In late May, industry executives from across Europe came together in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for the OPI European Forum. Two jam-packed days delivered thought-provoking and punchy presentations and panels as well as deep-dive roundtable discussions. All framed by constructive and convivial networking during breaks, over meals and in the bar.
The event covered broad topics such as the state of the European business supplies industry, but it also drilled down into specifics – the opportunities of the hygiene product category or the consumerisation of B2B e-commerce, for instance.
Office of the future
Sessions were full of detail and opened delegates’ eyes to a myriad of facts, figures and even emotions. IDC’s Mick Heys analysed the relevancy – present and future – of the office. Despite a current sharp focus on work-from-home (WFH) and hybrid working, pan-European research actually suggests that a sizeable 33% of employees are required to come to the office five days a week.
Employee happiness – or lack thereof – is another topic which should make business leaders sit up and pay attention. According to Heys, 46% are not satisfied with their workplace while almost one in four employees – 22.4% – are looking for a new job. Both statistics could be interpreted negatively as well as opportunistically.
Many talks were delivered with great humour. Who could forget ECI Software Solutions’ Paddy Donnelly insightful ‘graveyard shift’ at the end of the first day, just before a well-earned drink at the bar? “B2B web stores too need to be beautiful,” he fervently said, referring to “content as king”.
Or Reckitt’s Jonathan Weiss ‘hangover shift’ the next morning where he surmised that “a focus on hygiene as a diversified category can result in considerable growth”.
The takeaways were many and varied, but there were some recurring themes: sustainability is non-negotiable. Not everyone will or can be as passionate and all-encompassing as Simone Hindmarch. The joint Managing Director of UK dealer Commercial chaired a very well-attended roundtable session alongside Exacompta’s CEO Charles Nusse. But sustainability has definitely become a commercial imperative – and offers a distinct competitive advantage.
Despite the indisputable fact business leaders by and large want their staff back in the office, even more certain is the realisation – aptly demonstrated by Heys – that flexible/hybrid working is here to stay. As such, the definition of the ‘office’ needs to be redefined.
Pricing and how to manage it in an inflationary market was a further topic which came up multiple times – in plenary sessions, roundtable talks and ‘anywhere in between’. As one panellist said: “The challenge is the ability to sustain margins by adding value, not by squeezing people” while another added in a follow-up roundtable that “committed pricing is dead”.
The hottest topics
While the structured conference sessions were highly commended by delegates, it was during the networking breaks that some themes were explored more deeply. Arguably among the hottest topics of the moment at the OPI European Forum was artificial intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT.
Indeed, so new it was that many attendees only had scant knowledge of ChatGPT in particular – and wanted more. It’s something OPI will be covering in depth in the coming months. As a starting point, read Christian Langvad’s Final Word.
Overall, said Jeanette Bresitz, Managing Director at Office Friendly: “What a great event for giving you headspace and opening your mind to different aspects and opinions. Taking time out of the day-to-day operation to engage with leaders from across Europe has helped me form so many new ideas and think deeper about our future planning.”