Analysis: ADVEO goes direct

European wholesaler ADVEO revealed its direct intentions at its recent annual event in Spain.

Selling direct to end-user customers was one of the strategic pillars unveiled by ADVEO CEO Jaime Carbó at the office products wholesaler’s ADVEO World event in Spain.

“If we want to grow, we need to implement a new business model that will go along with our resellers and that focuses on direct sales to medium and big companies, the development of Calipage, e-commerce and access to bordering markets,” Carbó was quoted as saying in a recent ADVEO press statement.

The irony of this move into the direct channel will not be lost on many in the office supplies industry who will remember that the sale of its 50% stake in the Ofiservice joint venture to its partner Lyreco for €69 million in 2011 paved the way for Unipapel (as ADVEO was still called at the time) to acquire Spicers’ operations in continental Europe and to launch its pan-European wholesaling model.

However, as ADVEO and other wholesalers in Europe have discovered in the past few years, the pure wholesaling model has its limitations. Secular declines in traditional products, the challenges of trying to combine office products and EOS/IT consumables wholesaling and the growth of online resellers have all put pressure on volumes going through wholesalers’ distribution networks.

Hybrid model on the rise

It could be argued that the hybrid wholesaler/reseller model is now the industry norm in Europe, with leading players including EVO and SPOT in the UK and PBS Holding in continental Europe having their own direct arms. In fact, even ADVEO itself, and groups such as Quantore and Alkor (formerly Majuscule), don’t operate a million miles away from a direct model via their company-owned dealer networks. German dealer group Soennecken also launched a direct division a couple of years ago.

ADVEO is making it clear that it will not look to compete head on with its Calipage dealers and other independent reseller customers through its direct operations. In fact, it has said that it will work with stockless dealers and Calipage members that are specialised in selling to enterprise clients to grow their businesses. What the wholesaler really has its eye on is the 90% of the public sector and enterprise accounts market – clients with 500 or more employees – where its reseller partners don’t operate.

It may have appeared logical for ADVEO to try and make a move for either of Staples’ or Office Depot’s European contract units when they were still up for sale, thereby gaining an immediate strong foothold in that contract space.

However, that is not the route that ADVEO is following, according to the company; it says it will enter this market organically and is in the process of recruiting talent and developing its own IT systems for that very purpose.

Starting from scratch is likely to be a long and cumbersome process fraught with pitfalls – not least of which is whether the market even needs or can support a new entrant.

The trend is very much one of consolidation – there probably isn’t much business sense in starting a greenfield business especially given the current acquisition opportunities (which also include strong local brands such as Fiducial in France).

ADVEO hasn’t specified when it will officially begin its direct business, but it has confirmed that it is looking to introduce the model into all its markets.