Ingo Schmidt took the top job at Plate in January of this year, having worked in the Bremen, Northern Germany-based company for approximately 26 years.
2022: When Ingo Schmidt took the top job at German reseller Plate in January 2021, he was tasked with filling the mighty boots of his father who sadly passed away a month later.
Dieter Schmidt had led the company for over 50 years and as such, it was no surprise that the succession, though coordinated and planned, created some ripples which took a while to smooth out. Throw a global pandemic into the mix and those ripples could easily have turned into a tsunami.
This, however, was not the case under the leadership of Schmidt Jnr, not least because of Plate’s deeply-rooted stability as well as strong customer loyalty. The latter, says the operator, has been particularly important most recently given ever-growing inflation and an energy crisis which is putting intense pressure on so many businesses.
Revenues remain stable at €90 million ($89 million) despite the loss of some customers which couldn’t weather the COVID storm and its ongoing aftermath. In terms of product demand, Plate continues to benefit from pandemic-related items – masks and test kits, for instance – that compensate for considerable reductions in some categories.
Paper is one of these due to spiralling price increases as well as accelerating digitisation. As the year progresses and moves into winter in the northern hemisphere, political agendas in Germany will likely dictate a greater importance of temporarily subdued COVID products again, according to Schmidt.
On top of this, Plate is heavily pushing existing, but previously marginal categories – in terms of customer awareness – such as hygiene and furniture.
One of the challenges the dealer constantly has to overcome is the lingering, and likely ongoing, prominence of homeworking within its core target audience of mid-sized businesses. It creates a considerable percentage of discretionary spend that goes to a variety of online operators.
It’s not a lack of ability by Plate to serve the homeworking employee, says Schmidt, but often a lethargic employer attitude towards solving the discretionary spend problem.
2021: In charge of about 120 staff and boasting revenues of €90 million ($106 million), it’s just as well Ingo Schmidt has experience in every aspect of the company’s operations – it’s certainly knowledge he has needed in the run-up to the handover and, quite possibly, will require even more so in the future.
Plate survived the height of the pandemic extremely well, an achievement that is due in no small part to being able to source – and sell, in vast quantities – much-needed pandemic-related products, including masks as well as, interestingly, COVID testing kits. These goods, says the dealer, could be procured directly from Asia as a result of Plate’s membership of the European Office Supplies Alliance (EOSA), thereby ensuring reasonable pricing as well as fewer availability difficulties.
The challenges, adds the dealer, are becoming very apparent in the second half of 2021, because COVID products are no longer in so much demand. But neither are traditional office products right now, a trend that is obviously vastly exacerbated by the still ongoing homeworking situation. For a B2B-only player like Plate with a considerable number of large accounts in urban areas, this is a particular headache, and one that is unlikely to go away.
Plate continues to see huge potential on the contract side and is investing accordingly. By the same token, it’s also trying to stem the flow of customers towards Amazon and is putting a massive focus on its online business, an increasingly large part of Plate’s operations now.