Page 1


l Acquisition for Manutan l Ninestar moves in the US l German stationery show discontinued l Maximising public sector sales l ODP’s strategic decision l Paper sector still challenged l Breakroom benefits l How to leverage influencers l EOPA winners
Connecting the business products world April/May
Kenneth Borup, Lomax BIG INTERVIEW

Big Interview: Driving progress

Lomax is now Denmark’s largest specialist online supplier of business products, so it’s no surprise that the reseller’s expertise in e-commerce and digital marketing recently drew attention from Lyreco.

Although the acquisition was ultimately called off late last year, it hasn’t deterred Lomax CEO Kenneth Borup from continuing to hunt for other expansion opportunities. As CEO, he champions Lomax’s dynamic growth while ensuring a positive company culture remains a top priority. Under his tenure, the company has almost doubled its revenue over the past five years, and Borup is keen to maintain this pace.


Many dealers are interested in the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Multiple Award Schedule (MAS). 2024 marks the 40th anniversary of this programme. As OPI readers may be aware, the MAS is the federal government’s primary contract vehicle to acquire over 28 million commercial products and services.

There are currently 16,000+ contractors on the MAS. Reported sales for fiscal 2023 were $44 billion, constituting growth of 14% over the previous year. 53% of this volume was sold through a blanket purchase agreement. Approximately 80% of GSA contractors are small businesses.


18 Big Interview

Lomax CEO Kenneth Borup is gearing up for the next phase of the reseller's expansion

26 Focus

With the ODP Corporation under pressure to be broken up, OPI looks at the possible implications

28 Spotlight

Venturing into US public sector sales can be a challenge, but Steve Noyes knows how to chart a path to success

32 Category Update

Although still facing headwinds, there are pockets of growth in the paper sector

36 Advertorial

Sylvamo maintains a positive outlook

38 Category Update

The breakroom is back and filled with plenty of diverse opportunities

42 How To...

... increase sales and boost brand visibility and credibility through influencer marketing

44 Review: OPI

Partnership 2024

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, Partnership provided the perfect platform for strategic business meetings

46 Review: EOPA

A look at all the winners of the 2024 European Office Products Awards, which was recently hosted in Amsterdam




April/May 2024 3
Green Thinking News 16 OPI Small Talk
5 minutes with... Jonathan Weiss
Final Word Jade Wilson

Heike Dieckmann

+44 1462 422 143 heike.dieckmann@opi.net

Andy Braithwaite

Kate Davies kate.davies@opi.net

Workplace360 Editor

Michelle Sturman michelle.sturman@workplace360.co.uk

Freelance Contributor

David Holes david.holes@opi.net The


Chief Commercial Officer

Jade Wilson

+44 7369 232590 jade.wilson@opi.net

Head of Media Sales

Chris Turness +44 7872 684746 chris.turness@opi.net

Commercial Development Manager

Chris Armstrong chris.armstrong@opi.net

Digital Marketing Manager

Aurora Enghis aurora.enghis@opi.net


Events Manager

Lisa Haywood events@opi.net


Head of Creative

Joel Mitchell joel.mitchell@opi.net

Finance & Operations

Kelly Hilleard kelly.hilleard@opi.net



Steve Hilleard

+44 7799 891000 steve.hilleard@opi.net


Janet Bell

+44 7771 658130 janet.bell@opi.net

Executive Assistant

Debbie Garrand

+44 20 3290 1511 debbie.garrand@opi.net

Well, at least it is in the Northern Hemisphere, where I write this column for our Editor, Heike, who is recovering from surgery, which should see her bounding about like a newborn lamb in no time. I have a spring in my step too, reflecting on the great job my colleagues did in March (thanks, team!) hosting two enormously successful events in Amsterdam.

The tenth annual OPI Partnership event (see page 44) and the co-hosted European Office Products Awards (see page 46) brought together most of the continent’s leading resellers, brands and suppliers for a couple of very productive days that saw many of the senior executives in attendance head back to the office with renewed optimism for the future.

With hugely impressive younger individuals [...] following in the footsteps of iconic leaders [...] there is good cause for optimism

Despite all the numerous and well-documented challenges that the office and workplace supplies industry continues to grapple with, it was evident that there is plenty of stomach to address those issues, particularly from an emerging group of leaders – individuals and companies – bringing fresh ideas and energy to our space.

I met dozens of new – and often younger – faces this year and all remarked on what a close and resilient community we have. Indeed, there was a palpable energy at the EOPA as the 12 trophies were handed over, and a sense that this is an industry well versed in adapting and evolving and will fight hard to remain relevant.

Having been privileged to chair the EOPA judging meeting again this year, I was fortunate to read all the entries submitted. I remain convinced that our community is in good hands with world-class companies such as Lyreco, Fellowes Brands and tesa, to name a few, continuing to demonstrate leadership in key areas including sustainability, diversification and business transformation.

With hugely impressive younger individuals like Leanne Gregg, Rasmus Olsen and Jonathan Weiss following in the footsteps of iconic leaders such as Alain Josse and Nicolas Potier, there is good cause for optimism.

Finally, I will take this opportunity to thank my colleague Michelle Sturman for stepping up and acting as Editor for this issue.

April/May 2024 5
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Manutan acquires UK educational supplier

France-based B2B distributor Manutan has bought leading UK educational supplies company Findel for an undisclosed sum. Headquartered near Manchester, Findel can trace its roots back to 1817. In 2021, private equity firm Endless – the owner of multichannel operator evo – backed a management buyout in a £30 million ($38 million) deal after regulators blocked Findel’s acquisition by purchasing organisation YPO.

“At Endless, we are only ever a temporary custodian of a business, but I’m incredibly proud of what our teams have achieved over the past three years and look forward to seeing what they can do as part of the Manutan Group in the future,” commented Endless Investment Partner Andy Ross.

Findel CEO Chris Mahady added: “It’s been a remarkable three years with the Endless team, where we have transformed the business from an unloved and non-core division of a PLC to the digital leader in our sector, with ESG at the heart of our operations and culture.”

In the 12 months to 31 March 2023, Findel generated revenue of £116 million and achieved adjusted EBITDA of £10.4 million. Although it describes itself as an international company, more than 90% of its sales are derived from the UK. Its second-largest market last year was Asia, with around £2.4 million in sales.

The company will fit nicely into Manutan’s Local Authorities division which, until now, has operated almost exclusively in France via the Manutan Collectivités, Papeteries Pichon and Casal Sport reseller brands. With Findel, the division will account for around 30% of Manutan’s total group sales, offer some 440,000 products and employ approximately 750 staff.

The acquisition will also give Manutan – which has annual revenue of around €950 million ($1.03 billion) – a better geographical balance, with more than half of its sales set to come from outside of its home market.

End of the road for Insights-X

The organiser of German stationery trade show Insights-X has pulled the plug on the event. Nuremberg’s Spielwarenmesse said it was with a “heavy heart” that it had decided to discontinue Insights-X after almost ten years.

Although “many key brands” had already registered for this year’s event originally scheduled for October, it confirmed the show had not been performing from a commercial perspective.

Spielwarenmesse will focus on its core toy categories but said there were still opportunities for stationery vendors to participate in its iconic Toy Fair taking place at the end of January 2025.

Insights-X was established in 2015 at the behest of three of the biggest writing instruments manufacturers based in the Nuremberg region: Faber-Castell, Stabilo and Staedtler.

AllOffice expands in cleaning category

Leading Nordics business products reseller AllOffice has bought regional wholesaler and supplier Zerva from local investment firm Tången. A Sweden-based distributor of janitorial products, Zerva was founded in 2010. It operates a store in Skövde, 150 km (90 miles) northeast of Gothenburg. Employing 12 staff, Zerva generated revenue of SEK50 million ($5 million) in 2023.

AllOffice said the move was “completely in line with its strategy to grow in cleaning and hygiene with strong local players”.

6 www.opi.net NEWS

FILA to close European factories

Stationery and school supplies vendor FILA has said it will close four European production facilities in an effort to boost profitability. Speaking on the company’s FY23 conference call in March, CEO Massimo Candela confirmed that four Europe-based plants would go as part of an “organisational efficiency project” that will be implemented over the next 24-30 months, beginning this June.

At the same time, FILA will tap into its production assets in India, with more products made in India set to be sold in the European market and elsewhere. Candela said the actions would have a positive impact on cash resources and reduce FILA’s breakeven threshold in Europe.

He called the company’s operations in India a “significant competitive advantage”, in terms of both cost and supply chain security. “We have a lot of competitors that are extremely exposed to China,” he noted, calling this an “unbelievable risk”. He also underlined the “comparable quality” in products from the DOMS business in India which went public in an IPO at the end of last year – although FILA is still its largest shareholder. FILA’s sales in Europe fell by 8% in 2023, a decline largely blamed on inventory destocking.

Brother makes move for Roland DG

Japan-based Brother Industries has launched a surprise takeover bid for industrial print specialist Roland DG. Brother is making a tender offer for the common stock of Roland DG at ¥5,200 per share in a deal worth ¥64 billion ($430 million). The Brother offer is ¥165 a share higher than a private equity-backed MBO that Roland’s board has already approved.

In a statement, Roland said it had not received any prior communication from Brother ahead of its announcement. Roland’s board will now analyse the bid before advising its shareholders on a course of action. Brother said the acquisition of the fellow Japan-based firm formed part of its business portfolio transformation strategy, which aims to reduce its exposure to the consumer and workplace printing segments.

It highlighted several areas of synergy between itself and Roland in fields such as visual communications, digital production and dental solutions. In addition, it pointed to reducing manufacturing costs through joint purchasing and leveraging the companies’ complementary sales channels.

Lexmark assets sold

Ninestar has announced that more than $200 million in cash will be generated following the sale of key Lexmark assets, including a major chunk of its iconic campus in the US.

According to a Ninestar regulatory filing, properties totalling 1.45 million sq ft (145,000 sq m) and 135 acres (55 hectares) of land in Lexington, Kentucky, are being sold to an entity owned by real estate asset management giant Sculptor for approximately $127 million. Lexmark will then lease the locations back, paying rent of around $1.1 million a month.

In a separate transaction, Lexmark has sold around 43,000 sq m of space at its Cebu facility in the Philippines for an amount that is not expected to exceed $80 million. Ninestar said the proceeds would be used to expand further financing channels and meet the capital needs of its Lexmark International subsidiaries.

IKEA launches largestever office line-up

Buoyed by its growing importance as a hybrid workplace furniture and accessories destination, IKEA has unveiled its largest office system to date. The Mittzon range comprises 85 items that have been developed with aspects such as ergonomics, acoustics and well-being in mind.

They include acoustic screens, the first high-level acoustic solutions that IKEA has developed. While some of the products would be suited to a home office, IKEA is clearly also going after other workspaces and the B2B channel with its Mittzon launch.

“The rise of hybrid work has shifted the role of the physical office from a static space, where everyone has a permanent desk, to one where every day is different, and flexibility is key to meeting changing needs,” the Swedish retailer stated.

The Mittzon family will be available from April 2024, although it won’t be launched in North America until July. More products are set to be added to the offering in 2025.

NEWS April/May 2024 7

ISG makes EPIC appointment

US dealer group Independent Suppliers Group (ISG) has hired Dante Ercoli as the new Managing Director of its EPIC Business Essentials national accounts initiative. Ercoli has spent over 20 years in the business products industry with vendors such as ACCO Brands, Elmers and Velcro.

Steelcase appoints EMEA President

Workplace furniture giant Steelcase has named Alessandro Centrone as its first-ever EMEA President. Centrone has been with Steelcase since 2012 and was most recently VP of Marketing for EMEA. His appointment was described as a “significant shift” in Steelcase’s operating structure and is set to give increased autonomy to the region.

Viking departures

Simon Allan-Brooks, Managing Director of Viking UK & Ireland, left the company at the end of March. He joined the business in 2020 as Logistics Director and was named Managing Director in September 2022 by new owner RAJA Group.

Meanwhile, Viking Europe Director of Merchandising and Product Marketing Andrea Kenna has left the company after more than 20 years.

MD change at ADVEO Benelux

Erwin Snoeker (left) has taken over as Managing Director of wholesaler and dealer network organisation ADVEO Benelux. He succeeds Roland Laschet, who retired at the end of March.

Snoeker, previously the company’s Sales and IT Director, will be supported by Miguel Haelvoet (CFO) and Robbie Vermeulen (Purchasing and Merchandising Director); while Laschet will remain available in an advisory capacity.

New CCO at Staples Canada

Staples Canada has appointed Priscilla Luna as its new Chief Commercial Officer. She joins the reseller after more than 22 years of retail operations, strategy and services experience in the pharmacy sector, mostly with Canadian group Loblaw Companies Limited.

At Staples, she will be accountable for all aspects of its merchandising business and strategy, as well as its end-to-end services business across B2B and B2C.

OPIx, the Australian office products event co-hosted by dealer groups Office Brands and Office Choice, and wholesaler GNS, has been earmarked for the first half of 2025.

Following last year’s OPIx, there was an expectation it would take place again in the second half of this year. However, in a statement, the co-organisers have confirmed they have agreed to stage the next OPIx in H1 2025, with an exact date yet to be determined.

It appears some extra time is needed to get all industry stakeholders on board following what were described as “delivery challenges” in 2023, particularly in relation to staging the trade show part of the event.

That said, there is support for OPIx to be continued, with a number of improvements set to be implemented. An advisory committee is also being formed that will include some “key partners”.

OPI announces AI Online Summit

OPI has announced that its inaugural AI Online Summit for business supplies executives to harness the potential of the latest AI technologies will be hosted virtually on 23 May 2024. The OPI team stresses the summit will not look at AI in the abstract but will instead provide takeaways businesses can act on immediately.

The three-hour summit includes inspiring talks and discussions led by experts in AI, followed by presentations, interviews and panels led by industry leaders, providing advice and case studies.

OPI has confirmed West McDonald, GoWest.ai founder and the driving force behind the AI Explorers Group, will host a practical session on the potential of AI in the business supplies channel. Among other topics explored, the presentation will highlight the importance of AI business readiness assessment and showcase real-world applications of the technology.

Other prominent speakers at the summit include Henry Coutinho-Mason, author of The Future Normal and Trend-Driven Innovation. Coutinho-Mason’s session will emphasise optimistic visions about how AI and robots can improve the world of work.

Meanwhile, Infosys Consulting’s Chief Decision Scientist Serge Plata and Associate Partner Jim Wheeler will explore problems and questions relating to technology, data and modern science in an eye-opening Q&A session. To book a place, visit www.opi.net/ai2024.

NEWS 8 www.opi.net
ON THE MOVE Aussie show OPIx pencilled in for H1 2025

Office Choice makes strategic acquisition

Australian dealer group Office Choice has made an acquisition it describes as “the beginning of a new chapter”. The organisation has bought Rosebud Office Choice, a dealer member based just south of Melbourne. It said the move was a “major step” in the execution of its ‘2023 and Beyond’ strategic vision agreed by the board at the end of 2022 and underscored its “commitment to expansion”.

“Rosebud Office Choice will be seamlessly integrated under the Office Choice Limited umbrella, heralding a new era of innovation, operational excellence and competitive robustness,” the group said.

“This acquisition signifies a stepping stone towards continuous growth and value enhancement for our shareholders, members and the broader Office Choice community,” it continued. “This is a clear signal of our intent to not only participate in the market but to lead and redefine it.”

In a statement to OPI, Office Choice added: “The existing [Rosebud] team are happily remaining in place, excited for this new chapter supported by our National Support Office team.”

US court denies Ninestar injunction

The United States Court of International Trade has denied Ninestar’s motion for an immediate lifting of its import ban into the country.

In a filing published on 29 February, Judge Gary Katzmann ruled that Ninestar’s motion was unlikely to succeed, the company had failed to establish “irreparable harm” to its business and a preliminary injunction was not in the public interest.

“The embargo is still in force, meaning that Ninestar’s merchandise continues to be prohibited from entering the United States,” ruled Judge Katzmann.

It appears Ninestar will now have to prove to the US government – in line with Department of Homeland Security procedures – that it is not working with the Chinese government to “recruit, transport, transfer, harbour or receive forced labour or persecuted ethnic minorities out of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”.

Speaking to OPI, Ninestar said it was committed to moving forward in its legal battle with the US government.

NEWS April/May 2024 9

All change at BBSC

OPI’s Kelly Hilleard has been named Chair of the UK’s BOSS Business Supplies Charity. She succeeds Martin Wilde, who stepped down at the end of March. Trustee Philip Wesolowski will take over from Hilleard as Vice Chair.

Logicblock names director

US solutions provider Logicblock has hired e-commerce entrepreneur John Jordan as Director of Customer Growth and Experience. Jordan’s experience includes developing two online business supplies operations, iBuyOfficeSupply. com and Zerbee Business Products.

Sass switches to EON

Former Source Office & Technology

President David Sass has joined fellow Colorado reseller EON Office. Sass spent more than seven years at Source – which was acquired by The Supply Room in 2022 – before leaving at the end of last year.

At EON, he has taken on the role of President of Technology, overseeing a new copier sales and service division.

Highlands makes US appointments

Highlands has promoted Monique Sluzynski (top) to Director, Strategic Accounts. In her new role, she will manage growth for Highlands’ clients at wholesale distributor Essendant.

The sales and marketing agency has also promoted Alex Gordon to Senior Director, Wholesale – a role in which he will oversee the channel’s Business Development Managers.

Meanwhile, Susan Fisher has joined Highlands as its new Director of Strategic Accounts for the office channel in the US. Her primary focus will be on the Staples and Quill accounts.

Execs join Supply Chimp

US dealer Supply Chimp has appointed Jeff Burwell (top) as VP of Operations and Pat Voller as VP of Business Development.

Burwell will lead the company’s operations team, overseeing functions such as vendor partnerships, customer service and order management.

Voller is in charge of pursuing new business opportunities within the government sector.

Mitsubishi buys Lamy

Uni brand owner Mitsubishi Pencil has acquired high-end German manufacturer C. Josef Lamy for an undisclosed sum. The agreement – which followed a “complex process” – will see all shares in Lamy transferred to Mitsubishi Pencil along with the promise to maintain the company’s headquarters and production facility in Heidelberg.

The Japanese company also intends to invest in the further development of the LAMY brand, which could include areas such as digital writing and greater penetration in e-commerce channels.

Lamy was founded in 1930 and today employs around 340 people. Its brand is present in more than 80 countries and over 15,600 points of sale. These include approximately 200 LAMY-branded outlets located throughout the world.

Part of Mitsubishi Pencil’s medium-term strategy is to develop in global markets. Currently, around half of its sales are generated in its home market of Japan.

Strategic developments at In Ufficio

Leading Italian office products dealer group In Ufficio has significantly bolstered its membership ahead of a change in its senior management. The organisation announced that as of 1 March, 14 members of the CIAC dealer group had joined, taking its total membership to 34 – with end-user sales of €220 million ($240 million).

The dealer switch comes after the closure of CIAC, which was Italy’s oldest independent reseller group, having been founded in 1975. Earlier this year, Luigi Vallero joined In Ufficio as General Manager. Vallero spent more than 16 years at CIAC as General Coordinator, and he is largely responsible for the 14 former CIAC members (out of 15) making the move over to In Ufficio. In addition, In Ufficio has acquired some CIAC assets, including its private label brands.

Vallero’s appointment has allowed longstanding In Ufficio CEO Adriano Alessio to move ahead with his retirement plans. He is now set to step down following the In Ufficio Day event taking place in Milan on 31 May. Vallero will then take on overall responsibility – although OPI understands Alessio will still have an advisory role.

The event will also be an opportunity for stakeholders and partners to learn more about the expanded In Ufficio’s plans to achieve synergies from its new members, which are largely retail-focused, as opposed to the group’s historically B2B-oriented resellers.

NEWS 10 www.opi.net
Adriano Alessio (l) and Luigi Vallero
Marketplace is an


for our business. It is also the fastest-growing aspect of e-commerce for us outside the US

Amazon Business expands


Xerox sells

the US.



Amount Kellanova has invested in new technology to develop and produce a recyclable Pringles tube

As part of its geographical rationalisation strategy, Xerox has sold its operations in Argentina and Chile to local partner Datco.

19 Acquisitions agreed by Bunzl in 2023, with a committed spend of £468 million ($592 million)

35.9% Office occupancy rates in the UK at the beginning of March 2024 – the highest level since the pandemic

Joann in Chapter 11


Second-hand furniture items Lyreco will

after this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris, France

NEWS 12 www.opi.net
US arts and crafts retailer Joann filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March this year. However, its 800 stores remain open and the company is expected to go private in the coming weeks. ACCO Brands Australia Managing Director Adam Colman (centre) saying a few words after the company was named Connect Gold Partner of the Year by leading Australian reseller Winc. sell Business recently launched in Mexico, its ninth market outside of Doug McMillon, CEO, Walmart


3M announces mailer innovation

3M says it has introduced the first known padded, paper-based kerbside recyclable mailer material that businesses can also use to automate their packaging process.

According to the vendor, the new material, called PACR (Padded Automatable Curbside Recyclable), is capable of producing packages up to three times faster than manual packing when paired with qualified automated packaging machines. PACR is not industry specific and is compatible with a range of printing technologies. It also comes in a wide array of sizes to meet the packaging requirements for all kinds of goods.

The new mailer is made with a single layer of kraft paper that is lightweight and durable, and resists moisture penetration. The proprietary padding technology helps protect against drops, bursts, vibrations and other potential risks incurred during shipping.

Pilot launches impact calculator

Pilot Pen Australia has teamed up with sustainability consulting firm Lifecycles to launch an online calculator that can demonstrate the cost and carbon footprint savings of using pen refills.

According to the manufacturer, refilling just one pen can reduce carbon emissions by 40% and plastic use by 31%. However, a survey of office workers showed that, while the vast majority (80%) are aware that pens and markers can be refilled, more than two-thirds don’t currently refill them – mostly due to forgetting or losing the refills.

“With the average office worker using 15 pens and markers per year, in a company of 100 employees, that works out to be approximately 1,500 [items] that are going straight into landfill.

“That is clearly not desirable – not to mention the additional cost to replace pens,” said Jarrad Murray, Head of Marketing at Pilot Pen Australia.

ACCO improves EcoVadis performance

Manutan targets Scope 3 reductions

European reseller Manutan is aiming to reduce its Scope 3 transport emissions by 7% in 2024. To help it achieve this goal, the company has entrusted nearly 25% of the pallet shipments from its Gonesse site near Paris to third-party carrier Mazet.

Family-owned transport firm Mazet has a fleet that runs on 50% rapeseed biofuel, with the product sourced locally from French growers. Its partnership with Manutan covers 11 departments across France.

CEP supports local farmers

CEP has partnered with Oklima – a subsidiary of power giant EDF – to support two low-carbon agricultural products near the office products vendor’s French production facility.

By providing financial support to two local farmers in its decarbonisation efforts, CEP will be able to offset its residual emissions.

The goal is to remove more than 350 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the agricultural production chain over the next five years.

ACCO Brands EMEA has achieved an improved score this year from sustainability ratings organisation EcoVadis. The vendor has been awarded the EcoVadis bronze medal for 2024. The award places ACCO Brands EMEA in the top 24% of companies rated by EcoVadis in the ‘manufacture of other articles of paper and paperboard’ category.

This compares favourably to its previous assessment, when ACCO came in the top 50%. The company scored particularly well on environmental topics, placing in the top 9%, and on sustainable procurement, ranking in the top 8%.

Jacqueline Wellhaeusser, Sustainability Director at ACCO Brands EMEA, commented: “This considerable improvement in our second review shows our focus and commitment to our sustainability programme, which we have had in place for more than 14 years. [It also demonstrates] that our strategy and plan are the right ones to help us continually improve working sustainably and protecting the environment.”

14 www.opi.net



Tom Tedford took over as CEO of ACCO Brands last October. Shortly after the publication of the company’s annual results, he was the guest on the OPI Talk podcast and spoke about some of the recent developments at the leading business products vendor

The handover with

The backdrop in which we’ve done the transition continues to be challenging. Certainly, the environment that we operate in hasn’t improved or changed.

It’s been tremendously helpful having Boris around; he is a very tenured CEO and understands the nuances of our business like few others do. He’s a great mentor and has been invaluable to lean on as we’ve transitioned. His time on the board is wrapping up and we’ll miss him dearly.

From three reporting divisions to two There was a combination of factors in play as we considered various structural options. It was really a decision to help move key leaders like Cezary Monko (now VP, International) and Pat Buchenroth (now VP, Americas) into roles where they can make the maximum impact. It moves them closer to our customers and commercial activities and also enables them to become more engaged in activities such as product development.

In addition, it was an opportunity for us to delay and simplify the organisational structure – which gives us a chance to make decisions more quickly. Ultimately, we settled on two segments and a global supply chain, which we think best sets us up for future success.

We have a terrific team in Australia and New Zealand led by a great leader, Adam Colman. I feel we are in a really good position in these countries. The intention is that Cezary will spend a little more time there, perhaps bring 16 www.opi.net

Tom Tedford

in some new product ideas or look at potential acquisition opportunities.

On the ground, I’m not sure the local team will feel much change on a day-to-day basis; but hopefully, they’ll see more possibilities for introducing new products into the market and other actions that will drive long-term profitable growth for ANZ and the rest of the company.

2023 recap

At the beginning of the year, our number one priority was to restore the company’s gross margins. 2022 was a year in which we navigated unprecedented inflation and supply chain disruptions, and these negatively impacted our gross margins and cash flow.

It was really a decision to help move key leaders like Cezary Monko [...] and Pat Buchenroth [...] into roles where they can make the maximum impact

I’m very proud of our team and the work they did to restore margins. We are now back near to where we think we need to be, at pre-pandemic gross margin rates. We finished 2023 at 32.6%, which we believe is a fair return to the value that we add in the process of bringing product to market.

Overall, I would describe the year as ‘mixed’. Revenue was a bit weaker than we had anticipated, for reasons that are

well documented in the industry and across our categories. However, we managed the things we can control quite well; and now we’re starting to look ahead and really making some investments in product development, innovation, our team and our infrastructure to ensure we’re in a great position moving forward.

Category exits

Each year, our teams do a nice job of looking at our portfolio and making sure the products we have serve a purpose within our category strategies. Most of the business exits I referenced on the earnings call were concentrated in the US and related to private label listings.

With the inflation we’ve incurred, particularly in some raw materials that were used to make those products, we just felt they no longer serve a strategic purpose. Our decision will have an impact on our top line, but in the long term, it was the right move.

In addition, we are exiting certain product categories within the wellness space. Pre-COVID, we decided to enter the air purification market; however, following the pandemic, there was a proliferation of products that really drove down the price points. Therefore, we made the difficult decision to exit air purifiers but will continue to support wellness in other areas.

R&D focus

I’m really energised by the team and the work they’re doing. We’ve got a number of exciting developments, although it’s probably a little early to talk about them; I don’t want to get ahead of our commercial teams.

In the recent past, we have had a strong emphasis on gaming and technology products. Going forward, we’re going to be a little more balanced in our approach; we have a big core

business that we’re very proud of, and we’ve got to lean in there a little more aggressively.

Hugh Darcy, who is based in the UK, will be working across our business driving many of our core categories. That said, we’ll keep local product development as well where that makes sense. We’re excited about the future of the product roadmap and the launches we’ll be bringing to market over the next couple of years.

Regarding some of the current supply chain challenges, we will look at things on a case-by-case basis

The supply chain

Greg McCormack is now leading our global supply chain. He’s taking a holistic look at everything we do so we can share best practices throughout our operations. Ultimately, the objective is that one leader will focus on driving improved inventory turns, freeing up cash for us to reinvest in our business while providing best-in-class customer service in our categories.

Regarding some of the current supply chain challenges, we will look at things on a case-by-case basis. We have a diversified and robust supply chain; some product we make locally, some we source and we have multiple countries of origin.

Naturally, we pay attention to geopolitical issues. We may have to lean in with some additional safety stocks in certain categories that we’re sourcing from the Far East. However, we have a good balance to our supply chain, so while there are probably some headwinds at the moment, we also have some tailwinds in other areas that should enable us to offset these.

TruSens: ACCO Brands is exiting the air purification category

April/May 2024 17 SMALL TALK
Tom Tedford

DRIVING progress

Rising from the ashes to dominate the business supplies e-commerce space, the journey of Denmark-based Lomax is one of resilience, versatility and strategic foresight

Kenneth Borup has dedicated his career to the business supplies sector, with the majority spent at Lomax, Denmark’s largest specialist online office supplier. Lomax’s expertise in e-commerce and digital marketing recently drew attention from Lyreco, Europe’s leading business supplies reseller. However, the potential acquisition was ultimately abandoned by both parties in Q4 last year.

As CEO, Borup champions Lomax’s dynamic growth and expansion while ensuring a positive company culture remains a top priority. So, it is no surprise that his industry-wide respect was cemented when he won the Business Leader of the Year award at the 2023 European Office Products Awards OPI’s Steve Hilleard spoke with Borup to uncover the strategies behind Lomax’s achievements.

OPI: Could you start by sharing a bit about your background and your career journey?

Kenneth Borup: After a basic business school education and serving in the military, I became a trainee at office supplier Barfod from 1997-1999. Interestingly, during my tenure as a trainee, Barfod was acquired by Lyreco – so it was a case of déjà vu when Lyreco expressed interest in acquiring Lomax in 2022!

After my training at Barfod/Lyreco, I transitioned to Lomax in August 1999 as a product manager for office supplies and eventually took on additional responsibilities for the technology and office furniture categories. By 2002, I’d advanced to the role of Marketing Manager and later became Marketing Director, overseeing all marketing initiatives, product assortments and procurement. Importantly, I

also laid the groundwork for our e-commerce presence – we didn’t even have a website when I started in 1999.

I spent many years as the Marketing Director at Lomax and was promoted to COO in 2015. By 2017, I ascended to the CEO position following the retirement of our then-director, Michael Lerche, who nominated me as his successor. This August marks my 25th anniversary with Lomax, totalling 27 years in the industry. It’s been an incredible journey.

OPI: Alongside your career at Lomax, did you pursue any further education?

KB: I joined the company at a relatively young age, so to catch up academically, I spent my evenings and weekends studying, earning a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration and Law. I also have an MBA.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that the grass is always greener on the other side, which is why I’ve dedicated so many years to Lomax. Also, I really think the business supplies industry is amazing and very innovative in terms of product development, marketing initiatives and e-commerce.

18 www.opi.net BIG INTERVIEW
I don’t subscribe to the notion that the grass is always greener on the other side

OPI: I believe Lomax started in 1962?

KB: Yes. Lomax has a long history; but in December 1971, following a Christmas party, the company unfortunately burned down.

OPI: That must have been some party!

KB: (laughs) I’m sure it must have been, although the exact cause of the fire has never been made clear.

OPI: So Lomax started as a manufacturer?

KB: Correct. Until then, we had been manufacturing plastic products such as binders and covers. Following the fire, then-owner Niels Aage Risgaard decided not to reinvest in new machinery and shift from production to becoming a mail order company catering to Danish businesses.

It marked the beginning of our journey as office suppliers. Another major shift came in 2003 when our new, visionary CEO made a strategic pivot towards making Lomax an e-commerce-centric business.

I was responsible for making it happen – from assembling the right team to selecting and implementing the necessary systems to make it a reality. It was great to have support from the CEO at that point, as we were investing a lot of money in systems and hiring people. Incidentally, many of those skilled employees we hired at that time are still with us today.

OPI: Who owns the company?

KB: Lomax is primarily owned by two individuals with backgrounds in private equity, alongside a family-owned business which acquired a minority stake in 2019.

OPI: You’re the public face, but what does the rest of the management team look like?

KB: Besides me, the management team consists of six highly skilled members, many of whom have been with the company for a considerable time. Each person brings their

BIG INTERVIEW Kenneth Borup April/May 2024 19

own expertise and is responsible for different areas within the management structure.

OPI: How many employees do you have?

KB: We currently have around 220 employees.

OPI: Is that just in one location?

KB: Our head office is in Frederikssund, with facilities in Odense and Jutland. Lomax has also expanded into Sweden, where we also have an office.

OPI: As an e-commerce player, what’s the structure for managing the flow of products from manufacturers to customers?

KB: Our logistics are diversified across three main methods. Our primary warehouse is located alongside our headquarters in Frederikssund. As our business experienced significant growth, this facility began to reach capacity with a number of products.

Instead of investing in a new warehouse, we partnered with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider in Denmark for our larger items, such as furniture. The bulk of our product lines are still managed through our primary warehouse.

The 3PL partnership was a good decision because if we had bought a new warehouse, there is a chance it would again be too small for us today. Instead, we have flexibility and scale with the current set-up.

The disadvantage of operating more than one warehouse is the potential for splitting orders, which can sometimes lead to higher

costs due to handling expenses at both our primary and 3PL warehouses. However, the clever part is that orders are often consolidated at the same terminal, allowing for a single delivery to the customer.

In addition to our warehouse operations, we use drop shipments for our extensive product range. Our assortment totals 35,000 on our Danish website, with the potential to increase even more.

OPI: The fact that you would have outgrown the warehouse you didn’t build suggests that you’re expanding quite rapidly. Could you please provide some insight into your financial performance?

KB: In 2023, sales reached €130 million ($141 million), and we are pleased with the profit margin. From 2019-2023, we achieved 85% growth, nearly doubling our revenue. This translates to a CAGR of 16%, which is due to a great effort from the whole Lomax team.

Over those five years, while the surge in demand for COVID-related products certainly contributed to our growth, our core business also expanded significantly.

We acquired many new customers during this period and I’m proud that we have successfully retained those we gained during the pandemic. Last year, we continued to see strong growth from our core business.

OPI: I know from speaking to other players that operate e-commerce-driven businesses

BIG INTERVIEW Kenneth Borup 20 www.opi.net

that the cost of customer acquisition can be high. From what you’re telling me, you seem to be managing that process quite well.

KB: We position Lomax as a one-stop shop for business supplies, differentiating ourselves through a broad assortment of 35,000 items. While our range is expansive, we focus on a wide rather than deep selection of products. We employ two main strategies to engage and retain customers: our gift and bonus concepts. Our gift concept is straightforward: buy certain items and receive a gift. It has been a successful strategy, with multiple gift promotions running each week.

The bonus concept, however, plays a crucial role in customer retention. Instead of offering discounted prices to large customers, we reward them with higher bonus percentages, removing the need for individual pricing adjustments. For example, a customer can earn a 5% bonus over a quarter, which can be used in the following quarter to purchase products; although unused bonuses expire. Besides these tools, customer satisfaction is our main priority. Behind me is a screen where I can see how customers rate us and their feedback. Sometimes, there are important insights gained from this.

OPI: It sounds like quite a labour-intensive task for an e-commerce business. Do you have a lot of salespeople handling this?

KB: Actually, the bonus concept operates automatically, streamlining the process significantly for us. As a primarily e-commerce business, we don’t rely on a traditional salesforce on the road.

We position Lomax as a one-stop shop for business supplies

However, we do have a sales department that handles inbound calls and conducts outbound calls. The account management group is responsible for some of the bigger clients and prepares custom offers, such as quotes for bulk orders of office chairs, for example. We also have specialised teams for office furniture and Christmas gifts.

OPI: Is there a sweet-spot client?

KB: Our core focus is serving small and medium-sized businesses, which constitute about 80% of our clientele. While we engage with larger corporations, they are not our primary target. They often deal with the big contract players and turn to us for the items they can’t source from their primary supplier.

Government business is another area we engage in, albeit to a lesser extent, as it requires participation in specific purchasing agreements, which we have opted not to pursue. We also cater to individual consumers, representing about 5% of our sales. While we obviously don’t say no to business from private customers, it’s not a demographic we specifically target.

OPI: But your website is open to anyone?

KB: It’s completely open, which means we benefit from traffic-generating activities such as Google Ads, organic search etc, and we have a team responsible for that. While 90% of our revenue is online, it’s vital we remain very focused on traditional customer service.

For instance, we have a rule in the sales department whereby incoming calls must be answered within seven seconds or else a screen will go red. It’s very important that customers can easily contact us, which is often not the case for many e-commerce companies.

OPI: With the growing interest in AI, how do you see it playing a role in your operations?

KB: We recognise the immense potential of AI and are actively incorporating it into Lomax’s workflow. We’ve established an AI support team, with designated AI ambassadors including technical experts and department representatives, to identify areas where it can streamline manual processes.

The goal is to minimise time spent on manual tasks, redirecting efforts towards more strategic and rewarding activities. It’s quite a big focus area for us and we’re striving to take full advantage of it across our business and incorporate it for different purposes.

OPI: What does the Danish business supplies market look like in terms of the competitive landscape and where does Lomax rank in the top five?

KB: Denmark’s business supplies market is vibrant and healthy, albeit with noticeable consolidation trends. Lomax is the leading e-commerce entity in this space, having captured a significant market share. Other players engage mainly on the contract side; and the market also features niche operators specialising in specific segments such as technology, furniture or warehouse equipment.

OPI: What about the dealer community – are they a strong force in your market?

KB: Independent dealers are also pursuing the SMB market, so they are competitors; as are the niche e-commerce players because they have a strong focus within their product category and are often quite aggressive online.

BIG INTERVIEW Kenneth Borup April/May 2024 21

OPI: Let’s discuss Amazon. It doesn’t have a presence in Denmark yet, correct?

KB: That is right. Amazon is not present in Denmark. However, it operates in Sweden and Germany, which Danish businesses can purchase from. In reality, I don’t believe this happens frequently. So at the moment, we have not really experienced the big pull from Amazon in our segment. And from what I understand, its performance in Sweden hasn’t been particularly good.

OPI: Why do you think that is?

KB: I believe it largely comes down to the maturity of the e-commerce landscape. When Amazon expanded into the US, Germany and the UK, the e-commerce sectors were not as mature as they are today. However, in places like Sweden, there were already some very good online players when it entered the market. So I think Amazon has a harder time now than in the early days of e-commerce.

This is also evident in the Netherlands, where Amazon has struggled against established e-commerce player Bol. Although there have been rumours for years that Amazon will enter Denmark, we’ve yet to see it happen.

Even if they do enter this market, the business model of purchasing from a supplier that is not a well-known local Danish one might be a barrier for business customers.

OPI: Moving on to the Lyreco situation, remind us why you and the board of Lyreco thought it was a great fit.

KB: Well, Lyreco wanted to buy Lomax and it was a strategic fit because we operate in distinct but complementary market segments. Lyreco focuses on contract business, catering primarily to larger clients and the public sector; while Lomax serves small and medium-sized enterprises with an e-commerce model.

Lyreco’s interest in acquiring Lomax meant it could enhance its capabilities in e-commerce, leveraging our expertise in this area. From our side, we could obviously have benefitted from this major player in many ways, including possibilities outside of Denmark.

OPI: You came under pretty intense scrutiny from the Danish Competition and Consumer Authority (DCCA). What are your thoughts on the decision that it came to?

KB: It was a long journey – 18 months – and the process focused heavily on how the market is defined and the consequent implications for market share. Let’s just say we didn’t hold the same view on how the market should be defined or the assumptions the DCCA made –this eventually led to a negative outcome.

I have only positive things to say about Lyreco – a professional approach throughout the process and a great impression of those I had contact with. A lot of energy went into this, so of course both parties were disappointed.

OPI: What was the impact on the business?

KB: My job, and also that of the management team, was to run the business as usual during this period. Our employees also needed careful management during this time, so it was very important to me to be as transparent as possible and ensure they were informed and felt secure.

OPI: When the deal was called off, I think you said you’d look at exploring some growth opportunities. What exactly does that mean?

KB: First of all, there’s plenty of room to grow in the Danish market – not only in terms of taking market share but also diversifying our product offering. Second, there is the Swedish and broader Nordics market, where we have only really just got started but are witnessing record progress already. We can come on to that later. And, finally, we are exploring avenues for growth through potential new ownership structures.

We have a holistic approach [...] as regards e-commerce. It’s not just about having an online department

OPI: Essentially, you’re suggesting that, given the right circumstances and a suitable buyer, there’s a possibility for the business to be sold?

KB: I would say most businesses are open to being sold and Lomax has now been under its current private equity owners for a decade.

OPI: What would you be looking for if a new business were to come along and talk to your current owners?

KB: There’s actually quite a lot. I would say an ideal match would be if a company is seeking to establish or expand its market presence in Denmark, or maybe has ambitions in the rest of Scandinavia. Additionally, if it offers products not currently in Lomax’s portfolio, integrating these could leverage our extensive customer base. Equally, it could be a partner that could benefit from our expertise in e-commerce and, generally, from any synergies that could be achieved by sharing best practices.

OPI: The interest from Lyreco was partly due to your e-commerce expertise. What

BIG INTERVIEW Kenneth Borup 22 www.opi.net

makes Lomax stand out in terms of e-commerce and what have you developed that has resulted in this impressive growth?

KB: We have a holistic approach at Lomax as regards e-commerce. It’s not just about having an online department; every part of our organisation plays a role in making e-commerce a success. From the outset, I prioritised building our in-house expertise, opting to use consultants only for very specialised needs.

For me, a key lesson has been the importance of having the right team to fully exploit any system we invest in. You might buy one with the capabilities of a Porsche, but without the right people to ‘drive’ it, you’re never going to realise its full potential.

I have been working with e-commerce for years now and I would say the team has a deep understanding of what it takes to attract customers to the web shop and also what it takes to convert these customers.

OPI: Are there any e-commerce players that provide inspiration for you?

KB: Truthfully, when I need inspiration, I mostly turn to the major players in the US to see what they’re doing. Amazon is, of course, one – but you need to be careful. It may have a feature you like but it would probably cost a fortune to emulate. You have to be realistic and really prioritise your time and effort.

OPI: With 35,000 items available in your range, how do you view your assortment compared to others in the industry that might have over one million products?

KB: Naturally, we would like to have more items; but equally, it’s important to curate the range for customers – there is such a thing as too much. It can sometimes be easier for them if they only have a choice of 100 pens compared to 1,000.

Our assignment is to choose the right products for customers and not necessarily to have the deepest assortment within each category. However, in some areas, it would be great to have more items – particularly technology, where I believe we could easily double our range.

OPI: The dynamic nature of technology, with its rapid lifecycle changes and obsolescence, might mean changing your model a bit.

KB: Of course – you need to be very good at getting the new products in your system and making sure the process is smooth and easy if you want to have 100,000 technology items available. Plus, you need to focus on site search and filters.

OPI: Let’s get back to discussing Sweden. What’s happening with your current business there and the potential you see in similar markets?

KB: The decision to expand into Sweden was driven by the opportunity to capitalise on our existing logistics framework and e-commerce expertise for a smooth transition. The Danish and Swedish markets are quite similar in terms of culture and customer behaviour, including a high e-commerce penetration.

The Swedish market is characterised by one big operator – Lyreco – as well as smaller online players that purchase their products from distributors. This makes it quite easy to establish an e-commerce business but can make it harder to make a profit since you are paying more for the items compared with dealing with a supplier directly.

During the start-up phase, our focus wasn’t fully on Sweden due to the substantial demands from our expanding customer base in Denmark. We’ve now shifted our attention towards an ambitious growth plan for the country, constantly and meticulously reviewing our performance there.

Comparatively, year over year, we’ve seen growth rates of 190% – albeit from a relatively low base. The priority is to ensure we’re in the black in Sweden before even considering entering new geographic markets.

I really have a newfound respect for those businesses entering a new country where your brand is unknown and there are skilled players in the field already – it takes a lot of effort.

BIG INTERVIEW Kenneth Borup April/May 2024 23
My primary concern revolves around the timing and selection of new products to compensate for the decline in traditional office supplies

OPI: How long do you think that will be?

KB: There is a plan in place, but I don’t want to comment on it. I will say, however, that it won’t be too long.

OPI: It would be wrong to have an interview that didn’t mention sustainability. What role does it play in terms of the business?

KB: We aim to simplify the process for customers to make environmentally friendly purchases, creating a mutually beneficial scenario where they adopt greener practices and we meet our CO2 reduction targets.

But it’s not a one-man show; it requires a collaborative effort with suppliers to innovate and offer eco-friendly products. Patience is also key, as introducing green alternatives doesn’t instantly shift purchasing habits.

However, by creating an environment where customers can easily find green products, we make it as straightforward as possible for them to opt for sustainable choices.

However, it’s frustrating that the EU continues to impose environmental taxes, especially with the work it takes to obtain valid data.

OPI: Are these products growing in importance in your assortment in terms of sales and SKUs?

KB: Sustainable products have become a vital part of our range at Lomax. We’ve also been particularly successful in capturing market share for products that support environmental initiatives, such as waste-sorting solutions.

OPI: Beyond sustainable products, are there other categories experiencing growth?

KB: We’ve identified categories experiencing significant growth, but where our market share remains modest. Our strategy focuses on leveraging these areas of high growth potential where we have room to increase our market share, rather than constantly seeking to introduce new items.

This approach allows us to fully capitalise on the potential of existing categories before venturing into new ones. Currently, we’re witnessing growth in the catering and janitorial categories and are continuing to expand our PPE range. After a difficult year due to high interest rates, the office furniture category is showing signs of recovery and growth.

OPI: How would you define your leadership style? You’ve obviously had many influences, but you’ve only really been in one company for most of your career.

KB: Leadership, in my view, revolves around trust and delegation. I believe in assigning responsibilities to empower team members, making them feel valued and productive. My approach is to ensure discussions are constructive and I’m prepared to make swift decisions when necessary.

There are a lot of good ideas within Lomax. I think it’s a CEO’s responsibility to be highly involved in prioritising the best ones, but more importantly, to say no to those you don’t believe in and that will spread the company too thinly.

Having spent 25 years with Lomax, my deep understanding of the business allows me to delve into details and resolve issues effectively. It is great in some situations but can be time-consuming if you get bogged down by the minute details and lose focus on the bigger picture. I think one of my main roles is to be the guy who clears the obstacles – the ‘fallen trees on the road’, if you like. I do my best to remove the trees so the team can move on.

OPI: So what keeps you awake at night and what gives you hope for the future?

KB: My hope for the future is to achieve success beyond Danish borders while continuing to grow within Denmark. I am positive we will succeed on both these fronts.

My primary concern revolves around the timing and selection of new products to compensate for the decline in traditional office supplies. It’s a delicate balance and we need to be on top of this.

OPI: I think everyone reading this article is likely facing the same challenge as you.

Thanks, Kenneth.

BIG INTERVIEW Kenneth Borup 24 www.opi.net


The ODP Corporation will not be broken up… for now – by Andy Braithwaite

As OPI readers may recall, at the end of last year, investment firm AREX Capital Management issued an open letter to the board of The ODP Corporation (ODP). That document called for two strategic changes to be made: spin-off the Office Depot retail division and divest at least a majority stake in B2B procurement platform Varis.

Apart from a brief response thanking AREX for its input, there was a period of radio silence from ODP – until, that is, the publication of its 2023 earnings at the end of February. Clearly, ODP’s board had been busy behind the scenes working on the points AREX had raised.

As CEO Gerry Smith confirmed on the earnings conference call: “We re-evaluated the merits of fully separating our B2C business as a way to increase shareholder value. As part of this process, we retained a top three strategic consulting firm as well as the support of an investment bank to review the merits of a separation.”


“While we believe there is a significant value creation in our unique routes to market, at the present time, we do not see a full separation of our B2C business as a material avenue for

additional shareholder value creation, given certain dis-synergies and costs associated with the separation,” Smith stated.

Expanding on this topic during the Q&A session, the CEO confirmed ODP had used the same team that had worked on the company’s previous separation project in 2021-2022, with the conclusion that breaking up the company “doesn’t make sense […] at this time”.

He further commented: “The answer as of today is: keep it together, drive the four business unit (4BU) strategy, continue the low-cost model, buy back shares and drive cash flow and EBITDA.”

We do not see a full separation of our B2C business as a material avenue for additional shareholder value creation

2023 was ODP’s first full year operating under the 4BU model. This gives each unit –ODP Business Solutions, Office Depot, Varis and Veyer – responsibility for its own P&L. The thinking is that this will provide investors with more visibility into the company and stop them from valuing the business from a purely retail perspective. How long the 4BU structure stays in place remains to be seen.

26 www.opi.net


Although the company has ruled out a near-term break-up of its B2B and B2C reselling arms, the future of Varis is less certain. A new, enterprise-wide initiative called Project Core (see below) includes a strategic review of the procurement platform, where the roll-out continues to be delayed.

The technology issues hampering Varis were still evident in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Its Q4 sales stalled at $2 million – which relates to legacy subscriptions from the February 2021 BuyerQuest acquisition – while it posted an operating loss of $15 million.

For the full year, revenue at Varis was just $8 million and it reported an operating loss of $63 million – although this was slightly lower than the $66 million operating loss in 2022.

In addition, a $68 million non-cash impairment charge related to goodwill at Varis led to ODP reporting an operating loss of $31 million for the final quarter of 2023. In all, the investment in Varis over the past three years is estimated at around $300 million.

[Varis] could also be on the chopping block, with the prospect of further steep losses being incurred

Is time running out for Varis? According to ODP’s revenue outlook for this year, it is forecasting “consistent trends” at the unit, which hardly seems encouraging. Furthermore, Smith confirmed that the review – which began at the end of last year – was not merely looking at cost optimisation, but “all alternatives” for this business. All should be revealed when ODP reports its first quarter earnings on 8 May.


Back in 2017, ODP forked out $1 billion for IT services company CompuCom. The deal was heralded as the beginning of the transformation of the reseller “from a traditional provider of primarily office products into a broader product and business services platform”.

As we know, that move didn’t work out as planned. ODP cut its losses at the end of

2021 when it sold CompuCom – recognising a capital loss of $841 million.

Similarly, when ODP purchased BuyerQuest – the precursor to Varis – the message was that this move would “transform how businesses buy and sell”. Yet three years later, this venture could also be on the chopping block, with the prospect of further steep losses being incurred.


The above certainly highlights the challenges with moving away from one’s central competencies; although it can be argued that CompuCom and Varis were/are by no means that far removed from delivering business products and services.

While there may have been execution problems, ODP is by no means alone. Other examples of projects that have failed to deliver include the Catch marketplace acquisition by Officeworks’ parent company Wesfarmers. This division posted a loss of A$163 million (US$107 million) in its most recent financial year.

Staying in that part of the world, New Zealand’s The Warehouse Group – which operates the Warehouse Stationery retail network – has just announced it is axing its own TheMarket online initiative after it racked up repeated losses over a four-year period.

A clue to ODP’s future direction could simply be in the name of its latest strategic plan – Project Core. This promises to “enhance the focus on the core business to support future profitable growth”.

While it is not clear what this means exactly, Smith and his team have done a good job of both reducing costs and restoring margins. Strong cash flow generation has also enabled robust share buyback programmes, which go down well with shareholders.

The $64,000 question now is probably whether ODP’s primary focus is being done with a view to making the business more ‘sellable’, or whether the reseller could actually play a more active M&A role over and above its successful Federation dealer acquisition strategy. Given current market dynamics, there would appear to be ample opportunities for further consolidation.


• The third restructuring plan since Gerry Smith became CEO in 2017.

• Targeting annualised cost savings of between $50-$60 million.

• Involves “cost efficiency measures” across the whole enterprise, including Varis.

• Includes an expanded three-year $1 billion share repurchase programme.

• Will cost an estimated $20-$30 million to implement, with most of the expenses incurred this year.

April/May 2024 27 FOCUS The ODP Corporation


Venturing into the US public sector can be complicated. However, dealers that have a network of trusted partners, a strategy to build relationships and a comfort level with research can chart a path for success, says Steve Noyes

Amajor challenge post-COVID has been the struggle to accommodate the hybrid work environment.

The debate to return to the office, work from home or both continues to rage. But this is not the case at the Pentagon or military bases. As such, the opportunities here shouldn’t be underestimated.

The US federal government is the largest consumer in the world. Reports suggest that spending on products and services was approximately $700 billion in the most recent fiscal year. Meanwhile, the public sector as a whole – including federal, state and local governments plus the education vertical (aka the Fed-SLED) – has been growing over the past three years due to increased annual budgets and an expanded workforce.

As an example, federal agencies added 11,000 jobs in January 2024 – a 20-year high. These employees all need office products, imaging supplies, furniture, breakroom replenishment and jan/san items.


Many dealers are interested in the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Multiple Award Schedule (MAS). 2024 marks the 40th anniversary of this programme. As OPI readers may be aware, the MAS is the federal government’s primary contract vehicle to acquire over 28 million commercial products and services.

There are currently 16,000+ contractors on the MAS. Reported sales for fiscal 2023 were $44 billion, constituting growth of 14% over the previous year. 53% of this volume was sold through a blanket purchase agreement. Approximately 80% of GSA contractors

are small businesses. The Small Business Administration policy allows agencies credit through MAS procurement to satisfy small business purchasing objectives. Meanwhile, certain buyers can establish set-asides to direct a percentage of spending volume to these companies.

GSA considers the small business community a very important constituency. Around 40% of the membership of the Workplace Solutions Association (WSA) holds a GSA schedule. The WSA is grateful to Erv Koehler, Assistant Commissioner, General Supplies and Services at the GSA Federal Acquisition Service, for serving as a featured speaker at the annual WSA Legislative Advocacy Summit in Washington (DC) in April.

For those who invest the time in cultivating strategic relationships, the opportunity is significant

Within the MAS, most office and imaging supplies are sold through two Special Item Numbers (SINs). Revenues for these two SINs in 2023 were $66 million generated by the Office Supplies 339940 contract via 259 contractors and $47 million by the FSSI Office Supplies contract through 60 contractors.

The probability that business supplies dealers will maximise sales in this vertical increases proportionately to their understanding of the unique selection and purchasing processes involved. For those who invest the time in cultivating strategic relationships, the opportunity is significant. Conversely, those who apply for a GSA schedule and ‘post and

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pray’ that federal consumers may find them will likely fail to meet the sales requirement to retain their schedule. After December 2024, the revised clause I-FSS-639 sets a 60-month timeline to sell $100,000.


Industry has welcomed an array of enhancements to the MAS. The dedicated and talented team at GSA continues to drive innovation and improvements to level the playing field for reputable dealers and create a trusted marketplace for all stakeholders.

For example, the Federal Catalog Platform (FCP) is a web-based platform designed to give federal contractors quick and easy access to update their product offering on the MAS. The FCP improves data integrity by integrating with GSA contract writing systems.

Meanwhile, Category Management is a strategic approach employed by GSA to buy common goods and services organised under ten categories. Category managers and a team of experts within their respective market areas drive improvements, analyse spend data and measure efficiencies by using quantitative metrics, or KPIs, to track agency and government-wide category success.

Another feature is Demand Data, which enables dealers to make data-driven decisions regarding the selection and price of the products on their schedule. As Koehler reports: “Over half of the $1.5 billion in annual general supplies and services is represented by 5,000 items.” Koehler and his team have posted a Demand Data file every other month since March 2023.


Among the purchasing objectives considered by the federal government is support of the AbilityOne programme. This is one of the largest providers of employment in the US for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. In 2023, this initiative employed over 40,000 people and generated sales of more than $4 billion.

Almost 300 authorised AbilityOne distributors have access to sell products from this dynamic portfolio. Policies and regulations prevent ‘essentially the same’ (ETS) SKUs from being featured on the MAS. If a SKU has the same form, fit or function as an AbilityOne product, then it is identified as ETS and must be removed from the MAS.

For the past few years, OPI has been following GSA’s Commercial Platforms Initiative (CPI), an online marketplace aimed at providing more visibility on ad hoc spend on everyday items by Federal Purchase

Card holders. As it currently stands, the CPI includes Amazon, Overstock and Fischer Scientific, with Phase 3 expected to be launched later this year. Aspirations include a greater opportunity for independent business supplies resellers to participate outside of a third-party marketplace model.


Steve Noyes represents TRI Industries and Clover Imaging Group. His practice assists companies in maximising their sales to the federal government and the public sector. Previously SVP of Global Accounts and Public Sector Sales at Clover Imaging Group, he founded Noyes Associates in May 2023

The requirements imposed on dealers involved in the MAS have certainly enhanced the shopping experience. However, liabilities have driven certain businesses away. For example, misrepresentation on the MAS can be considered a felony offence and may be prosecuted under the False Claims Act. Consequences may include penalties of up to three times the selling price (factored from the date of the first sale), legal fees, court costs, loss of schedule, debarment, criminal prosecution and even incarceration. There is no doubt that buying for, and selling to, the federal government can be a challenge. Some have compared it to solving a puzzle. Here are some best practice recommendations for dealers to consider:

• Prospect early and before the release of a bid or request for quotation.

• Build relationships with decision-makers and shape the bid before it is released.

• Research the quantity purchased and qualify why certain brands and SKUs have been selected.

• Sell what sells, but steer what your customers buy.

• Audit, update and challenge their previous purchases.

• Make recommendations about how you can help satisfy purchasing objectives.

All of the above can establish your company as a ‘go-to’ trusted resource rather than just another vendor.

SPOTLIGHT P ublic S ector S ales 30 www.opi.net


PAPER trail

The office paper industry, influenced by global events and economic uncertainties, faces a future that is challenging to forecast – by David Holes

The office paper industry is navigating through turbulent times, with a convergence of factors posing difficult challenges. In an increasingly unstable global landscape, currency fluctuations, geopolitical unrest, raw material inflation, capacity reductions and mill closures are creating a perfect storm that is proving tricky to weather.

The ongoing crisis in the Panama Canal, coupled with current tensions in the Middle East and the ensuing turmoil in the Red Sea have added more fuel to the fire. These events have led to a decrease in shipping volumes and increased prices for imports from Asia.


Eric Kriegsman, Senior Manager Purchasing & Assortment at RAJA Group-owned Viking, observes that these circumstances are prompting European producers to ramp up their production capacity.

He adds: “Despite experiencing price decreases in 2023, the industry has seen a reversal this year, with manufacturers announcing their intent to further increase prices to regain profitability. However, end consumer use is still declining and we feel that the industry is killing itself by dampening down demand for its products.

“According to consultants EMGE, last year marked a significant reduction in European reseller demand by 17%, with end-user demand also experiencing a downturn, albeit more modestly.

“The expectation is that this decline will persist over the coming 12 months, driven

partly by accelerating digitisation in the workplace, reducing the need for hard copies. Additionally, the cost of office paper has simply become too expensive for many of the industry’s customers.”


In the US, one expert – who prefers to remain anonymous – told OPI that higher interest rates have had an impact on the levels of inventory companies are willing to carry, pushing these to historic lows. Furthermore, many businesses are still not insisting employees work a full five-day week in the office, which has further affected paper volumes.

He pointed out that Boise has announced a 9% price hike for April shipments, attributing this to rising labour and resource costs. “It will be interesting to see how the industry – both domestic and foreign – responds,” he muses. “If sales remain weak, North American paper manufacturers will have to evaluate whether further rationalisation is needed to balance the reduced need for their products.

“We’ve already seen Domtar announce the curtailment of paper operations at its Ashdown facility in Arkansas, effective at the end of June, which will result in a reduction of 216,000 tonnes of annual capacity.”

The expert also expressed concern that the Red Sea crisis could heighten competition for US domestic producers from overseas manufacturers: “With traditional export routes from Europe to Asia, the Middle East and Africa disrupted, they may turn their attention to the US, which typically maintains a higher price on copy paper than other markets.”

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While terrorist attacks in the Red Sea and surrounding waters have pushed maritime transportation costs higher, there is hope that these impacts may be temporary. Juan Luis Villalobos, Director of Operations at Comercial del Sur, based in Spain, remains optimistic. He anticipates a decrease in prices once these die down, particularly if energy costs continue to trend downward.

“We expect the market to stabilise within the next year, reflecting these improved dynamics,” he explains. “This should lead to a rebalancing of prices that will align more closely with underlying demand.”

Villalobos believes the main issue for wholesalers and suppliers is the intense competition, making control of distribution costs and logistical efficiency paramount to maintaining profitability. Given the uniformity of the product, differentiation on factors other than price is challenging. Therefore, he says, the focus must shift towards optimising the supply chain.

He adds: “Efficient logistics, from warehousing to delivery, are crucial in managing operational costs and ensuring competitive pricing. Firms must innovate their distribution strategies, employ cost-effective transportation methods and streamline operations to stay ahead in the market. This focus will also have the beneficial knock-on effect of enhancing service quality and consequent customer satisfaction, which are vital in this highly competitive environment.”

On the US Pacific Coast, Tom Crowley, co-President at Norpac Paper, agrees with this sentiment: “We see supply chain simplicity and security as important considerations for buyers and sellers of copy paper going forward. It’s

become impossible to predict the next global disruption event, so the best way to deal with this uncertainty is by reinforcing existing supply chains with an eye towards making them simpler and more robust.”


The seismic shifts in where and how employees work post-pandemic continue to affect the paper market. While there has been some recovery in demand as employees gradually return to the office, it’s apparent that the trend towards lower paper usage persists.

John Parke, Customer Marketing Manager for Office Supply B2B at Domtar reports that as a higher percentage of office work is now done from home, the push for digital communication options has become more advanced. This, he believes, is the industry’s biggest challenge.

As Kriegsman points out: “Hybrid working is here to stay and businesses are evolving accordingly. We are therefore adapting our portfolio of products and services to suit this new paradigm and are well positioned to advise our customers in finding the most suitable arrangements for them and their employees.”

We feel that the industry is killing itself by dampening down demand for its products

The demand for products tailored to the home office environment was noted by several of the experts OPI spoke to, with calls for smaller pack sizes and multifunctional home use. For example, HP now offers a three-ream box for this purpose and Navigator recently launched its Home Pack 2X. The latter is designed for the entire family, containing 200 sheets of thicker paper – suitable for both double-sided printing and meeting the needs of children’s crafting and artwork activities.

Despite such innovations, Villalobos cautions that the overall decline in global demand for paper, averaging a 3% annual decrease in recent years, is likely to continue, with the trend even more pronounced in Europe. In response, Comercial del Sur is diversifying its product offerings, focusing on digital solutions to align with the evolving needs of clients in the hybrid work environment.


Despite these headwinds, there are still areas of promise and growth within specific sub-categories of the office paper industry. Steve Clayton, Managing Director of CTS Wholesale in the UK, highlights in particular

CATEGORY UPDATE Paper April/May 2024 33

the increased demand for tinted papers in educational settings. These products are gaining traction as they help to eliminate the visual distress that some pupils can experience when using white paper.

Moreover, the company’s focus is now squarely on ecological solutions, concentrating on those product lines manufactured with fewer emissions and raw materials. He expects sales in these areas to increase, particularly if there is an upturn in economic growth.

CTS is, for example, the sole distributor for Trident Group’s Spectra 80gsm paper, which offers an alternative to traditional wood-based products. It blends 70% wheat straw with 20% of recycled wood pulp veneer chips, sourced from carpentry waste. Trident avoids directly harvesting trees, which reportedly conserves over 1.5 million of them annually.

When buyers demand a sustainable alternative that’s also price competitive, they effectively want to have their cake and eat it

Notes Clayton: “Contrary to popular opinion, the wholesale and retail prices for this ecological paper are not dissimilar to wood pulp alternatives; plus it offers improved whiteness and brightness, superior to the grey hue often evident with recycled paper.”

Villalobos agrees, noting a growing mandate for products with certifications such as PEFC, FSC and EU Ecolabel, driven by customer demand. He believes that any future category growth is highly likely to stem from environmentally friendly and sustainably sourced products.

He adds: “Recycled paper is maintaining its market share in Europe and we continue to support and promote these initiatives.”


Domtar’s Parke reports that environmental concerns about paper production are now a frequent topic of interest in conversations with the company’s distributors.

He is equally keen to get the message across that the industry has a positive tale to tell in terms of sustainability: “We need to remind people that paper is made primarily from the remnants of the tree and that more trees are planted than are harvested.

“In addition, the production of paper in North America supports many private landowners who rely on selling timber for their livelihoods. With this ongoing revenue, they then have the continuing incentive to replant the land with new saplings, rather than simply repurposing it for development.”

Viking’s Kriegsman supports the push for greater recognition of these sustainable efforts and believes it is up to both manufacturers and resellers to increase public awareness.

“The industry is already much more vocal at explaining its positive environmental credentials, with paper now considered a far more sustainable product compared to, for example, plastics,” he says. “However, we still need to better address the fact that digital alternatives do come with environmental costs – associated with energy and resource consumption – to further reinforce the eco-friendliness of paper products.”

Still, challenges to the adoption of greener products remain, according to Norpac’s Crowley. While noticing more customers expressing an interest in alternatives, he says that the definition of what is considered ‘sustainable’ varies across the industry.

He further notes: “There is little appetite to pay a price premium for more eco-friendly copy paper. When buyers demand a sustainable alternative that’s also price competitive, they effectively want to have their cake and eat it.

“That aside, it’s interesting that end consumers today appear to care far less about the whiteness or brightness of the paper they buy. We believe there is a move towards a preference for slightly lower brightness copy paper as a way to save money, while also lessening the strain on the eyes and reducing the impact on the planet.”

Although the paper sector is grappling with significant challenges, there still exists a strong undercurrent of adaptability. As the industry responds to the demands of the modern workplace and evolving consumer preferences, close collaboration between vendors, distributors and resellers is required to help move the category forward.

CATEGORY UPDATE Paper 34 www.opi.net

RISING above

The future of paper deserves a company committed to the success of the entire ecosystem. From the forests we love, to the communities where we live, to those who rely on paper, Sylvamo appreciates the well-being of one depends on the well-being of all.

Sylvamo, the world’s paper company, has weathered a few recent storms. Coming out the other side, these have only made the manufacturer’s dedication to its customers and sustainability even stronger. Indeed, the vendor continues to advance its environmental credentials and transform renewable resources into papers that people depend on every day for education, communication and entertainment.

While the paper industry has been shifting for some years, Sylvamo is confident that market conditions in Europe and North America will pick up in 2024. It has already reported strong growth during the last financial year, with improving order books and lower levels of cut paper imports.

OPI spoke to Gerald Demets, Sylvamo’s Commercial Director, Uncoated Wood-free Paper and Pulp Europe, about overcoming macroeconomic challenges while remaining committed to the main values of the company, namely, customers, stewardship and continuous improvement.

OPI: Can you tell me a bit more about Sylvamo’s philosophy and how it’s reflected by your brands?

Gerald Demets: Our purpose is to produce the paper people need in the most sustainable way by aiming high, innovating and creating value for customers and investors.

Our branding strategy meticulously crafts distinct identities for our products, ensuring they are aligned with our overall corporate vision and mission. Sylvamo’s trusted family of brands caters for a wide range of print applications, from everyday copies to full-colour presentations. They all create connections that only paper can provide.

Due to evolving customer needs, our brands embody Sylvamo’s goal to consistently provide high-quality products and services. They serve as powerful vehicles for communicating our strategy and values. It’s the unfailing delivery of our promises that strengthens loyalty and trust in our company.

To prepare for the unexpected, we’ve tried to create more clarity and visibility across the company

OPI: There seem to be a lot of challenges lately – how is Sylvamo managing them?

GD: It would be an understatement to say we have been living through a couple of difficult years. It’s been tough to predict what tomorrow will bring and close to impossible to foresee the ups and downs of the next month, or even the coming year.

To prepare for the unexpected, we’ve tried to create more clarity and visibility across the company. By staying close to our customers, we’ve been able to listen and discuss what’s happening with their clients and see how we can help improve their business.

Over the past few years, flexibility has been key – it has enabled us to capture opportunities as soon as they have appeared.

36 www.opi.net ADVERTORIAL
Gerald Demets

OPI: You completed the purchase of the Nymölla mill in 2023 after selling your Russian operations following the invasion of Ukraine. What is the current situation at the Nymölla and Saillat mills?

GD: The Nymölla mill has been part of the Sylvamo family for around 15 months and the team and I have been impressed by how smooth the integration has been. After the initial getting-to-know-each-other phase, we quickly pivoted into best practice – sharing and learning from our individual skill sets.

With the addition of Nymölla and the presence of Saillat, we’ve improved our position to serve all customers across Europe. However, we’re continuing to study our supply chain for how each mill can best serve customers in every corner of Europe.

Returning to our brands for a moment, REY and Multicopy are already closely linked to the DNA of the mill they are produced in. After working closely with HP Papers, the Nymölla mill is also qualified to produce HP papers.

It’s only when we come together to move in the same direction that meaningful change occurs

OPI: What do both mills bring to the table?

GD: Though the Saillat mill is in the centre of France and the Nymölla mill is in the south of Sweden, they have very similar DNA, including a strong bond with the local communities. Their proximity to customers benefits our understanding of their businesses.

Additionally, the Saillat site is unique because it can produce standard office paper, the highest-quality colour laser grades and coloured paper up to 350gsm. Moreover, Nymölla has an excellent reputation in the printing and converting segment – specifically in scholastic and high-speed inkjet markets.

Our business depends on the sustainability of forests and I’m very proud that both mills have globally recognised certifications that demonstrate our commitment to the responsible production of paper.

OPI: What are the core pillars reflected in your goals for 2030?



Employees working safely and taking care of our customers are the foundation of our success. Last year, we invested over $5 million to help communities and by 2030 we aim to reduce Scope 1, 2 and 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. We will also continue to source 100% of fibre from sustainably managed forests while safeguarding biodiversity and supporting conservation and restoration projects. These goals merely scratch the surface of our intentions.

OPI: Thinking about the future, how do you feel about it?

GD: Admittedly, there are challenges in our industry, but I’m hugely positive about what comes next. To achieve our vision of being the employer, supplier and investment of choice, we must continue building a better tomorrow for our company and stakeholders.

For more information on Sylvamo’s 2030 goals, visit www.sylvamo.com/ us/en/2030-goals

GD: Sylvamo continues to be a sustainable company that creates profits for our shareowners while protecting the environment and improving the lives of people where we do business. We are responsible stewards committed to sustaining our resources.

Our 2030 goals focus on building a better future for people, the planet and our company.

Of course, I’m delighted with what the team has accomplished over the past year but it’s important to add our sustainability strategy isn’t a standalone initiative. It integrates into our core business operations. All Sylvamo departments play a vital role and it’s only when we come together to move in the same direction that meaningful change occurs.

ADVERTORIAL Sylvamo April/May 2024 37


The breakroom was a category on its knees during the pandemic, but global demand has picked up thanks to the sector’s aptitude for diversification – by Kate Davies

As the nature of work and the workforce undergoes significant transformations, the need for workplaces to adapt has never been more critical. Among the various facets of office life that demand re-evaluation in the pursuit of a healthier, happier and more productive workforce, the breakroom category stands out.

Recent findings from business catering marketplace ezCater’s The Lunch Report 2023 highlight a concerning trend: a notable decrease in full-time employees taking time out for a midday meal, with US workers now 40% more likely to skip lunch breaks than in 2022. This tendency persists despite a growing awareness of the benefits that taking breaks has on productivity and job satisfaction.

Global workforce solutions provider Adecco emphasises the importance of encouraging regular breaks. The firm’s Global Workforce of the Future 2023 research found 65% of workers experience burnout, with the top reasons being working too hard (44%), lack of leadership support (43%) and taking on more responsibility after layoffs (42%).

Independent Suppliers Group Director for the Facility Supply Channel Frank Hoard believes breakrooms are becoming spaces

that embody a company’s culture, helping to increase staff retention and attract prospective employees. With this in mind, Hoard advocates that dealers must talk to a range of end users to understand what the purpose of the breakroom is and how best to fulfil those expectations.

“If dealers skip the conversation about what the breakroom should represent, they risk focusing solely on low-margin opportunities,” he warns.

Staff asked to come into the office expect a reason to be there


ACCO Brands EMEA VP of Product Steve Keen says the pandemic simply accelerated pre-existing trends in the workplace, including heightened demand for a better work-life balance. He believes having products which make people feel good and take care of their health and well-being are now more relevant than ever.

In agreement is Jake Mages, VP of Sales at US-based reseller Guernsey, who expresses a positive outlook about the breakroom category’s future and states the days of “dingy kitchens” are gone. “High-end collaborative spaces were already trending pre-2020 but with hybrid working, staff asked to come into the office expect a reason to be there,” he says. “One way businesses are meeting

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employee expectations is by redesigning breakrooms into spaces with enhanced equipment and comfortable seating. It’s not uncommon to see larger breakrooms with team members spending a few hours on their laptops with their feet up.”

Netherlands-based cooperative and wholesaler Quantore witnessed notable sales growth in breakroom supplies of almost 20% in 2023 – a trend expected to persist over the next 12-24 months. Head of Purchasing & Category Management Dennis Albers attributes this to SMBs seeking to consolidate their office and business purchases with one party. He adds: “Dealers that have offered the widest assortment across the board have been doing well.”


While prospects for the breakroom sector are looking bright, staying above water proved challenging while offices worldwide shut down. But true to the adage ‘when one door closes, another one opens’, key players have discovered other channels which continue to bear fruit.

Mages highlights how diversification strategies during the pandemic helped Guernsey navigate the downturn: “During COVID, we acquired a foodservice disposable distributor in our market. As takeout and delivery boomed, it was a natural pivot to offset the decline in workplace supplies spend. The move gained us entry into the foodservice and hospitality vertical markets, which we hadn’t traditionally called on.”

Furthermore, the pandemic catalysed a greater appreciation for outdoor spaces, aligning with advice from UK-based mental health charity Mind. This guidance promotes the benefits of spending time in nature to help reduce feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety, and improve physical health.

Hoard notes the significance of outdoor seating and dining furniture as permanent features of the post-pandemic workplace: “We are seeing a variety of end users placing importance on seating and dining furniture outside the workplace. When people spend so much of their workday inside, they want to go outside when the weather permits.”


Post-COVID, cleaning and hygiene have surged to the forefront of daily life, profoundly impacting workplace standards. Essendant Senior Merchandising Manager – Breakroom Category Sara Johnson reports businesses of all sizes have implemented comprehensive office cleaning maintenance plans.

She says: “Employees want to know that the coffee machines, cutlery and sinks are being cleaned effectively. We have also seen an increase in demand for wipes, as staff are disinfecting their workspaces more than ever.”

Beyond hygiene, nutritional considerations are playing an increasing role in workplace wellness. With the World Economic Forum revealing that 50% of Americans are making a conscious effort to consume healthier foods, providing access to such options has become a key strategy for enhancing employee satisfaction and productivity.

Johnson highlights how these trends extend beyond individual health benefits, adding that catering lunches and offering a broader range of snacks can build a sense of community and collaboration among staff members.

Dealers that have offered the widest assortment across the board have been doing well

“We’ve expanded our foodservice assortment immensely over the past year. Employers are scheduling in-office events that encourage employees to be in the office together to foster relationships. As a result, we’ve seen a rise in snacking and catering carry-out programmes.”

And what working day would be complete without a cup of coffee? The global coffee market is projected to reach $182.63 billion by 2030, according to market research organisation Straits Research. The drink even surpassed tea as the UK’s favourite beverage in 2022. However, simply stocking a jar of coffee is no longer enough for breakrooms.

Gone are the days of a steaming ‘cup of Joe’ being the only option for a pick-me-up.

Nestlé Professional North America Digital Content Manager Sheila Burya says: “A really

CATEGORY UPDATE Breakroom April/May 2024 39

great breakroom is stocked with teas, hot chocolate and barista-style beverage options. Customisable and personalised drinks are also a treat for employees that makes coming into the office more enjoyable. Any way to enhance this with dedicated space, comfortable seating or working lunches is a big opportunity for hybrid work and a return to the office.”

Essendant’s Johnson adds that iced coffee and cold brew have also become more popular: “With employees’ flexible schedules, cold drinks are being consumed around midday. Interestingly, cold drink sales have not cannibalised hot coffee sales – hot wins the morning routine while colder options are preferred later in the day.”


There is growing awareness of the impact of the climate crisis, driven by catastrophic weather events around the globe and 2023 hitting headlines as the hottest year on record. The urgency to mitigate the impacts of climate change is reshaping consumer preferences and business practices alike.

Hannah Coyne, Breakroom & FSD Category Manager at Guernsey, observes a significant shift towards sustainability in the food and drinks industry, with snack and beverage providers increasingly adopting environmentally friendly packaging materials.

“Nespresso is one example – its increased popularity regarding office coffee solutions is not only due to the product and machines but the vendor’s full-circle commitment to the environment,” she says.

Mages concurs, adding: “For some, when sustainability matters, it really matters. We have customers who are looking for products with certifications like SFI and Green Seal Certified. Other customers go so far as to source compostable everything.”

The enthusiasm for compostable products represents a crucial step towards

environmental sustainability, yet it brings to light the challenge of effectively closing the loop, particularly for those lacking access to appropriate composting facilities. In these situations, Mages explains compostable products are disposed of in resin bin bags and sent to landfills – a practice that negates their environmental benefits as they fail to decompose properly under such conditions.

Johnson has observed a similar issue with businesses wishing to establish a compostable breakroom but are geographically distanced from commercial compostable facilities. The solution, she suggests, is to educate customers on how they can best be sustainable: “Employers know the demand is out there but need guidance on how their daily activities can be improved. It’s important to listen to their needs and point them in the right direction.”

For some, when sustainability matters, it really matters

Cassie Hoover, Senior Manager Nutrition and Sustainability for Nestlé Professional North America, notes the complexity and inefficiency of the US recycling system – a sentiment underscored by findings from 2023 in the California Management Review. The survey of nine major US cities found only 32% of waste is either recycled or composted. Given that 1.8 acres (7,300 sq m) of land is lost to landfills alone, diverting waste is an opportune way to conserve natural resources.

Meanwhile, Quantore’s Albers believes there’s a growing desire among individuals to extend their personal belief systems and environmental practices into the workplace. “Demand for Fairtrade products is becoming more important. We see the trend of eco-friendly food, as well as the packaging it comes in, only becoming stronger.”


Vendors and resellers in the breakroom category are not just hopeful but confident about the sector’s prospects, finding numerous grounds for optimism. This positivity stems from proactive responses to calls for sustainable practices, products and services, adaptability in exploring new channels and efforts to future-proof operations and offerings. There is also recognition of the potential of the breakroom to mirror and reinforce a company’s core values. As Johnson advises: “Businesses should choose a layout with both furniture and accessories that breed the culture they want to see within their breakroom.”

CATEGORY UPDATE Breakroom 40 www.opi.net

UNTAPPED Potential HOW TO...

Fortune Web Marketing’s Mara Gannon makes the case for influencer marketing in B2B

Within the dynamic world of business and e-commerce, traditional marketing strategies are being superseded continuously by innovative digital trends.

Among these, influencer marketing stands out as a particularly effective approach for businesses looking to boost their brand visibility and credibility while increasing sales. However, its vast opportunities lie largely dormant in the B2B sector. Why? Because most business leaders in this industry are unaware of how to go about taking advantage of influencer marketing.

A considerable amount of purchaser consumption and education happens via influencer marketing, both online and in person, so it’s time to tap into this powerful tool and add it to the B2B marketing kit.


Influencer marketing within the B2B landscape does not quite mirror its B2C counterpart. The latter often revolves around high-profile personalities extolling the virtues of consumer products to their myriad followers.

The best B2B influencer marketing, meanwhile, assumes a more understated and nuanced approach through something called ‘peer proof’.

Here, the focus is on establishing alliances with notable figures within a particular market. These could be industry thought leaders, entrepreneurs, experts or seasoned professionals whose knowledge and insights are widely respected. They act

as a mouthpiece, extending the reach of the brand’s message to the target demographic.

Rather than leveraging mass appeal, B2B influencer marketing seeks to utilise the position and authority of these respected figures within their own professional circles.

In the workplace solutions environment, the creation of trust and credibility is paramount in the quest to secure and retain customers and staff. Deploying influencer marketing strategies within this sphere can considerably amplify these objectives.

When thought leaders within the industry endorse a brand’s services or products, it does much more than simply enhance visibility. It elevates the perception of trustworthiness, given that these figures hold a respected status in the market.

This perceived reliability sparks curiosity among potential customers and employees, prompting them to explore the brand’s offerings. The knock-on effect is heightened potential for conversions, expansion and brand recognition.


The importance of pinpointing appropriate influencers within the B2B sphere cannot be overstated. For business supplies providers, these are likely to be individuals possessing considerable sway within relevant professional circles, backed by a solid reputation for expertise and occupational acumen.

The hunt for these individuals shouldn’t be steered by the number of followers alone. Instead, the emphasis should be on locating

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those whose influence plays a critical role in the decision-making process of your target audience. This approach aims to align the influencer’s standing with the individual brand, thereby strengthening the overall perception of its value proposition.

After identifying the perfect advocates, the next step involves establishing a mutually beneficial relationship. This could take the form of shared endeavours such as jointly creating content, orchestrating webinars or podcasts, and/or incorporating input from these influencers within your marketing materials.

Crucially, it’s paramount to grant influencers an element of creative licence to support products or services in a manner consistent with their own personal brand. This authenticity, far from diluting the message, serves to make it more potent, as it echoes among their follower base and professional circle to a greater degree.


The effectiveness of such marketing initiatives should not only be judged by the increase in sales. More subtle yet powerful indicators also deserve consideration. Enhanced brand recognition, more website visitors, improved employee retention and increased social media engagement offer insights into a campaign’s performance.

Changes in brand perception need to be closely monitored. Positive recommendations and reviews indicate an improved public image – a valuable commodity in today’s competitive market.

Together, these metrics provide a nuanced understanding of the campaign’s impact and enable the refinement of future strategies. Therefore, in measuring progress, a comprehensive view that goes beyond immediate financial gains is crucial.


Several B2B enterprises have already enjoyed notable success by deploying varied approaches to this marketing strategy. One striking example is SAP, a market leader in enterprise software solutions that used influencer marketing to drive engagement during its annual conference.

Collaborating with industry thought leaders, it developed content that achieved a reach of over one million and resulted in significant audience engagement.

HP Inc also made effective use of this type of marketing. Working with relevant individuals, HP initiated a series of webinars and podcasts that significantly enhanced brand engagement and perception.

Similar success was witnessed by Slack, the widely adopted workplace communication tool. It strategically partnered with influencers within the tech and business sectors to

create user-generated content, showcasing the utility and practicality of its product. This endorsement triggered a ripple effect within its target audience, spurring increased interest and uptake.

Likewise, American Express Global Business Travel enlisted the help of notable industry figures for The Atlas, its corporate travel blog. This approach resulted in increased web traffic and amplified social engagement, thus magnifying brand visibility and boosting its credibility.

Lastly, we cannot overlook IBM’s successful B2B influencer campaign ‘Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson’ project. By partnering with celebrity chefs, IBM managed to showcase the potential of its AI technology, Watson, in an appealing and innovative manner, achieving tremendous media coverage.

These success stories demonstrate that influencer marketing – when properly executed – has the ability to transform brand perception, increase visibility and boost reputation in the B2B sphere.

Choosing the appropriate spokesperson [...] can result in a strong, impactful brand message


In the changing terrain of digital marketing, B2B influencers can provide a powerful new avenue for building trust, authenticity and brand visibility. By leveraging the authority of industry professionals, operators in the business supplies sector can improve their brand image, encourage customer interest and generate conversions.

Choosing the appropriate spokesperson and cultivating a mutually beneficial partnership can result in a strong, impactful brand message. As mentioned, success cannot be solely measured through sales – an increase in recognition, traffic, engagement and improved brand image are all positive signs of a successful influencer marketing campaign.

April/May 2024 43 HOW TO... Influencer Marketing
Mara Gannon is Senior Content Marketing Manager at Fortune Web Marketing, a single-source boutique marketing agency focused on creating customised strategies for clients



Top executives from across Europe congregated at the Hotel Okura in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, between 11-13 March for a series of in-depth business meetings designed to forge new relationships and reinforce existing ones.

OPI Partnership goes from strength to strength every year and is now a cornerstone of the business supplies calendar. Celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2024, the event saw the participation of approximately 150 delegates.

The meticulously organised schedule offered vendors and resellers the chance to engage in confidential face-to-face discussions – in a single location.

Over just two days, a staggering 300 meetings took place, with more expected to follow – all stemming from the initial dialogues started at OPI Partnership


OPI Partnership continually strives to deliver additional value and this year, it welcomed four companies making their debut at the event. Among them was France-based B2B distributor Manutan, which joined an assembly of 30 resellers and wholesalers, including notable names such as Bruneau, Bureau Vallée, evo Group, Lomax, Lyreco and Schäfer Shop Group.

Additionally, senior executives from RAJA Office and Amazon participated, bringing with them substantial delegations.

Newcomers to the vendor roster included Maul, Victor Stationery and Zebra Pen Europe. Richard Smithers, Director of Sales UK, Ireland, Europe and North America at Victor Stationery already “eagerly anticipates” future OPI Partnership events.

He remarked: “The expansion of our proposition into the European B2B marketplace has been truly remarkable, and the dynamic and conducive environment at


The next OPI Partnership will take place at the Hotel Okura in Amsterdam from 10-12 March 2025

OPI Partnership provided the perfect platform to reinforce existing relationships and venture into exciting territories with new distributors. Events of this calibre serve as catalysts for fostering meaningful collaboration and driving sustainable growth.”

In line with its goal of maximising value for attendees, Partnership Expo offered ‘drop-in’ sessions throughout the two days of meetings. Brendan Hughes, CCO at e-commerce customer service software provider eDesk, was among those who showcased at the Expo

Hughes shared his experience on LinkedIn (slightly edited for brevity): “The event was a whirlwind of partner and client meetings with some hot topics being discussed. Given the collegiality evident among the biggest players, it’s an example of how other industries can navigate the new era of B2B e-commerce with innovation, integrity and insight.”

You will not attend a more productive event where senior executives can meet suppliers and resellers and evaluate opportunities and collaboration initiatives – Gareth Farrell, 3M


The meetings are a great chance to show our latest innovations, discuss joint initiatives and build on new and existing relations

– James Webb, Fellowes Brands

While the days were filled with meetings and signing deals, the evenings were a chance to meet fellow attendees in a more relaxed and informal setting.

The renowned welcome dinner treated delegates to one of two Michelin-starred restaurants, Sazanka and Yamazato, where they enjoyed Japanese teppanyaki and traditional kaiseki, respectively.

On the second evening, the European Office Products Awards (EOPA) saw more industry executives join OPI Partnership delegates to honour stand-out individuals and companies active within the European sector (see also Event Review, page 46 ).

Bi-silque Global Sales Director Perpétua Malta perfectly summed up the strategic networking event: “OPI Partnership consistently offers an enriching experience and an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and learn from industry leaders. It’s truly a remarkable gathering.”

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CELEBRATING the best in the business


The 2024 European Office Products Awards was a night to remember as outstanding companies and individuals were honoured

The challenge of innovating within the business supplies sector grows increasingly complex each year. Yet despite these obstacles, the past 12 months have witnessed remarkable resilience and progress – a testament to the vibrant community that powers this industry.

A standout moment encapsulating this spirit of perseverance and unity at the 23rd European Office Products Awards (EOPA) occurred when Jonathan Weiss, Commercial Director at Reckitt Global Business Solutions Europe & ANZ, took to the stage and delivered the industry toast.

Weiss, who announced his recently confirmed Irish citizenship while on stage, presented a comedic speech with a heartfelt message and used the opportunity to share an original limerick. The Commercial Director cleverly addressed the industry’s challenges, acknowledging that “while sales may slide or customers take you for a ride”, it’s the community’s strength and resilience that define our sector’s enduring success.

Concluding his speech, Weiss proposed a toast to an evening filled with “laughter and camaraderie”, a sentiment that resonated deeply with everyone present as glasses were raised in unison.

As always, the EOPA dinner was held during OPI Partnership, which ran between 11-13 March at the five-star Hotel Okura in Amsterdam (see also Event Review, page 44 ). The EOPA followed a day packed with strategic meetings and invaluable networking opportunities, serving as an ideal segue into a night of celebration and achievements.

The EOPA ceremony provided a platform to recognise excellence and innovation within the business supplies sector and honour winners across various categories, including companies, individuals and initiatives. Indeed, there was so much aptitude on display that attendees rarely took a break from cheering on their peers.


Steve Hilleard, OPI CEO and Chairman of the EOPA judging panel, was host for the evening. He expressed his admiration for the winners, acknowledging their exceptional ability to not only confront but also overcome all obstacles. “I was truly impressed by each of the winners,” he stated, highlighting their capacity for excellence even in challenging times.

“The 12 awards celebrated the sector’s forward-thinking response to emerging trends such as the demand for collaborative workspaces and the critical need to prioritise sustainability and diversity. The judging panel was particularly struck by the high calibre of nominations and remarkable winners, reflecting our vibrant future.”

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Jonathan Weiss



Business Product of the Year was the first award of the night. The judges were seeking products that demonstrated evidence of innovation, functionality, quality and, above all, commercial success. The standout winner emerged as tesapack Eco & Ultra Strong ecoLogo.

Demonstrating tesa’s commitment to sustainability, this packaging tape is made from 70% post-consumer recycled PET content and can be disposed of with cardboard. The judging panel lauded tesa for not building a ‘second universe’ and instead replacing current products with sustainable alternatives.



Once again, Marketing Campaign of the Year attracted lots of impressive entries. The criteria for this category are extensive, with the judges evaluating originality, creativity, and the campaign’s return on investment.

Fellowes Brands demonstrated remarkable success in this category. The vendor’s Let Your Productivity Flow – Monitor Arm Campaign and Positioning was praised for its innovative approach and inspirational message, aimed at educating users about the significance of monitor arms and highlighting the multitude of benefits they offer. What made the campaign particularly impactful was its strategic focus on engaging a diverse target audience.

Highly commended: BIC – BIC 4 Colours ‘A pen for every side of you’



The Wholesaler of the Year award celebrated adaptability and innovation in an evolving market landscape. Soennecken, with its exceptional performance, clinched the title and was commended by the EOPA judges for demonstrating unparalleled excellence in a channel that has been hugely challenged in recent years.

What set Soennecken apart was its strategic investments in fostering trust and collaboration among stakeholders. The Germany-based wholesaler has a clear vision for the future, along with open and transparent communication, cementing its status as a leading business supplies operator in this key market.




The Initiative of the Year award attracted a wide variety of noteworthy entries, underscoring the diverse approaches companies are taking to address pressing challenges and seize new opportunities.

Essity was the winner in recognition of its highly successful Partnership for Progress UN event. The judging panel was hugely impressed with the event’s exceptional scale, uniqueness and impact, which brought together 65 European customers for a two-day conference in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the transition to net zero.

What set this initiative apart was its holistic approach. It not only raised awareness but also equipped participants with tools to integrate sustainability into their business strategies, ensuring a lasting impact far beyond the immediate conclusion of the event.

EVENT EOPA April/May 2024 47
L-R: tesa’s Marcus Bohn with Office World Group’s (sponsor) Johann Pintarich L-R: Essity’s Jos Zimmerman with Reckitt’s (sponsor) Jonathan Weiss L-R: Fellowes Brands’ James Webb with Corwell’s (sponsor) László Fehér L-R: Bi-silque’s (sponsor) André Vasconcelos with Soennecken’s Bärbel Sorgler



Achieving sustainability excellence is a tough order, but doing so is an increasingly critical goal for businesses. In the vendor-specific category, tesa stood out this year, scooping the 2024 award.

The EOPA panel commended the organisation for its efforts to become more sustainable, noting its 360° model that touches every aspect of its operations. This year saw a step change in tesa’s approach, impressing the judges with its strategic focus on the environment and future-proofing the business.

Highly commended: Essity and Tork brand – Life Cycle Approach



This award spotlights resellers that have made significant strides in their respective markets. This year, ACS Group stood out from the competition, with the judges highlighting its robust growth and strategic initiatives.

Despite operating on a different scale from other contenders, ACS Group’s impact in the local UK market has been undeniable. The Yorkshire-based company has demonstrated exceptional performance, achieving a remarkable 50% growth over the last year.

Beyond its financial achievements, ACS Group also distinguished itself through its notable investments in environmentally responsible initiatives and admirable green credentials.

Highly commended: Lyreco



The Sustainability Excellence: Reseller accolade went to Lyreco for its comprehensive and ambitious approach to sustainability, spanning multiple markets. The company’s consistent programme and bold targets have set a high standard within the European workplace supplies industry.

The judging panel acknowledged the operator’s maturity in this critical area and highlighted how sustainability is not merely an add-on for Lyreco. They agreed it is intricately woven into the very fabric of the company’s DNA, making it a deserving winner.

Highly commended: ACS Group



Fellowes Brands was named Vendor of the Year, repeating its success in this category after winning numerous times, most recently in 2020. This global player’s EMEA team has gone above and beyond to successfully withstand current market pressures and assist its customers in doing the same.

The EOPA judges viewed the company as best in class – an example of a great vendor that sets a consistently high standard. The panel commended Fellowes for its dedication to innovation, sustainability and new business fields while continuing to cultivate strong and reliable relationships with its trade partners.

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L-R: tesa’s Marcus Bohn with Lyreco’s (sponsor) David Harman L-R: ACS Group’s Elizabeth Stevenson with Newell Brand’s (sponsor) Jeffrey James Köhler Lyreco’s Greg Liénard (l) and David Harman (r) with Greenspeed’s (sponsor) Michel de Bruin Fellowes Brands’ James Webb (l) and Michel van Beek (r) with Viking’s (sponsor) Christa Furter



The Young Executive of the Year award holds a special place within the EOPA, recognising the remarkable talent and potential among the younger generation working in the business supplies sector. There were several outstanding entries, but there can only be one winner and ultimately the award was given to Rasmus Olsen.

In his role as Product Manager & Team Lead at Lomax, Olsen impressed EOPA judges with his company-orientated mindset and dedication to progress. Starting at Lomax as a student 15 years ago, he now oversees the entire product management process.

Additionally, Olsen has long been a loyal volunteer for Danish office supplies trade association KONPA and was elected as a board member in 2023.

Highly commended: Scott Ellis, Head of Corporate Accounts, Banner



The Business Leader of the Year award is reserved for individuals who exhibit extensive business acumen alongside exceptional leadership qualities. This year, the accolade was bestowed upon Nicolas Potier.

Presented by PBS Holding CEO Richard Scharmann, the award acknowledges Potier’s significant contributions as CEO of France-based reseller Bruneau – a previous EOPA winner in the Reseller of the Year category. Potier has fostered a strong team culture at the company and under his leadership over the past 14 years, Bruneau has more than doubled its top line and become a leading multinational player.



Executive of the Year is a new award conceived during discussions at this year’s EOPA judging sessions. In short, the judges were looking for someone who is simply brilliant at what they do and makes a real difference to their business. They found that someone in Leanne Gregg.

As Group People Director, Gregg played a pivotal role in the implementation of a wide-scale organisational change programme at UK multichannel operator evo. She was also instrumental in establishing the evo Foundation – the company’s charitable arm.



The Industry Achievement award, the pinnacle of the EOPA, recognises the accomplishments of a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the business and workplace supplies sector across Europe.

RAJA Office’s Alain Josse took the honours for his remarkable 40-year career and significant impact on the industry. He was a key member of the team that led Viking as it took Europe by storm in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. He is now doing the same at RAJA Office, which is currently present in ten markets.

The judges praised Josse’s strategic vision and aptitude for transformation while maintaining a supportive workplace. Geoffrey Betts, Managing Director of Stewart Superior Europe, who presented the award, echoed those sentiments. He highlighted Josse’s team spirit, leadership skills and unique ability to bring humour and light-heartedness into professional settings, making him a standout leader.

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L-R: Lomax’s Rasmus Olsen with edding’s (sponsor) Gaetano Gaglio L-R: Ninestar’s (sponsor) Linda Fan, Bruneau’s Nicolas Potier and PBS Holding’s Richard Scharmann L-R: evo’s Leanne Gregg with Zebra Pen’s (sponsor) Szilvia Lázár L-R: Maul’s (sponsor) Kees Broekman, RAJA Office’s Alain Josse and Stewart Superior’s Geoffrey Betts


Do you have a word of the year?

I’ve mulled this over and it comes down to ‘bold’ and ‘trust’. Bold is what I want my actions to be, while trust is what I aim to create with those actions.

What song puts you in a good mood?

Sunday Morning by Maroon 5 always gets me smiling. Another great one is Wonderwall by Oasis, which my wife and I danced to at our wedding. Whenever I hear it now, I think about what’s special to me.

Where would you most like to visit?

Travel is a big part of my life. So far, I’ve been to 52 countries and my five-year-old son has already visited 29. There are a few places on my bucket list, like the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Inca Trail. In the distant future, I might think about retiring to Atrani on Italy’s Amalfi Coast but that’s a long time off still!

Your favourite TV series?


Describe your current job. I lead the B2B business for Reckitt Pro Solutions across Europe, Australia and New Zealand – a new division I was appointed to build from scratch in 2020. Since its set-up, we’ve grown from a two-person team to over 30 people and quadrupled the business. I see hygiene in the office supplies industry as a source of significant long-term growth for both my business and that of my customers.

Any advice for someone who has just joined our industry?

I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing would be my favourite series, closely followed by The Newsroom Recently, I’ve been enjoying The Morning Show as well.

What is humankind’s greatest invention?

The dishwasher. Invented by Josephine Cochran in 1886, it combines cleanliness and efficiency with reduced work. People are free to live their lives rather than standing at a sink all day.

Stay optimistic, particularly about opportunities for growth and innovation within the sector.

What has been your best career decision?

When I was 13, a friend and I went to Pizza Hut (owned by Yum! Brands), but we were short of cash when it came to paying. To get us off the hook, I applied for a dishwashing role. Over the next 13 years, I progressed to running stores, joined the company’s graduate programme and built a marketing career. It was a big step to move to Reckitt in 2013, but I’m still working with dishwashing – this time it’s Finish.

Do you prefer working in the office, your home or a mix of both?

Definitely a mix. I love to come into the office where I get to interact with people. I come in whenever the team are in because I’d rather connect with people face to face. That said, I enjoy the freedom of working from home. I can drop off and pick up my kids, go to the gym, and cook something different to what’s in the canteen for lunch.

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Jonathan Weiss, Reckitt Pro Solutions The Serengeti Inca Trail to Machu Picchu


The journey CONTINUES

Looking back on 13 years at sales and marketing agency Highlands, I see a business environment that has undergone a profound transformation. And it’s unlikely to stabilise anytime soon.

Driven by a decline in demand for traditional office supplies, we have seen market consolidation, squeezed margins and supply chain saturation – all exacerbated by shifts in consumer buying habits and a proliferation of advertising media. Whether you’re a manufacturer, wholesaler, dealer or retailer, you will have been affected.

As I start my brand-new journey at OPI, here are my thoughts on the factors that I believe impact consumers and on how businesses can adapt and thrive in these changing times.


The age of e-commerce has significantly blurred the boundaries between B2B and B2C. Influenced and propelled by technological advancements, consumers now want to be able to buy anytime, anywhere and anyhow – we called it ‘modern commerce’ at Highlands. As such, it’s about addressing the needs and wants of the modern consumer.

Formerly clear-cut distinctions have given way to an omnichannel approach that challenges traditional business models. Consumers now expect a seamless experience across various channels, both online and offline. This shift has profound implications, forcing companies to re-evaluate their go-to-market strategies and how they reach new consumers and markets.


In the not-so-distant past, many of the companies in our space did not think of themselves as ‘brands’. Their identity was largely utilitarian and branding was often looked at as merely an aesthetic embellishment. Not today.

As a result of the aforementioned blurring of B2B and B2C we’ve seen over the past ten or so years, the significance of branding has never been more pronounced. It’s not merely about logos and taglines; it’s about gaining a competitive edge, building enduring relationships and securing a lasting place in

the hearts and minds of customers. COVID reshaped not only our daily lives but also our approach to work. Considered and personalised purchases replaced the once price-conscious decisions of the past. As individuals curated their home work area, this shift in behaviour was also reflected back into the workplace.

The office – if done right – is no longer just a space for generic supplies for hundreds of employees; it has become an extension of personal preferences. Staff now seek products and environments that enhance their work-life balance, focusing on quality and authenticity to boost productivity.

The businesses that flourish will be those that [...] proactively embrace change


Another driving force behind our industry’s transformation is the unparalleled influence of social media. The digital realm has become a powerful catalyst, shaping purchasing decisions and altering engagement dynamics.

B2B companies today have direct access to consumers, allowing for deeper connections and real-time interactions. This paradigm shift necessitates a reimagining of marketing and communication strategies. Recognising this, in 2021, Highlands acquired a business that’s trailblazing social commerce on platforms such as TikTok. This, in my view, is progress that would have been unheard of a decade ago in our industry.

On that note: adaptability is the key to survival. The businesses that flourish will be those that not only acknowledge the evolving landscape but also proactively embrace change and use it to their advantage in ways previously unimaginable not so long ago.

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