedicated members’ meeting and peer exchange groups for Pinnacle members. On Monday, the scope broadened to include the rest of the ISG membership. The working day kicked off at breakfast as ISG’s recently promoted chief operating officer, Charles Foreman, introduced a couple of presentations. The first was by Mike Tucker, executive director of industry trade body the Workplace Solutions Association, who spoke about the benefits that the association can offer members and new programs for 2024. He was followed by Andy Ishii, director of corporate philanthropy at City of Hope, who discussed the marvelous work done by the California-based care and research
center. Ishii went on to introduce Ian Wist, owner of Wist Office Products, who highlighted his dealership’s fundraising efforts and explained how they serve as great teambuilding exercises while bringing in many much-needed donations—and encouraged others to do likewise. Breakfast was followed by an ISG members-only panel discussion on direct buying—once again part of the core Industry Week message—led by Foreman and ISG’s vice president of merchandising, Jill O’Neill. The rest of the morning marked the start of the education program, which offered 12 sessions on a range of topics hosted by both ISG staffers and external industry experts, including Liz Bateman, creative director at international sales, marketing and e-commerce agency Highlands; Gary Pittsford, partner/chief valuation officer at wealth management specialist Creative Planning; Daniel Brown, vice president of distributor services at the Advertising Specialty Institute; and Michelle Warren, president of commercial furniture-focused Catalyst Consulting Group. There were even two agents from the New Orleans office of the FBI present to advise on cybersecurity. Lunch on Monday saw the
Industry News presentation of the ISG supplier awards, at which maintenance, repair and operations specialist Global Industrial won Best New Supplier; 3M was rewarded for Highest Dollar Growth; and Avery was named Supplier Partner of the Year. The general session took place after lunch and began with a welcome address by ISG president and CEO Mike Gentile. This was followed by a short speech from Rik Andersen, vice president and general manager of premier sponsor The HON Company, who predicted a return to work for the vast majority of office workers over the next two years. This year’s general session focused on the importance of diversification. Mike Gentile introduced this point during his Industry Week welcome address and the message was echoed by OPI CEO Steve Hilleard, who hosted a series of one-on-one interviews with four progressive ISG dealers: Shelli Hellinghausen, chief operating officer of Perry Office Plus of Temple, Texas; Jeff Lurcook, president of Strive Workplace Solutions of Portland, Oregon; Justin Carpenter, president of Stationers Inc. of Huntington, West Virginia; and Greg McLeod, CEO and president of 1st Source Business Supplies of Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a short break—and a fun turn by local comedian and magician Michael Dardant—chairman of the ISG board of directors Yancey Jones Jr gave his address, singing
the praises of the collective spirit of the IDC. There was then special recognition for previous board chair Jordan Kudler and outgoing president and CEO Gentile for their dedicated service to the IDC; the latter made a touching acceptance speech that is reproduced in part on page 42. Incoming ISG president and CEO James Rodgers was then formally introduced by Gentile and laid out a 90-day plan for the start of his tenure. Next up, OPI director Janet Bell took to the stage to present the 2023 North American Office Products Awards, including further recognition for Gentile (see page 20). The general session concluded with the announcement of the dates for next year’s Industry Week, which will take place at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, from September 21-26, 2024. The working day concluded with another round of seminar sessions, after which there was a short break before the evening’s entertainment commenced. First off were mixer events for ISG’s NEXT Young Leaders group and Office Products Women in Leadership; followed by the official welcome reception, which provided a lively atmosphere for assembled guests to enjoy some jazz and indulge in a spot of networking. Thursday morning kicked off with two more ISG presentations during breakfast: the Member Sales Awards (see opposite); followed by the second annual Outstanding Commitment to
Your Community Awards, presented by ISG to independent dealer members who have gone above and beyond in their local charitable work. This year’s winners were Arkansas Office Products of Jacksonville, Arkansas; Friends Office of Findlay, Ohio; Perry Office Plus of Temple, Texas; and Hummel’s Office Plus of Mohawk, New York. Following the awards ceremony, the Essendant general session was hosted remotely by president and CEO Harry Dochelli, who gave a rather downbeat assessment of the current state of the economy and the resulting challenges facing the industry. The seminar program then resumed for dealers; while vendors and other business partners attended a meeting of the Business Solutions Association. Lunch this year was served at the trade show. There was a real buzz of excitement on the show floor: booths were busy and orders were written, providing a fitting end to the working aspect of the show. Industry Week ’23 always wraps up with a party and the New Orleans branch of the legendary Fillmore music venue hosted this year’s celebration. There were bespoke cocktails, dancing and delicious Cajun food, backed by a live band, who got the crowd dancing the night away. The winner of the tradeshow’s Cajun Cash contest was also announced, with Duane Brehm of Office Supply Express in Los Banos, California scooping the $2,500 grand prize.
Industry News Office Partners celebrates 25 years at Gathering in the Gulf This year saw a very special celebration during the annual Office Partners Gathering in the Gulf, held once again at the Airport Marriott in Tampa, Florida—as 2023 marks 25 years since the buying group’s formation. It also marked the end of a bumper year for Office Partners in terms of growth, having brought on 30 new dealer members and a number of new vendor partners, including Global Industrial and Brondell (group president Matthew Hebert confided he was particularly pleased about this, as it means members can now offer bidets to customers!) All this cause for celebration only added to the enduring conviviality of the event, which is both relaxed and entertaining, while offering excellent learning and networking opportunities for members through a combination of formal meetings, one-on-one “speed-dating” dealer/vendor matchups—and, of course, a busy calendar of social events. The turnout was impressive once again, with a full complement of vendors and more dealer members in attendance than last year. Proceedings began on Sunday afternoon with a meeting highlighting the opportunities available to members through the group’s General Service Administration (GSA) contracts. Mike Flaherty of Great Falls Paper Company began by explaining the doors that can be opened selling through the small business GSA hub zone contract his dealership holds, and how that contract is accessible to all Office Partners members. Then Bob Brodrick talked about how to access Office Partners’ own service-disabled, veteran-owned, small business GSA contract for furniture. Sunday evening featured the fantastic opening night reception in the (formerly revolving) rooftop restaurant of the Marriott, with the usual fine spread on offer. The show proper commenced with a Monday morning meeting for dealers, which kicked off with a welcome speech from Hebert, who went on to introduce a number of guest speakers. Mike Tucker from the Workplace Solutions Association began by discussing the trade association and the benefits it offers. Next we heard from Mark Evans, a brand and marketing specialist who was formerly Essendant’s senior director of digital and marketing. Evans is a veteran speaker at industry events and always get his ideas across in a clear, concise and entertaining way. His presentation, titled “How Strong is Your Growth Engine?”, looked at the challenges of going to market in today’s ever-changing business environment and included a live demonstration of artificial intelligence applications Perplexity and ChatGPT. Evans’ talk was followed by a presentation from 3M national account manager John Gartner, which honed in NOVEMBER 2023
on the company’s marketing programs and sustainability initiatives. Paul Dickerson of The Orange Stationer, Orange, Texas then introduced Stark Enterprises’ Corey Stark, who outlined the new benefits package available through AYG Insurance. The session wrapped up with a few words from Matthew Hebert, who welcomed the group’s new dealer and vendor members; explained Essendant’s new carton program; highlighted the benefits of Office Partners’ collaboration with fellow jan/san dealer organisation The United Group; and informed members that they can access one of AOPD’s national contracts through a reduced-rate, partial membership fee. He also introduced Office Partners’ newest staff member, Ariel Stanley. After lunch, all made their way to the Hillsborough Ballroom for the traditional dealer-vendor one-on-one meetings, with each dealer spending 10 minutes with each manufacturer before moving on to the next at the sound of a bell—an excellent way to make sure everyone has time to catch up with each other to conclude important business or mull over the latest news. On Monday evening, Office Partners hosted its annual cocktail reception and gala dinner, the highlight of which was an emotional speech by Diane Hebert, Matthew’s mother, who recalled the career of her late husband (and industry legend) Jim, and charted the history of Office Partners from its beginnings in their family living room to the present day. We also head from veteran dealer and long-time family friend Paul Ventimiglia, who also paid tribute to Jim. Tuesday morning saw the one-to-one sessions wrap up and the end of yet another successful Gathering in the Gulf. Here’s to the next 25!
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NAOPA winners named in New Orleans The winners of the 2023 North American Office Products Awards (NAOPAs) were revealed at Industry Week in New Orleans last month. This is the third time the NAOPAs have been hosted by OPI Magazine in association with Independent Suppliers Group (ISG) as part of the dealer organization’s annual Industry Week, where stakeholders from across the IDC gathered for three days of meetings, educational seminars, roundtables, networking and, of course, the awards. OPI’s Janet Bell presided over the ceremony, which included six product-focused categories and three that recognize outstanding individuals. The 2023 winners in the product categories were: Best product: Core Business Products Lavazza North America: FLAVIA Creation 300 + Chill Refresh brewer Best Product: Facilities, Breakroom, Safety & Infection Control Fellowes Brands: Fellowes Array Networked Air Purifiers & Monitoring Best Product: Furniture & Design Nook Pod USA: Nook Air Best Product:Technology OneScreen: Touchscreen TL7 Innovation of the Year Fellowes Brands: Fellowes Array Networked Air Purifiers & Monitoring People’s Choice The HON Company: Flexion The second group of awards recognized individuals who, in one way or another, have made—and continue to make—an outstanding contribution to the IDC, and who are at varying stages of their careers. The award for Young Executive of the Year highlights those who make an impact early in in their career. It was won by Alicia Kolbus, analytics specialist at Stinson’s Office Supply of Bakersfield, NOVEMBER 2023
California. She was presented with the award by Stinson’s vice president Russ Haley who highlighted the extent of her commitment as he welcomed her to the stage. Professional of the Year gives credit to an individual at the peak of their career—someone who is doing an outstanding job for their company but also has the ability to influence the future of our industry. This went to Barry Lane, a very popular winner whose announcement was made all the more touching by the fact that it was made by two special guests, his sons Todd and Kirk. Todd and Kirk drew attention to Lane’s commitment to the industry and dedication to his family as the dual driving forces in his life—a lesson that was obviously passed on, saying: “Dad’s example made it clear that a strong family structure is critical to professional success.” Visibly moved by his sons’ introduction, Lane accepted his award and said to the room packed full of friends and colleagues: “There are special days in everyone’s lives. My wedding and my boys being born are among them; today is certainly another.” INDEPENDENT DEALER
The final award of the session was Industry Achievement, which recognizes someone who has made a truly outstanding contribution to the business supplies industry over the course of their career. It was won by outgoing ISG president and CEO Mike Gentile. Gentile took over at ISG (then Independent Stationers) in 2005, when it was going through a rocky period. But he turned the group around, forging key alliances with the likes of Pinnacle Affiliates and AFFLINK, among others. Planning to step down from his current role at the end of 2023, Gentile leaves a remarkable legacy which made him more than deserving of this accolade. “To lead this organization you need to have a team,” said Gentile during his acceptance speech. “In 20 years, I’ve been blessed to have a wonderful group of people around me. It’s not easy—my middle name is not patience—but they deal with it, and I appreciate all they have done.” Then, summing up the feelings of all NAOPA winners, Gentile added: “This award is so special because it’s a recognition from all of you.” PAGE 20
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Industry News WSA appoints new board members The Workplace Solutions Association held its annual board meeting at the end of October at the Airport Marriott Hotel in Tampa, Florida. In addition to discussing plans and strategy for the forthcoming year, there were some new members appointed to the board, while others finished their tenure. The three new voting board members are: • Jon Rossman, Chuckals Office Products, Tacoma, Washington • Karla Veliz, Economy Office Supply, Glendale, California • DJ Hunsinger, CMF Business Supplies, South Plainfield, New Jersey Meanwhile, the three board members who are leaving their posts after serving their maximum terms of six years are: • Gordon Thrall, Guernsey Inc, Sterling, Virginia • Melissa Ball, Ball Office Products, Richmond, Virginia • Miles Young, On Time Supplies, Atlanta, Georgia In addition to the above changes, Jamey Brenner, director of strategic groups at Essendant, has joined the WSA Advisory Board following the sad passing of Terri Bartling-Mayes.
EPIC Business Essentials awarded Omnia Contract EPIC Business Essentials, a subsidiary of Independent Suppliers Group (ISG), has been awarded a private sector contract by group purchasing giant Omnia Partners. EPIC already has an office supplies contract for Omnia’s public sector customers. The new agreement expands this relationship into the private sector, with a focus on the real estate vertical. Jeff Gillmer, private sector SVP at Omnia, pointed to EPIC’s “diverse dealer community of minority, woman and veteran-owned businesses” that will help his members achieve their diversity, equality and inclusion procurement goals. For EPIC, this new agreement ties in with ISG’s recent Buy Local: Connect with Community campaign and offers members another vehicle for doing business with local small and medium-sized businesses.
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ISG promotes Forman, announces Q2 rebate distribution Independent Suppliers Group (ISG) has announced the promotion of EVP Charles Forman and released its Q2 distribution. Starting October 1, Forman assumed the role of COO. This sees him take on expanded responsibilities, including oversight of the EPIC Business Essentials program and its cooperative contracts. ISG said the promotion was a “significant step” in its strategic growth plan. Forman is also set to play a “pivotal role” in the upcoming CEO transition, following the recent appointment of James Rodgers. ISG said Forman’s collaborative approach and deep industry expertise will be “instrumental” in the succession process.
“Charles’ promotion is a direct reflection of his hard work and dedication to ISG,” said the organization’s chairman, Yancey Jones Jr. “I look forward to working with him in this new role, with a focus on continued growth for our group.” Meanwhile, ISG’s second quarter rebate distribution is 11 percent higher than last year. The organization has distributed Q2 2023 rebates of just over $7 million to its resellers. ISG said the figure demonstrates how its members support its Buy Direct Sell Brands strategy. “ISG is instrumental in our success through relationships and negotiated rebates that help us make informed
choices in our purchasing process,” said Stacy Duke, president of Butler Business Products. “Rebates are a driving factor in our decisions in manufacturers for us to support and to partner with.” The Q3 2023 rebate distribution is scheduled for mid-December.
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$15 million raised for City of Hope The 2023 ACCOmplishing Hope fundraising campaign led by ACCO Brands’ CEO Boris Elisman was brought to a close last month at Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, for the annual Spirit of Life Gala, where a check for $15 million was presented to the leading cancer research and care organization. More than 400 executives from the business products industry came together from segments including office products, jan/san, furniture, technology and food service to celebrate Elisman and his team’s outstanding leadership throughout the year. It was an evening of celebration, achievement and reflection, expertly emceed by Harry Dochelli, Essendant president/CEO, who served as the 2023 National Business Products Industry (NBPI) dinner chair and will be the 2024 NBPI Spirit of Life honoree. He was joined by former ACCO Brands chairman and past Spirit of Life honoree Bob Keller, who shed light on Elisman’s inspiring rise personally and professionally in the wake of his imminent retirement.
From left: Bob Keller, Kristin Bertell, Boris Elisman, Steve Schultz, Harry Dochelli
City of Hope was represented by speakers Leo Wang MD, PhD and associate professor of pediatrics and immuno-oncology, as well as chief philanthropy officer Kristin Bertell, reminding all attendees why they were in the room: to help cure life-threatening diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Another emotional reminder was delivered by Brooks Smith, CEO of Innovative Office Solutions. He outlined his connection with City of Hope through the journey he and his late wife Jennifer went through during her battle first with breast cancer and then with acute myeloid leukemia, which she had courageously conquered before her passing. Over the past 41 years, more than $250 million has been raised through our industry’s partnership with City of
Hope. “The NBPI is embedded in City of Hope’s DNA,” acknowledged Matt Dodd, its senior executive director of corporate philanthropy. He added: “Through every major milestone at City of Hope, this industry has been by our side and we’re so honored to have their continued support as we continue to provide life-saving care to more people across the country.” As the 2023 campaign closes, Dochelli’s Fulfilling Hope fundraising efforts get underway, supported by the NBPI Council, which is now chaired by another former long-serving Essendant industry stalwart, RJ Schinner’s Steve Schultz. The 2024 NBPI dinner chair and 2025 NBPI Spirit of Life honoree, meanwhile, will be John Fellowes, CEO of Fellowes Brands.
AOPD announces AFFLINK partnership, releases meeting dates Business products national accounts organization AOPD and facilities products buying group AFFLINK have just announced a partnership. According to a statement, their agreement “will allow all members of each organization the opportunity to take advantage of membership options of each group.” These include access to all preferred supplier programs; national account contracts; and training, marketing and technology services.
“After months of research, debate and due diligence on what facilities maintenance groups would best fit the AOPD culture and vision, we collectively decided that AFFLINK shares our passion best in keeping the independent distributor relevant in today’s ever-changing landscape,” said AOPD executive director Mark Leazer. Meanwhile, AOPD has provided details of its 2024 annual meeting dates and venue.
Its Engage 2024 event for dealer members, business partners and selected guests will take place at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Florida from May 5-8. In addition to the dealer/supplier business meetings, educational and networking sessions will be spread throughout the agenda. AOPD said invitations, reservation information and details for the event will be sent out next year.
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FTC sues Amazon It had been on the cards for a while, but the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has finally confirmed it has filed a lawsuit against Amazon.com. The FTC—along with 17 supporting states—filed a complaint with the District Court Western District of Washington state on September 26. They allege the online retail and technology company is a “monopolist that uses a set of interlocking, anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power.” “By stifling competition on price, product selection, quality and by preventing its current or future rivals from attracting a critical mass of shoppers and sellers, Amazon ensures that no current or future rival can threaten its dominance,” said the FTC in a press release. It continued: “Amazon’s illegal, exclusionary conduct makes it impossible for competitors to gain a foothold. With its amassed power across both the online superstore market and online marketplace services market, Amazon extracts enormous monopoly rents from everyone within its reach.” Specific tactics (in italics below) the FTC accuses Amazon of include: • Anti-discounting measures that punish sellers and deter other online retailers from offering prices lower than Amazon, keeping prices higher for products across the internet. • Conditioning sellers’ ability to obtain Prime eligibility for their products—a virtual necessity for doing business on Amazon—on sellers using Amazon’s costly fulfillment service, which has made it substantially more expensive for sellers on Amazon to also offer their products on other platforms. This unlawful coercion has in turn limited
competitors’ ability to effectively compete against Amazon. • Degrading the customer experience by replacing relevant, organic search results with paid advertisements—and deliberately increasing junk ads that worsen search quality and frustrate both shoppers seeking products and sellers who are promised a return on their advertising purchase. • Biasing Amazon’s search results to preference Amazon’s own products over ones that Amazon knows are of better quality. • Charging costly fees on the hundreds of thousands of sellers that currently have no choice but to rely on Amazon to stay in business. These fees range from a monthly fee sellers must pay for each item sold, to advertising fees that have become virtually necessary for sellers to do business. Combined, all of these fees force many sellers to pay close to 50 percent of their total revenues to Amazon. These fees harm not only sellers but also shoppers, who pay increased prices for thousands of products sold on or off Amazon. The FTC and its state partners are seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that would “prohibit Amazon from engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon’s monopolistic control to restore competition.” Amazon was quick to hit back at the lawsuit. In a response posted online, its general counsel David Zapolsky accused the FTC of a “fundamental misunderstanding of retail,” stating that the e-tailer’s “innovations and customer-centric focus have benefited American consumers through low prices and increased competition.” Don’t expect this issue to be resolved anytime soon. The US press has suggested the lawsuit could be in the courts for “years.”
Canadian dealer organizations announce alliance
In what they describe as a “significant development,” Canadian Workplace Solutions (CWS) and Novexco have announced an alliance “dedicated to increasing competitive buying conditions” for independent dealers across the country. A press release referred to both a “strategic alliance” and a “partnership” whose collective vision is to “enhance the purchasing landscape” and “offer suppliers an extended distribution network for their products.” NOVEMBER 2023
“We firmly believe that by combining our strengths and resources, we can promote a thriving, competitive and ethical marketplace,” stated CWS president Angie Bukta. Novexco CEO Denis Mathieu added: “The Canadian office products market is evolving at a fast pace and, in turn, we are evolving our strategic direction for the benefit of all our members.” CWS—formerd by a merger of the Basics and CIS dealer groups—was officially established at the beginning INDEPENDENT DEALER
of this year. Together with shareholder Guild Stationers, its members have 147 locations throughout Canada. Novexco, meanwhile, has around 100 outlets in the east of the country under its Hamster go-to-market brand. PAGE 26
Industry News COE Distributing ranks among Pittsburgh’s largest private companies for 2023 National office furnishings distributor COE Distributing has again ranked among the Pittsburgh region’s largest privately held companies, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. COE placed 62nd on the 2023 list, which ranks companies based upon revenue figures for 2022. COE climbed nine spots on the prestigious list of 80 successful companies from a wide variety of industries. “Our amazing team members continually exceed customer expectations and our revenue growth reflects their hard work,” said COE chairman and CEO J.D. Ewing. “It’s very gratifying for our lean team of 116 employees to earn a spot on this list, which includes local giants employing thousands.” In addition to being recognized among Pittsburgh’s largest private companies, COE has been rated among Pittsburgh’s fastest-growing companies by the Business Times since 2013. Regularly lauded for its profitability and strong company culture, COE also has been spotlighted as a Pittsburgh Top Workplace by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and has featured eight times on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in America. COE also is proud to be acknowledged by the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors for charitable efforts and service to the community as an inaugural recipient of its Deliver Award.
Acme makes first aid acquisition
Acme United has made an opportunistic acquisition in its successful first aid category. The vendor has paid around $1 million for “selected assets” of Canadian company Hawktree Solutions, a supplier of first aid and survival kits, medical supplies and training that was placed into receivership in July. One of the main assets Acme has purchased is an exclusive license for first aid, safety and survival products with the Canadian Red Cross (CRC). Hawktree’s annual revenue in prior years averaged approximately $4 million but that figure ballooned in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic—something that ultimately led to the company’s demise. The business will be operated from Acme’s facilities in Laval, Canada. “Hawktree Solutions will expand our product line of first aid and survival items that are focused on devastating fires, floods and earthquakes,” said Acme CEO Walter Johnsen. “We intend to work closely with the CRC to deliver outstanding products to those impacted by natural disasters. In the short term, we will be reactivating the Hawktree website, filling existing orders and working with customers on new programs.”
C-Line donates school supplies to help local kids
Storage, protection and organizational items manufacturer C-Line Products of Mount Prospect, Illinois was honored to be able to help local children get ready for Back to School this year. The C-Line teamed up with the Latin American Motorcycle Association Chicago-West chapter for its 13th Annual Pen and Pencil Run, held in August. The goal was to provide school supplies for 200 children in Chicago. The children attend El Valor Developmental Training Center. El Valor is a nonprofit organization serving over 3,000 children annually, many of whom have disabilities. “It’s important to give back to the community”, said Jean Andersen, marketing project manager for C-Line. “Many of our employees live in Chicago and we were happy to be able to support the local community and help these kids get ready for school.” For more information contact Jean Andersen at 224-580-2049 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.C-LineProducts.com.
ECI appoints chief customer officer ECI has appointed an experienced software exec as chief customer officer. Taking on the role is Riz Karim, who joins the company following a successful 20-year career in various software, sales and customer success roles. He was most recently SVP of Global Services and Support at Everbridge, a leader in critical event management and national public warning software solutions. At ECI, Karim will lead customer-facing teams, collaborating across divisions—including the
Senior staff changes at Mac Papers
manufacturing, residential construction, field service management, building supply, office technology and wholesale/ retail distribution industries. “The chief customer officer position is incredibly important, as we’re wholly focused on helping small- and medium-sized businesses compete and grow,” said ECI CEO Trevor Gruenewald. “Riz not only brings a deep understanding of customer needs, but also has a proven track record of leading global support teams.”
Essity advances recycling initiative
US distributor Mac Papers and Packaging recently announced a number of senior management changes. Company veteran Craig Boortz has been named president and chief commercial officer. In this role, he will be responsible for all of Mac Papers’ regional commercial resources, inside sales, customer service, its envelopes business unit and national accounts. Chris McCabe, who joined the company in August 2014 to lead the packaging business, has been named chief growth officer. He will now be responsible for all growth initiatives and platforms across the company, including the packaging and wide format business units, corporate strategy, corporate development and marketing. The Florida-based distributor also announced the additions of Steve DeVoe as COO and Field Jones as SVP of strategic sourcing. DeVoe brings more than 30 years of operational and commercial experience, including a spell as VP at Veritiv’s $1 billion Facility Solutions segment. As COO, he will be responsible for branch operations, logistics, envelope and corrugate box converting and Mac Papers’ environmental, health and safety programs. Meanwhile, Jones has over 20 years’ experience in strategic sourcing and procurement and was previously a consulting partner to Mac Papers. He will now be in charge of the company’s sourcing strategy, product category management, inventory management and the procure-to-pay process.
Health and hygiene vendor Essity has launched a production line for professional hygiene tissue products with an original USP—the raw materials consist of used food and milk packaging. The latest expansion of Essity’s plant in Hondouville, France has increased the facility’s recycling capacity by 40 percent. The site recycles 25,000 tons annually, equivalent to 60 percent of all collected, sorted and recycled food and beverage cartons in France. In addition, the production line recycles “almost all” of the materials in the packaging, including plastic and aluminum. Essity then uses the fiber raw material to manufacture tissue products under the Tork brand. With the aim of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, the company has established similar recycling initiatives in Germany, the Netherlands and, most recently, Ecuador. “A truly circular society can only be achieved if there is integrated collaboration between all members of the value chain … The production facility provides cost-efficient and sustainable production while we take important steps toward a world with zero landfill,” noted Donato Giorgio, Essity’s global supply chain president.
» PAGE 28
Logitech names CEO Logitech has appointed the permanent successor to Bracken Darrell. Since Darrell left in June to lead footwear brand Vans, board member Guy Gecht has been in charge of the workplace and gaming tech giant. Now, the company has appointed experienced retail exec Hanneke Faber to take on the role on a permanent basis. Faber joins Logitech from Unilever, where she led its $14 billion Nutrition division. Before that, she was COO at supermarket retailer Ahold Delhaize and also held senior roles at Procter & Gamble. The new CEO will initially be based at Logitech’s headquarters in Switzerland before relocating to California next year.
SSI adds features in new software release
Veritiv shareholders approve takeover
Dealer software provider Systems Solutions Limited (SSI) has released a new version of its SSI Edge back-office software. The new release contains dozens of new features and enhancements to help dealers operate more efficiently and adapt to market changes. The biggest change is the addition of a performance dashboard to Salesperson Edge, the software’s integrated sales intelligence module. The dashboard provides a graphical snapshot of recent sales activity, including top customers and categories as well as month-to-date and year-to-date totals. It also identifies at-risk accounts based on sales data and provides salespeople will fast, one-click access to detailed
The shareholders of US packaging and facilities products distributor Veritiv have voted overwhelmingly in favor of taking the company private. In August, Veritiv’s board agreed to a $2.3 billion takeover offer from investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. Now, the distributor’s shareholders have followed suit, with more than 99 percent of votes cast backing the merger proposal. The transaction still requires regulatory approvals, but Veritiv CEO Sal Abbate said he expects it to close during the current quarter.
information related to each metric. Reporting has also been improved in Salesperson Edge, as well as in other areas of the system, with additional filters and export options available in several system modules. There are also several new reports, including an alert report for at-risk customers and a new transaction report for dealers not using SSI Edge’s integrated general ledger. The latter report provides a detailed listing of transaction activity for export to external accounting software. Other new and improved features include automatic, overnight generation of shipping manifests, multiple project management enhancements for furniture dealers, simplified stock allocation to backorders and many more.
Victor Technology makes acquisitions US business products supplier Victor Technology has announced the acquisitions of three companies. In a press release, Victor Technology said it had acquired the assets of the following three businesses:
• The Original Seat Sack Company: a Florida-based provider of storage and organizational products in the education vertical that has more than 100 SKUs. • Worky Life: a start-up that supplies two patented, portable solutions for home and remote workers, the Home Office and Office Everywhere. • Zip Notes: the brand behind the “sticky notes on a roll” dispenser that was invented by the late Maurice Kanbar. The company stated: “The combination of Victor Technology and these three outstanding brands further advances Victor’s strategy of growing through product acquisition while leveraging its core capabilities, relationships and infrastructure to enhance scale and relevancy in the business and school supplies channels.” NOVEMBER 2023
Imperial Dade appoints COO, makes further acquisitions North American facilities products distributor Imperial Dade has created the new role of COO. The company has tapped experienced Fastenal exec Terry Owen for the job. Owen, a former US marine, has spent 28 years at Fastenal, working his way up from an entry-level position in the distribution team to be named as COO earlier this year. In the newly created role at Imperial Dade, Owen will be responsible for overseeing safety, supply chain and logistics, warehouse operations and fleet, and commercial analytics; collaborating with cross-functional teams; and implementing strategies to elevate Imperial Dade’s operations and demonstrate the company’s commitment to customer service. At the same time, he will focus on accelerating Imperial Dade’s investments in the company’s digital transformation, enhancing its Victoria Bay branded products offering and partnering with vendors to introduce environmentally sustainable products for customers. Imperial Dade CEO Jason Tillis commented: “Given Imperial Dade’s tremendous growth, it is the right time to bring a world-class operations leader on board to drive the execution of our business strategy and goals.” Meanwhile, Imperial Dade continues to add scale in Canada. Its latest acquisitions in the country are Advance Shipping Supplies, a local distributor of industrial supplies, packaging materials and janitorial products in the Ontario market; and Eugene Allard Produits d’Emballage et d’Entretien, a packaging and janitorial dealer based in Quebec. Meanwhile, in the US, Imperial Dade has added density in Ohio with the acquisition of Janton, a company operated by the Logan family. Imperial Dade has now made 75 acquisitions under the leadership of Bob and Jason Tillis.
BradyIFS–Envoy Solutions merger completed US jan/san distribution companies BradyIFS and Envoy Solutions are now operating as a single organization. Their previously announced combination has closed, effective November 1. It creates a business with around $5 billion in annual revenue that employs nearly 6,000 staff across 180 locations in the US. The transaction sees private equity firms Kelso and Warburg Pincus, along with BradyIFS management, collectively become the majority shareholders in the combined companies. They also control the board of directors. Envoy Solutions’ former owner FEMSA—which received $1.7 billion in cash from the deal—retains a 37 pecent stake. The new BradyIFS/Envoy Solutions combo will be led by BradyIFS CEO Ken Sweder. He promised the companies would “win as one” by coming together “to deliver the best value for our customers, suppliers and associates.” INDEPENDENT DEALER
In memoriam: Terri Bartling-Mayes, Essendant INDEPENDENT DEALER was saddened to learn of the passing of Terri Bartling-Mayes, former Essendant director of sales, at the age of 57. She passed away on September 22, 2023 after a lengthy illness surrounded by loved ones. Terri was born in Rawlins, Wyoming on February 12, 1966 to Mike and Shirley Mullen. She graduated from the University of Wyoming and pursued a career in human resources and management. She first entered the office products industry in 1999, joining Boise Cascade as general manager at its employee contact center, moving through the role of director of supply chain operations, before being promoted to VP-level in 2008 and working her way up to vice-president of OfficeMax, based in Napierville, Illinois. During this time Terri was recognized as Businesswoman of the Year Under 40 in both Wyoming and Illinois. She also served as the director of Illinois’ Diversity Council. After leaving OfficeMax in 2014, Terri spent a brief time away from the industry before returning to Essendant in 2017 to support its sales in vertical markets. At the time of her death, Terri was director of sales for Essendant. “Our Essendant family is saddened by the passing of Terri, a long-time employee who not only contributed to our company but was a friend and mentor to many within our organization,” said Renee Starr, senior vice president of sales and merchandising at the wholesaler. “She was such a bright spot on our team, always ready to pay it forward, and will be deeply missed. We send our deepest sympathies to her family and friends.” Terri’s genuine compassion for differently abled people was evident throughout her career as she fully leveraged all
available resources to accommodate special needs. She recognized the value and potential of every individual and was named as a diversity champion by the National Diversity Council in 2017. Terri is preceded in death by her sister Audrey (Jerry) Williams. She is survived by her husband, Jon Bartling; her parents, Mike and Shirley Mullen; her brother, Dennis (Susan, children Bronwyn and Finn) Mullen; her daughter, Krista (Vince) Jacobs; her grandchildren Eli, Molly and Louise Jacobs; her nephews Brett (Liz) and Connor Williams; her former spouse, Scott Mayes; and her cats, Katniss and Penelope.
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Democracy can be messy, but does it have to be petty? By: Paul A. Miller, legislative counsel, Workplace Solutions Association
I can remember growing up hearing adults talking about upcoming elections and asking, “Why should I vote? Those clowns in Washington aren’t listening to me.” Back then, they had a point. Displeasure with Washington isn’t a new phenomenon; but it is one that continues to grow. A case in point is what has happened this year and what is taking place right now with the pending government shutdown. Talk of a government shutdown isn’t new. We do this dance every year. It’s like bad theater. You can usually time when the chatter will start and have a good sense of when it will end. But this year is very different. Let’s take a step back to see how we got here. We started the year with Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives by a whopping five-vote majority. This means every time a vote occurs, Republicans have to make sure every member of their caucus is on board, which is no easy feat today. You can’t rely on Democrats to save the day. Yes, you will have a couple of vulnerable Democrats cross the aisle and vote with Republicans, just as you will have a couple of vulnerable Republicans vote with the Democrats. These members cancel each other out at the end of the day. For Republicans (and Democrats have the same problem in the Senate), you have 30-40 far-right members of the Freedom Caucus who are hellbent on cutting government spending to the bone. That’s no bad thing in theory. In reality, however, this “take no prisoners” approach has a bigger impact than simply, say, cutting each agency’s NOVEMBER 2023
WSA Focus budget by 20 percent. Say you cut each agency by that amount. Some will be able to adjust. After all, there is a lot of waste in our government today. But let’s focus on the other agencies, like the Department of Health and Human Services. Cut their budgets and it has a real impact on the health and safety of people living in our communities. You can say those people don’t impact your life. But I would disagree. When those in underserved communities can’t get the help and support they need, who do you think pays? We all do. So, in an attempt to send a message that Washington is cutting spending, we actually end up spending more because of the long-term impacts an unhealthy community has on local, state and federal budgets. It’s like my wife saying she bought the cheap brand to save money, but the minute we won’t eat it or it breaks, we spend more than that on a replacement. In this scenario, what you have is a ticking timebomb, which makes governing on both sides messy, but necessary (at times). We started the year in chaos as members of the same Freedom Caucus decided they didn’t want Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to become the next speaker. For those of you who don’t know McCarthy, this was his third run at becoming speaker (and his best chance). McCarthy failed in his previous two attempts due to unforced errors on his part, to use a baseball analogy. But this time was different. McCarthy is a prolific fundraiser and spent the two years prior to 2023 raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the party—and for a large segment of those who now wanted to prevent him from becoming speaker. This drama kept everyone in Washington guessing—would he or wouldn’t he succeed? Those who know McCarthy knew he was not going to NOVEMBER 2023
let this go and was not going to let the Freedom Caucus dictate his fate. So, on the 15th vote, McCarthy finally became speaker. Now that was settled, you might think we could get back to focusing on the people’s business. But you’d be wrong yet again. Don’t get me wrong—some good work has been done this year; but it has been overshadowed by the weekly infighting on both sides of the Capitol. In the Senate, the same problems exist, just with different players. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) have kept their party from getting Democratic priorities to the president’s desk. The Senate, they say, is the more deliberative body of the two. In years past, that may have been true. But now, it’s the body where you want issues to die. It’s easier to pass things in the House, even with a five-seat majority. Getting something passed in the Senate, where the rules are so different and one Senator can prevent any issue or nominee from getting a vote, is harder than winning the lottery. Now that we have covered the past eight months of dysfunction, or what some call democracy, let’s talk about where we are today. As I write this article, we are on the verge of a government shutdown, which was averted because of McCarthy. The speaker threw a Hail Mary and was able to avoid a government shutdown, which infuriated those in the Freedom Caucus; but even Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), head of the Freedom Caucus, had to admit it was the only option for the speaker. What happened next was not unexpected, as the speaker had been telling Rep. Matt Gaetz for days to put up or shut up. Gaetz did just that by filing a motion to vacate, which meant the speaker had two days to schedule a vote on his future. I support the Freedom Caucus in their efforts to cut spending. I just INDEPENDENT DEALER
don’t agree with how they are going about it. They want to cut spending while driving money to their core issues and districts/states. That’s not fiscal responsibility. That’s what I call selective fiscal restraint. For his part, the speaker spent months trying to work with members of the Freedom Caucus on their concerns. After each threat to hold up the process, the speaker came to an agreement with the Freedom Caucus. During this process, the speaker again spent countless hours negotiating with Freedom Caucus members. They just weren’t interested. What did they want? They wanted a long-term budget that cuts deep. They wanted the politics of this back home to further their political careers and raise millions from a shutdown and a battle with the speaker. In principle, I agree with the Freedom Caucus on our overspending, but not on how to address it. My advice to the next speaker—who will have to deal with this again when the continuing resolution runs out—is to include language that would create a congressional taskforce to go department by department within every agency looking for outdated or duplicative programs, that are no longer needed. This is more of the scalpel approach: precision cutting, not across-the-board cutting. That’s a win for the Freedom Caucus, the next speaker and the American people. One of the deals McCarthy made with the Freedom Caucus (and which cost him his job) to secure their vote for speaker was to change the House rules to give one member the power to call a vote to boot out the speaker from the role. That is what we saw happen this past week. Gaetz—who has never liked McCarthy, but was willing to have him campaign for him and raise money for him—led the charge on this vote. The speaker has been vacated just
WSA Focus once before, in 1910, when Democrats voted to remove then-Speaker Joe Cannon. The measure was used again in 2015 by former Rep. Mark Meadows, who introduced a resolution prior to an August recess in an attempt to remove then-Speaker John Boehner; but the resolution was never voted on, as Boehner opted to resign instead. As you know by now, the speaker lost his fight by a vote of 216 to 210. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting to oust McCarthy. McCarthy, for his part, did try to get Democrats to support him, but was unwilling to cut any deals as this would have weakened him even further. Out on an island, the speaker scheduled the vote he ultimately lost. So now what? Great question—and the answer is still uncertain. We do have a temporary speaker in Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who was selected by McCarthy at the start of his term. After 9/11, a process was implemented whereby the incoming speaker designates a handpicked successor should something happen. That person’s name is kept secret. So as of today, we have Speaker McHenry, who has all the powers of the speaker, but is nothing more than a placeholder for now. McHenry—like others thought to be contenders for the job—has said no thanks. Why would you want a job that holds you hostage to one person out of 435? It’s an unwinnable position. McHenry, in his first official act as speaker, did make headlines by expelling former Speaker Pelosi and former Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from their Capitol offices—a move made for McCarthy. If you believe the Republican moderates and McCarthy allies, this will get worse before it gets better. Moderates won’t back a candidate until they know what retribution the new speaker plans to impose against the eight who voted to oust McCarthy. They NOVEMBER 2023
want their pound of flesh. Whether they can get it is the question. The Freedom Caucus want a hardliner, which will be a very hard sell to the entire caucus. Talking with several McCarthy allies this week, they say this battle could go on for several weeks. We shall see. My point in this article is that over the decades, many have regarded our democracy as boring. For most, Washington was just a weekly bad story they saw on the news. This gave voters opportunities to complain about a do-nothing Washington, while doing nothing themselves or having zero ambition to change things. For me, the 2016 presidential election changed all that and started us down a dangerous path. Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump changed the political landscape in this country. Trump brought a more in-your-face approach that became popular and led many others to emulate it. He brought people off their couches and out of their houses and front and center of a rapidly growing movement of anti-Washington sentiment. This was nothing new; but Trump fired people up and had them believe they could INDEPENDENT DEALER
change the status quo by any means necessary. Fast forward to 2020 and the death of George Floyd. This brought about global protests that lasted months. People were saying they weren’t going to take it anymore. This poured more fuel on the growing anxiety in this country. Add to that the actions by some on January 6, 2021 and the storming of the United States Capitol. That may have been the last straw. This was the moment people decided that sitting back and doing nothing wasn’t the answer. Protesting didn’t produce results. So, what do you do next? Exactly what happened on January 6. I don’t condone those actions, but we cannot be surprised things reached that point. Democracy can be messy—and should be at times; but today, it could be considered dangerous. There are no longer any boundaries. Who do you blame? That depends where you sit on the political spectrum. I blame both parties and voters equally. Let me explain. As voters, we are responsible for electing these people. We buy their snake oil and then are angry when we PAGE 34
WSA Focus get nothing from them. The old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” applies. But we haven’t been fooled just twice: we are fooled every election cycle. Blame also rests with the parties, which take voters for granted. The parties prey on our anger through their campaign efforts. Today our elected leaders are more concerned about how many likes and followers they have on X or other social media platforms than they are about how their votes impact your lives. A cynical view, I know; but
it’s true. I also still believe this is the greatest nation on earth, even with this chaos. Today we have small bands on both sides that are holding the government and our legislative process hostage unless they get 100 percent of everything they demand. That’s not democracy; that’s extortion. So, while we like to claim we live in the greatest democracy in the world (I am in that corner), it is still flawed. I accept that. What most of us are having a very difficult time handling are the flaws that
continue to directly impact our lives, families, businesses and pocketbooks. John Adams, one of our founding fathers, wrote: “Remember, Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy.” Today’s example in Washington may be exactly what Adams meant.
There’s a lot more to the Workplace Solutions Association than just a new name! Mike Tucker, executive director, Workplace Solutions Association
I recently returned from both Industry Week in New Orleans and the Office Partners Gathering in Tampa: two more great events for the IDC, with strong energy and participation from dealers and manufacturers across our diversified industry. I had the opportunity to present to the general audience on the first morning of both shows, giving an overview of some of the Workplace Solutions Association’s (WSA) new initiatives and an update on some of our existing programs. For this month’s article, I thought it would be helpful to share some of these highlights with INDEPENDENT DEALER readers. Facts about WSA (formerly the Independent Office Products and Furniture Dealers Association): • WSA is a division of ISSA—The Worldwide Cleaning Association. • It has over 500 members. • WSA provides insurance benefits and programs not available from buying groups, manufacturers and wholesalers. NOVEMBER 2023
New WSA programs available: • Health insurance: New benefits provider CBIZ has a nationwide footprint in the benefits space, which allows it to strategically negotiate more competitive plans for groups anywhere in the country. • Cybersecurity insurance: Cyber Controls offers combined cybersecurity software and insurance coverage to minimize business risks resulting from cyberattacks, all at an exclusive rate for WSA members. • Promo EQP: This is a platform that simplifies the process of selling promotional products and enables you to be more competitive and profitable doing so. This program offers an extended trial that is exclusive to WSA members. Furniture and technology education programs (and who they are run by): • Project Management Training (Solomon Coyle); • Managing Price Increases During Inflation (GOPD); INDEPENDENT DEALER
• Winning E-commerce in 2023 (GfK Etilize); • Dangers of Counterfeits/Gray Market Toners (Clover); and • Selling in the Public Sector (Catalyst Consulting). Scholarships: • Awards totaling $40,000 to $50,000 are made every year to the students of industry families. • The program opens for new applications in January 2024. Government advocacy initiatives: • WSA has a full-time lobbyist in Washington, D.C. • Lobbying efforts are focused on issues impacting the industry and small businesses. • The annual advocacy fly-in is scheduled for Spring 2024. For questions about membership or any of these programs, please contact Mike Tucker at email@example.com PAGE 35
By Lisa Veeck
Cover Story Few things are more conducive to learning, training or simply imparting information than visual communication products. And with more people working remotely post-COVID-19, how best to share information has become an increasingly pressing issue. One of the most popular products in this regard is the once-humble whiteboard, which now comes in a wide range of sizes, materials and options—from metal, melamine and glass to standard, customizable and “smart.” Despite all these possible variances, most independent dealers find them an easy and profitable sell—although that’s not to say it’s without its challenges.
Visual communication products, primarily whiteboards, account for about 1 to 2 percent of the overall business of AAA Business Interiors, San Francisco, California; and the
majority of those sales are seasonal. “We sell whiteboards mostly to schools and government agencies,” says vice president of sales Bill Jones. “Schools order them at the start of the new school year; and we just sold $80,000 worth of whiteboards to our largest account, the Department of Energy, in August/September. Government agency budgets end September 30 and they have to ‘use it or lose it,’ so internally, they usually have a July/August order cutoff so they can order in August or early September. The nice thing about whiteboards is they are usually higher-ticket sales.” Great Falls Paper and Supply, Great Falls, Montana, also sells a lot of whiteboards to the federal government, thanks to its General Services Administration (GSA) contract status. President and owner Mike Flaherty agrees that the sales tend to be higher dollar amounts: “I sell a lot
of Mastervision Bi-silque whiteboards; and I sold the first 65-inch smart whiteboards in the country—I sold three of them and they go for $2,500 each. I also recently sold 190 glass boards for about $25,000 to a U.S. Air Force base in the Middle East. Our most popular size is four feet by eight feet standard boards that sell for about $400 each.” At Indoff, Inc. in St. Louis, Missouri, visual boards account for 25 to 30 percent of the company’s total sales. “The whiteboards have really taken off for us,” enthuses Dave Fite. “We’ve been the primary vendor for one of the largest auto parts chains in the country that has been headquartered here for 30 years. It has 6,037 stores nationwide and 200 more under construction. We sell the whiteboards for every store— about 3,000 a year. We sell mostly standard whiteboards, but we’ll sell any type they need. The company uses some interactive boards in its corporate offices. I couldn’t care less if I sell
Cover Story another stapler in my life. Just selling boards provides a very good living.” Fite believes Indoff’s success in the sector is due to maintaining quality and listening to customers. “The biggest reason we’ve been successful is not selling cheap generic products where issues can arise and sticking to our customers’ needs,” he explains. “We’re not like some stores where you go in for a toothbrush and they try to sell you everything. We find their needs and stick to them. Technology has changed and some of it has passed me by. But most big companies know what they need. So we get them what they need, how they need it, when they need it.”
Eakes Office Solutions, Grand Island, Nebraska, has been selling interactive whiteboards for seven years, but the focus has really ramped up in the last
three. The company carries the Sharp Aquos line in all sizes, from the 22-inch desktop to 80-inch and larger displays. In fiscal year 2022-23, the segment accounted for 5 percent of sales in the company’s technology services department. “Eakes’ print and technology divisions work hand in hand selling whiteboards,” says managed print product manager David Lehy. “The print division handles a lot of the sales and marketing aspect with customers. The tech services division does some sales as well. But the tech team can install and configure and train customers how to use them, which is a big differentiator from the competition in our market.” Eakes’ major interactive whiteboard buyers are K-12 education and small to medium-sized businesses and municipalities, including law
enforcement. “We are not in a metro area, so there is a lot of sharing of resources among the different counties,” explains chief technology sales consultant Christian Pohlenz. “If there is a raid, the interactivity allows them to all be networked together to share information without driving 50, 60 or 100 miles.” According to Pohlenz, the pandemic helped fuel interest in the boards, especially among small to medium-sized businesses. Lehy is struck by the diversity of these businesses and their uses for the boards: “You wouldn’t think of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) company using them, for example. But we have one that uses it to display the information its workers need for the day.” Pohlenz elaborates: “We installed a 75-inch board so the HVAC workers can touch it first thing in the morning
Cover Story and see what calls they have and then prepare their trucks accordingly. It saves them driving back and forth for additional supplies, and they can be networked to their tablets. It also helps with training: they can learn how to install new furnaces or plumbing, and several workers can do recertification testing all in one place.”
“Easy-peasy” for some, but not all
Jones reports that AAA Business moves a lot of standard whiteboards, but has found selling the interactive versions challenging. “It’s not for the faint-of-heart office products rep,” he warns. “We talk to schools about them and they agree they are very cool. But they have standard IT departments and installing them is too complicated, so they usually go with standard boards.”
And even the standard options can pose challenges. “The biggest one is finding customers’ needs and how the board can help create efficiencies,” explains Pohlenz. “There’s no silver bullet for all. You have to take the time to find the best board and solution for them based on their needs.” Jones continues: “You really need a domestic source for the big year-end sales. You can get one or two boards from wholesalers, but they don’t stock quantity. Importing them from far away can take three to four weeks and that won’t do, because orders are usually placed early to mid-September and they have to be delivered by September 30. We received a $50,000 order for boards in two sizes. No one in the supply chain could fill it and importing them would take too long. We contacted Brett Doyle, our rep from
Mooreco, and the company had them built and assembled for us.” Similarly, Flaherty would contend that the challenges are virtually nonexistent if you have the right manufacturing partner. “I should say selling them is hard, so not all the dealers will sell them,” he jokes. “But I’m not like other office products dealers because I have a janitorial background and only got into office products because of my GSA contract. The truth is, I have absolutely zero knowledge of whiteboards. But most of the time, the big customers know what they want. They call and say, ‘I need this in this size,’ and I price it and get it to them. If they have a question or want to know the difference between two boards, I contact the manufacturer and ask and get back to the customer with the three main differences. What customers want in
Cover Story visual communication items is the same as what they always want: they want service; they want you to make it easy for them to buy from you.”
Lehy has some sage counsel for dealers looking to succeed in visual communications—an area he expects will continue to grow throughout 2024: “Locate a good partner. We are really proud of our long relationship with Sharp Electronics. The company offers very innovative products and is very committed to this segment of business. Its purchase of NEC reflects this. It expanded its offerings and gives us new projectors and auxiliary products outside of the displays.” Pohlenz advises: “Check the extended warranties the supplier
offers—especially for boards by K-12, which are used more heavily. Purchasing an extended one upfront can limit a dealer’s exposure. If something tragic does happen to the board, you’ll have more leverage if there is an extended warranty.” Pohlenz also believes having employees who understand the technology is vital. “It’s crucial to have some people on staff with more knowledge and a higher comfort level with the boards,” he says. “You need experts who can go to the space and get the boards installed correctly, to ensure the customer gets the full benefit of the boards.” Lehy would agree: “You need a marketing and sales side and a tech side. Our salespeople know enough to ask questions to determine customers’
needs and then turn it over to Christian and Jeff in our technology division.” And Jones is on the same page. “You need an interactive specialist,” he insists. “Saying office products salespeople will sell the boards is like saying they will sell computers. Sales can get us an introduction, but you still need a dedicated person who knows what he or she is talking about.” But not everyone sees a need for a specialist. “My advice is to ask the manufacturers for help,” says Flaherty. “They will provide it.” Fite concludes by advising: “Buy quality. Whether ceramic, glass, interactive or whatever type, buy boards that will hold up for the business. Customers want quality, good pricing and what they want, how and when they want it.”
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Reflections on My Tenure at ISG: A Message from President and CEO Mike Gentile
I never envisioned doing this when I entered our industry as a newly hired district sales manager at Boise; nor did I think my career would be this long. I guess it probably proves that I am unemployable outside of our industry. I can’t thank you enough for giving me the privilege to lead this group. Special thanks to the initial board of directors of Independent Stationers that hired me and took a leap of faith and placed their confidence in me. NOVEMBER 2023
I quickly developed a respect and appreciation for the IDC’s entrepreneurial spirit. Yes, we can be a dysfunctional family at times, but then again, what family isn’t. Things tend to sort themselves out in the end. The important thing is not to allow the self-interest of a few prevent what would benefit the many. At times, people would hear me use the expression and ask me, “How can you herd the independent cats?” My response would be that would be easy if that’s what I
do, but it’s more like keeping the frogs in the wheelbarrow while you are moving. But you know what? That is what I have enjoyed the most and that is what makes the IDC relevant, because the IDC is relentless, resourceful and a respected market force in our industry. There are many people that I would like to express my gratitude to, but it is impossible to mention them all now. However, I would like to personally recognize some folks who have been by my side and who have
unselfishly assisted me over the years in providing value to the hundreds of ISG members and suppliers. Charles Forman, our COO, has been providing leadership and supporting our members since my start at ISG. Janet Eshenour, VP of marketing, has created many value-added marketing services for our members, and I appreciate what she does to make Industry Week the most valuable and critical event in our industry. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Jill O’Neill, our VP of merchandising, during my career at Boise and now again at ISG. Her collaboration with our suppliers has created many valuable programs for our members. Jeff Matthews, our CFO, has responsibly managed and strengthened ISG’s financial position. TJ Crayne, VP of technology, continues to elevate the technological capabilities of ISG and makes it easier for our members to do business with ISG. No one knows our members better than Tom Ashburn, director of member development. He knows most of our members’ names and even their ISG member number by heart. All of these individuals are phenomenally and unselfishly committed to ISG’s mission. I also want to give a special shout out to the very talented and committed ISG staff. I didn’t last 20 years without having positive support and great mentoring. I’d like to thank the supportive ISG PAGE 42
Mike Gentile board of directors I’ve had the pleasure to work for over my career and particularly the many past-chairmen: Craig Bartholomew, Dave Guernsey, Tonya Horn, Harrison Hummel, Yancey Jones Jr., Brian Kristenson, Jordan Kudler, Trace Mars, Kenny Sayes and Joel Vockrodt. Your board of directors is committed to ISG’s mission statement, and their commitment was strengthened by hiring James Rodgers to succeed me as president and CEO. I look forward to assisting James as he continues the transition into his new role. He is the right person for the
right job at the right time. Congratulations James and we are thrilled to welcome you to ISG! Finally, to the supplier community, ISG would not be the leading and most progressive member- owned dealer group that it is today if it were not for your unwavering support. I truly believe in the co-op model and ISG’s mission. We do have our challenges, we all know it, but I am more confident than ever that ISG has a solid foundation and is fortunate to have a very talented and committed staff that also believes in our mission. I am confident that with the board’s
progressive leadership, the staff’s passion, the members’ commitment and the support from our suppliers, wholesalers and industry partners, ISG will continue to create the valued experiences that will ensure continued success. I remain confident and positive about the future of the IDC. It’s time to think big and bold! I have thought about this day for some time and there’s never a good time to leave something you enjoy doing, but there is the right time. I am very comfortable that this is the right time for me personally and professionally. People ask me, “So what are you going
to do?” I am not sure yet, but I have a few ideas. There are two things that are certain. One, I really have to figure out which end of the golf club to hold and two, I definitely won’t be allowed to hang around the house all day. So often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re really at the beginning of something else. Now is that time for me. I sincerely thank you for your support and friendship. My best, Mike Gentile President & CEO Independent Suppliers Group
They’ve “trained” it. But have they LEARNED it? I do a lot of sales training, and I love it. A good training session is like a shot of adrenaline for me—it energizes me. And if I’ve done my job well, the salespeople have an enjoyable time and learn some key techniques. Sales training is an essential investment in any organization’s quest for success. However, there’s a big difference between training and learning. Many managers fall into the trap of thinking that a single training session can miraculously transform their sales team into high-performing superstars. While some, in fact, do find a sales training session transformative, you should think of a sales training program as a foundation upon which to build. Often, the big transformation occurs through post-training reinforcement. Let’s explore why post-training reinforcement is crucial and provides practical strategies for you to ensure your salespeople genuinely absorb and apply the concepts learned in training—whether it’s mine, someone else’s or your own. Training sessions are indeed valuable, as NOVEMBER 2023
they should equip sales teams with new skills, knowledge and strategies. However, good training sessions can be intense, information-packed events— and may leave some participants overwhelmed. Even the most attentive learners can forget up to 70 percent of what they’ve learned within 24 hours of training if not reinforced properly. This is where post-training reinforcement comes into play. Why you should reinforce post-training • Retention and application: The primary goal of any sales training is not just to impart knowledge but to ensure that salespeople can apply it effectively in their day-to-day activities. Post-training reinforcement helps reinforce these concepts, making them stick. If they can’t repeat the techniques taught in front of your customers, they haven’t truly learned them. • Profitable behavioral change: You have seen me use this phrase before, but it’s vital. Sales training often focuses on changing behaviors
and this transformation takes time. Reinforcement helps individuals shift from old habits to new, more effective, profitable ones. The word “habit” is used intentionally; when good sales skills become habitual, they are applied in the field—and hence are profitable. • Adaptation to real-world scenarios: Sales is a dynamic field and real-world situations can differ significantly from training scenarios. Remember, we deal with people—and people can present an infinite number of variables to
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@ TroyHarrison.com. deal with. Teach your salespeople skills and ideas, not words. In other words, good training teaches them to think about selling. Post-training reinforcement enables salespeople to adapt what they’ve learned to handle diverse situations effectively. • Continuous improvement: Reinforcement promotes a culture of continuous learning and improvement. It keeps sales teams
Troy Harrison engaged and motivated to enhance their skills continually. When salespeople believe that they are never done learning their craft, they are better salespeople with both new and existing customers. Don’t ever let your salespeople get stale. How to effectively reinforce training • Regular coaching and feedback: Managers should conduct regular one-on-one coaching sessions with their sales team members to view, assess and discuss their progress. Remember— effective coaching means viewing them in real time, so you have to get out of your office and share the field of battle with them. Once you do that, you have the credibility to provide constructive feedback and address
specific challenges you spot. This also helps solidify training concepts. • Peer learning and knowledge sharing: Encourage salespeople to share their experiences and insights with their peers. This collaborative approach fosters a learning community within the sales team and reinforces training concepts through discussions and real-world examples. One great way to do this is to have salespeople tell success stories during sales meetings of how a particular concept helped them move a buyer forward. • Games and challenges: Introduce friendly competitions, challenges or quizzes related to the training content. This not only makes learning more engaging but also helps
salespeople apply what they’ve learned in a fun and competitive manner. At one of my previous sales management jobs, I used to carry $25 gift cards in my pocket. I’d catch a salesperson walking in the building and I’d stop him or her and ask something like, “What are two great questions to open a sales call?” or “What’s your elevator pitch?” If the salesperson delivered a good response, he or she got a card. Instant reward. • Microlearning: Break down training content into bite-sized, easily digestible modules. Deliver these mini-lessons periodically to reinforce key concepts and prevent information overload. For example, in my own two-day course, we spend two hours on sales questions. You don’t need to do that. Instead, do an exercise to develop ONE question of a specific type. Rotate the topics appropriately. • Roleplay exercises: I know, I know—nobody likes roleplay. So why do we do it? Because it works. Roleplay is harder than actual selling. I always liken it to resistance training for salespeople: if your people can be effective in roleplay, they will be strong in the field. Organize roleplay exercises that mimic real sales situations.
The key to this type of roleplay is to ensure the salespeople are implementing the lessons taught, not “making a sale.” My rule in roleplay is simple. I usually play the “customer” and if the salespeople are implementing the lessons correctly, I’m a fairly easy customer. If not, I get tougher. Reward the behavior that you want and you’ll get more of it. • Performance metrics and goal setting: Set clear performance metrics and goals for salespeople to track their progress. This helps align their efforts with the training objectives and motivates them to consistently apply what they’ve learned. • Leverage technology: Use digital platforms and e-learning tools to facilitate ongoing learning and reinforcement. These platforms can provide interactive quizzes, resources and reminders to keep training concepts fresh in the minds of salespeople. Remember that the goal is not just to have a training program, but to ensure that your salespeople genuinely learn and apply the concepts taught to drive improved sales performance. With a consistent post-training reinforcement strategy, your sales team will be better equipped to win more customers and keep the ones they have. PAGE 45
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.
EMPOWERMENT OVER EXHAUSTION:
Five strategies to prevent burnout among high-achieving women in sales “How do you balance your career with other responsibilities and roles in your life?” That question was asked by a student at a panel discussion on “Sales Leaders in Business,” which I had the opportunity to moderate on campus at Kennesaw State University in September. It sparked a lively discussion among our all-female panel, each of whom has firsthand experience of striving for excellence both in her work and in her other life roles. Some of those life roles included “mom,” “wife,” “sister,” “ranch owner with nine horses,” “dog mom,” “Sunday school teacher,” “tennis player,” “friend” and “cheerleader for my family.” Meanwhile, roles at work included “vice president of sales,” “director of enterprise sales,” “account executive,” “insurance agent” and “business owner.” All the women on this panel lead fulfilling lives, both in their professional careers and personally. They bring to mind the remarkable individuals I’ve had the NOVEMBER 2023
pleasure of getting to know within the IDC, particularly those in Office Products Women in Leadership.
Here are some suggestions based on the panel’s answers to that question: • Set a start/end time each day and stick to it: You will consistently fill up the hours you give yourself to work. One panelist who is a vice president of sales as well as a ranch owner said she never works more than 40 hours a week and says “no” a lot: “You learn to prioritize quickly what is truly important.” • Fuel your creativity: Getting out of the office and involving yourself in community, sports and other activities fuel your creativity at work. Recognize there is a law of diminishing returns and over a certain number of hours, quality of work is sacrificed.
• Pass it on: Almost all of our panelists are involved in some form of mentoring or passing on lessons learned to other women. Even if we feel we don’t have time, mentoring and teaching someone else can fuel our own passion and creativity. • Be a guardian of your calendar: Building on the first point, a common theme among all panelists was the deliberate guarding of calendars to prevent burnout, whether during weekends or weekdays. Your time, talents and treasures are valuable. You must protect your time so you have enough breathing space to think each day. • Take guilt-free vacations: How many times have you seen a vacation out-of-office message that keeps the door open to contact that person in other ways? (“If it’s urgent, text me.” Or, “I’ll be checking messages periodically.”). Dabbling in work during vacation disrupts the refreshment
you need to get back to the office and engage fully on your return. Personally, it took me many years in business before I learned how to truly do this. Balancing a career with various other life responsibilities is a multifaceted challenge that demands careful planning and prioritization. It takes discipline and patience to coach and develop others to step in, but the rewards are well worth it. I’ll leave you with a quote by Barbara Brown Taylor: “Some of us have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we’re running on empty and when the ones we love the most are the ones we see the least.” The truth is: work-life balance is not something that should be reserved for weekends and vacations. It’s a fundamental requirement for our physical and mental health, our relationships and our ability to find empowerment and true fulfillment. PAGE 46
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B2B IS CHANGING:
don’t get left in the dust
Embrace the changing landscape The business world is constantly evolving and adapting to new technologies and strategies, and the business-to-business (B2B) sector is no exception. In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the way B2B companies operate and interact with their customers. With the rise of digitalization, remote work and changing consumer behaviors, the traditional methods of B2B are becoming outdated. As a result, it’s crucial for businesses to stay ahead NOVEMBER 2023
of the curve and embrace B2B’s changing landscape to remain competitive and successful. So, let’s go over the key changes, why it’s important not to fall behind and how you can keep one step ahead. Understanding the transformation in B2B marketing The transformation happening in B2B marketing is a result of various factors that have significantly impacted the way businesses operate and connect with their
customers. One of the key drivers of this transformation is digitalization. With the rapid advancement of technology, businesses now have access to a wide range of digital tools and platforms that enable them to reach their target audience in more efficient and personalized ways. Another factor is the rise of remote work. With more companies adopting flexible work arrangements, the traditional in-person sales and marketing approaches may have become less effective. B2B companies now need to find innovative ways to
Mara Gannon is the content marketing manager for Fortune Web Marketing. She has been writing professionally for seven years. When not writing, Mara likes the beach, her family, her two cats, punk rock music and Japanese food.
engage with their customers and build relationships without relying solely on face-to-face interactions. Additionally, consumer behaviors have undergone a major shift. Customers are now more empowered and informed than ever before, thanks to the overwhelming abundance of information available online. This means that B2B companies need to focus on creating consistency and value and delivering exceptional customer experiences in order to stand out in a crowded market. PAGE 48
Mara Gannon Adapting to change: why effective marketing is crucial for your small business As a small business owner, you might be wondering why effective marketing is so crucial in today’s ever-changing B2B landscape. It’s all about staying competitive and relevant in the market. To thrive and succeed, you must adapt to changes happening around you and leverage effective marketing strategies as part of your response. Effective marketing allows you to differentiate yourself from your competitors and build a strong brand identity. It helps you communicate your unique value proposition to your target audience and showcase why they should choose your business over others. In a crowded market, making your business stand out is essential and effective marketing is the key to doing that. Moreover, marketing is all about creating and maintaining relationships with your customers. By marketing your business effectively, you can establish a connection with your target audience and build trust. This in turn leads to customer loyalty, repeat business and positive word-of-mouth recommendations. In today’s digital age, where consumers have access to an abundance of information, effective marketing is increasingly important. With the right NOVEMBER 2023
strategies, you can reach your target audience through various channels, engage with them on a personal level and provide them with valuable information that addresses their pain points. So, don’t underestimate the power of effective marketing for your small business. It’s not just about promoting your products or services, but about building lasting relationships and staying ahead of the curve. Embrace the changing landscape of B2B, adapt your marketing strategies accordingly and watch your business thrive in this evolving business world. Practical strategies to market your business on a tight budget As a business owner, you know how important it is to market your business effectively. However, with a limited budget, it can be challenging to find cost-effective strategies that still deliver results. Luckily, there are tried-and-true
strategies you can implement to market your business practically: • Social media: First, take advantage of social media. Platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok and X (formerly Twitter) can reach a massive audience. Create engaging content, interact with your followers and use hashtags to increase visibility. You can also run targeted ads on social media platforms for a small budget, reaching potential customers based on their interests and demographics. • Build the relationship: Next, focus on building relationships with your customers. Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool and happy customers are more likely to recommend your business to others. Offer exceptional customer service, ask for testimonials and reviews, and encourage referrals
by providing incentives or rewards. • Keep the content coming: Additionally, content marketing is a cost-effective strategy that can yield long-term results. Create valuable and informative blog posts, videos or podcasts that address your target audience’s pain points. Share this content on your website, social media and relevant online communities to showcase yourself as an industry expert and attract potential customers. • Celebrate your local community: Lastly, collaborate with other small businesses in your area. By forming partnerships or cross-promotions, you can expand your reach without breaking the bank. Look for complementary businesses that serve a similar target audience and brainstorm creative ways to collaborate on marketing initiatives. PAGE 49
Mara Gannon Remember, marketing your business on a budget requires creativity, resourcefulness and a focus on building relationships. With these practical strategies, you can effectively market your business without overspending. Next steps for your business Now that you understand the transformation happening in the B2B world and have implemented practical strategies to market your business on a tight budget, it’s time to focus on keeping up with the future of B2B. Here are five next steps to consider: • Stay updated on industry trends: The B2B world is dynamic, with new technologies, strategies and customer behaviors emerging regularly. Stay informed about industry
trends by attending conferences, webinars and networking events. Follow thought leaders and industry publications (like this one) to stay updated on the latest developments. • Embrace automation and artificial intelligence (AI): Automation and AI technologies are revolutionizing the way businesses operate. Explore how these technologies can streamline your business processes, enhance customer experiences and improve efficiency. Whether it’s automating repetitive tasks or utilizing AI chatbots for customer support, incorporating automation and AI can give you a competitive edge. • Personalize your marketing efforts: In a world saturated with generic marketing
messages, blanket email marketing and trite social media posts, personalization is key. Use customer data and insights to create personalized marketing campaigns tailored to the specific needs and preferences of your target audience. Leverage CRM tools and a trusted marketing agency to segment your audience and deliver personalized content and offers. • Focus on customer experience: Exceptional customer experiences are the key to customer loyalty and advocacy. Continuously seek feedback from your customers and make improvements based on their input. Provide personalized and seamless experiences across all touchpoints, whether it’s through your website, social media
or customer service interactions. And make sure you’re interacting with your customer base! • Embrace emerging technologies: Keep an eye on emerging technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and blockchain, as they have the potential to upset the apple cart of the B2B landscape. Assess how these technologies can be leveraged in your industry and explore ways to incorporate them into your business strategy. Not sure how? Reach out to a marketing agency familiar with your market. By taking these steps, you can position your business for long-term success in the ever-evolving world of B2B. Stay adaptable, innovative and customer focused, and you’ll be well prepared for the future of B2B. Because we want you to stick around!
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