2021: In one of the most challenging years in its 27-year history, Integra Business Solutions has continued to provide members with a comprehensive support programme. As the group enters a critical phase of 2021/22, it is in a strong financial position, according to CEO Aidan McDonough.
Integra’s own brand, Initiative Office Products, has played an important role during the pandemic, says McDonough, providing dealers with a reliable, competitively priced range. Utilising multiple sources, including VOW Wholesale and Antalis, as well as dealing directly with vendors, members have had a relatively consistent supply chain (albeit not without its challenges) while also achieving healthy margins.
The strategic alliance with Australian dealer group, Office Brands, has also gone from strength to strength, according to McDonough, with 2021 seeing the re-signing of a five-year trademark licensing agreement for Initiative. Since its introduction in 2018, it has grown to be the highest revenue brand for Office Brands, making up over 13% of total catalogue product sales.
Integra’s Creative Services division (ICS) has been busy designing a multitude of collateral for many of the group’s members and key partners to further support their internal resources. As a creative agency in its own right, ICS has also successfully retained its long-standing clients outside of the OP industry.
Integra’s strategy going forward will be a continued focus on new diversification opportunities together with supporting already identified growth areas such as education, medical, furniture, facilities supplies, workwear & PPE and value-added services. Cleaning, hygiene, and infection control, together with the work-from-home category, will also continue to present opportunities for members.
In 2021, the group’s award-winning i-merge platform has come into its own, supporting dealers looking to buy or sell a business. The programme has already successfully matched many independent dealers wanting to take the next step in their business lifecycle.
Under the steady hand of McDonough, the dealer group will continue to collaborate closely with the BOSS Federation, suppliers, distributors, and wholesalers, together with back-office and e-commerce partners, all central to the group’s plans in 2021 and beyond. Integra will also continue to work alongside and support its European partners through BPGI, recognising the strength overseas cooperation brings.
2019: In May this year, Integra Business Solutions CEO Aidan McDonough celebrated 25 years of service with the UK dealer group. He was also recently re-elected onto the BPGI leadership board as Chairman, a position he has held since 2015.
Integra’s own private label brand Initiative has seen significant growth in 2019 and the strategic alliance and licensing agreement with Australian dealer group Office Brands has seen both entities further strengthen their positions within the UK and Australian OP sectors.
Meanwhile, the company’s internal Creative Services department has seen significant expansion of its external client base over the course of this year, including investment in advanced catalogue management software to streamline its catalogue production process and improve workflow efficiency.
The group has also recognised the need to support members that want to target areas outside the traditional OP sector. Its current strategy is focused on providing support programmes in numerous categories, such as education, medical supplies, furniture, facilities supplies, workwear & PPE, technology, and value-added services.
To further support its dealers, February saw Integra launch i-merge, an introductory service matching up dealers looking to sell or buy a business. The programme has already supported 16 independent dealers in taking the next step in their business lifecycle. I-merge has also been shortlisted for the 2019 BOSS Industry ‘Initiative of the Year’ Award.
2018: Integra Business Solutions has once again had a good year in 2018, with membership numbers remaining stable despite the challenges within the industry.
The dealer group’s award-winning own brand, Initiative, is one of the most successful private labels in the OP industry and this year celebrated its 20th anniversary. In a tough market, Initiative has provided Integra members with the ability to differentiate their businesses with a unique selling proposition and a competitively priced range from multiple sources.
With continued investment, Integra has provided pricing support and promotions together with additional rebates. Initiative has also been licenced for use in Australia by independent business supplies dealer group, Office Brands, with products now being available to its members. Other licensing opportunities are being considered and the brand remains a key priority for the business.
General office products, envelopes, paper and EOS have all been in decline for a number of years. As a result, another key focus for Integra this year has been to continue a strategy that looks at opportunities in other sectors, bringing in new suppliers across a diverse portfolio including workwear, PPE, medical supplies, education, facilities supplies, MPS and office ergonomics. Sales figures show that members have been embracing the opportunity to diversify into these new areas, whether through new vertical markets or simply by increasing their product portfolio.
In addition, the dealer group has continued to progress its Catalyst managed service model, which incorporates a back office and e-commerce solution together with targeted marketing and support.
Integra Business Solutions Managing Director Aidan McDonough has continued to serve as Chairman on the BPGI board and the group continues to work closely with BPGI partners both in the UK and globally.
2017: Despite the volatile market, 2017 has been a good year overall for dealer group Integra. Membership numbers remained stable despite many mergers and acquisitions in the sector.
Integra’s own brand, Initiative, has seen sales increase with significant growth in adjacent markets such as PPE, facilities, technology, and educational products.
A key development at the end of 2016 was the issue of Integra shares to its members and the return to a not-for-profit, co-operative model. McDonough’s primary focus for 2017 has been a continued investment in services and support to help members grow their businesses. The group has also been further developing its Integra Creative Services and the Catalyst managed services division alongside the core business.
McDonough has flagged pricing fluctuations due to a volatile exchange rate as a key challenge for Integra, and has been encouraging members to forward buy by providing additional pricing support on the Initiative product range.
In the past few years the group has brought in new suppliers across an increasingly diverse portfolio of products and services, including education, PPE, FM, print, MPS, workwear, office ergonomics, medical supplies. These are supported by a purchasing agreement and data for back office and web, access to marketing support, niche publications and webstores together with training days.
Integra is also working more closely with its BPGI partners in the UK. McDonough hopes to build on these relationships with the ultimate aim of creating more effective and efficient solutions for the independent channel. He was recently voted back onto the BPGI leadership board, agreeing to serve a second term as Chairman.
2016: It is testament to the drive and focus of Aidan McDonough and his team that Integra was able to scoop the European Office Products Awards Dealer Group of the Year prize in 2016 following a turbulent 12 months that included two ownership changes.
Now, with the group firmly back in the hands of its members, McDonough has been able to kick on with strategic initiatives to help Integra’s approximately 250 members face up to the challenges the recent paradigm shifts in the industry are throwing at them.
High on the agenda have been enabling members to diversify into adjacent product and service categories – print solutions, safety and personal protective equipment and 3D printing, for example – driving better use of technology by dealers and providing a higher level of marketing and training support.
2015: It’s certainly been an interesting year for UK dealer group Integra.
The most intriguing aspect of 2015 was back in June when Integra announced that private investor William Good had acquired it. However, in mid-October, Integra announced that its members had reacquired 100% of the share capital and the group had reverted back to a cooperative model.
Other items of note include the group branching out into new segments – facilities management and education, for example – followed by other new categories such as managed print services and furniture. As the year has progressed, these new areas have become among the strongest performing sectors.
Managing Director Aidan McDonough says that the traditional OP sector remains challenging and the expectation is for further declines in 2016, making diversification a strategic imperative for his members.