Event: EOPA 2021 Review

The words resilience, resourcefulness and reinvention took on a whole new meaning this year, as the 2021 EOPA winners were crowned.


Celebrating the winners of the European Office Products Awards (EOPA) virtually was certainly not what the OPI team had in mind this year, especially given that 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the EOPA.

However, the reality of this didn’t take anything away from the award winners and the richly-deserved trophies they received in a variety of Zoom presentations with the OPI team and the EOPA judges in early March.

Quite the opposite. To be shortlisted alone in this pandemic-dominated year is an achievement and testament to resilience, ingenuity and a lot of hard work. To win is exceptional.

Unsurprisingly, the success of the winners was closely linked to how they responded to the challenges of COVID-19. There were only six this year, as the categories had been severely trimmed to really highlight the outstanding products, companies and individuals of 2020.

Agility and unprecedented pace in doing what had to be done has been a common denominator for all of them – be that in the area of product innovation and availability, online excellence or continued investment in a difficult climate.   

As OPI CEO Steve Hilleard said: “2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for so many. As such, the team at OPI was even more humbled by the enthusiasm shown yet again for the EOPA. I would like to sincerely thank the many companies for entering or nominating candidates, the judges for taking the time out of their no doubt busy schedules to evaluate those candidates and the winners for being part of our first-ever virtual awards ceremony.

“The EOPA are always a great reflection of an industry that refuses to be defeated by challenges – 2020 perhaps proved that more than any other year. I cannot wait to raise, when we’re allowed again, a glass in person to every single EOPA winner – to our whole resilient and fantastic industry in fact.”

The European Office Products Awards 2021 winners

Business Product of the Year

Winner: 3M – Scotch Flex & Seal Shipping Roll – Watch the presentation video

In this category, the judges, among other things, were looking for innovation, quality and benefits for the consumer and the reseller. As expected, many of the entries for this award were COVID-related solutions, which have helped to not only save lives, but commercially contributed to manufacturers and resellers weathering the storm.

The winning product, 3M’s Scotch Flex & Seal Shipping Roll, was not actually born out of COVID, but definitely tapped into the opportunity that the pandemic brought in terms of an unprecedented surge in online orders and deliveries. It’s also extremely relevant bearing in mind the very high number of small parcels currently being sent directly to home addresses.

This packaging solution is simple: it can be used for any sized or shaped object without any wastage of packaging. Its three-layer construction provides a durable outer layer that is water and tear-resistant, a cushioning middle layer, and an inner layer which sticks securely to itself – not the item. There’s no need for tape, padding material or cardboard boxes – just cut, fold and press, label and send.

The EOPA judges felt that the commercial success of the Scotch Flex & Seal Shipping roll is a little untested as yet, as the product only launched in several European markets in October 2020. But early figures look hugely promising and the consensus was that this is a highly innovative product which will see phenomenal success and be around for many years – COVID or not.

Wholesaler of the Year

Winner: JGBM – Watch the presentation video

The shortlist for this award again featured some well-known names from across the European business supplies industry. Wholesalers have undeniably had to move out of their comfort zone over the past year, explore new sourcing avenues and provide much-needed assurance to their reseller partners that were scrambling for products they had never sold before or, if they did, in minuscule quantities.

This year’s winner, UK-based JGBM, is a very familiar player on the EOPA circuit, having won the same award back in 2016 and being shortlisted every year since (and also in 2015). 2020 was the time when this comparatively small and somewhat niche operator – its core remit is office machines – came into its own again.

Highly entrepreneurial in its approach, hugely adaptable to surges in demand and reassuringly knowledgeable in times of heightened customer needs and demands – that sums up JGBM in a nutshell. 

The work-from-home reality of the past 12 months – a curse for some, a blessing for others – played beautifully into JGBM’s product portfolio and in-depth knowledge while its long-honed online expertise helped its dealer partners to successfully compete in a spiralling e-commerce world (for more on JGBM’s initiatives, read Spotlight: Much more than a distributor).

Vendor of the Year

Winner: Essity – Watch the presentation video

The 2021 Vendor of the Year award goes to a company at the very heart of the COVID-19 pandemic – health and hygiene. It’s certainly true that the cleaning category has never received more attention or been more important than over the past year (read Final Word). As such, it’s fair to say the winner – Sweden-based Essity – has had a captive audience.

But while demand in some verticals has been skyrocketing, it’s also true that operators like Essity have had to endure a staggering loss of revenue in others due to the closure of businesses, including entire sectors such as hospitality.

Furthermore, this category has faced intense scrutiny due to heightened standards and legislation, not to mention entirely new product priorities.

Essity – its Professional Hygiene division includes the well-known Tork brand – has not been immune from the many challenges but, according to the EOPA judges, has dealt with them admirably: “tremendous job”, “great support” and “good supply and availability” were terms that came up in the heated debates for this popular trophy. Hugely importantly also was communication in this most difficult of years. And here, as all the feedback from resellers and distributors proved, Essity has absolutely excelled. 

Reseller of the Year

Winner: Printus/OTTO Office – Watch the presentation video

Typically, this award is split into two: Reseller of the Year in the over and under €100 million category. This year, the decision was made to combine them and award just one trophy. And it’s easy to see why. As the EOPA judges said, just surviving in the current climate is impressive; excelling is superlative.

The criteria refer to sales performance, fill rates and delivery reliability. These were incredibly hard to meet at a time when entire product categories fell off a revenue cliff and whole customer demographics ceased to temporarily exist. But other requirements, such as successfully launching new service offerings, developing novel ranges and – never more so than this past year – making quite radical shifts to e-commerce and m-commerce, were certainly met by OTTO Office, part of the Printus stable.

This reseller, which commands huge trust and respect from its industry partners, has done an excellent job at switching its catalogue business to online. Its fast decision-making also enabled it to source and make available online a range of entirely new products, in the cleaning, PPE and home office categories for instance, during a period when everyone was scrambling and demand was soaring.

Highly commended: Amazon

Professional of the Year

Winner: Dan Fati – Watch the presentation video

Professionalism and enthusiasm for the sector, leadership ability and a direct contribution to the success of their business – these are attributes the EOPA judges were looking for in the winner of the Professional of the Year award. Dan Fati from independent Romanian reseller Dacris displayed all of them in spades.

Making things happen was Fati’s motto over the past year. This endeavour transcended many areas. These included: keeping its workforce of 254 safe, motivated, trained and productive; sourcing, securing, marketing and distributing a wide range of COVID products; and upping its online capabilities – and the resources this required – to make its web store a go-to destination.

Financially speaking, Dacris ended 2020 on a par with 2019, posting revenues of €24 million ($29 million), with coronavirus-related products accounting for 20% of these sales.

Fati co-founded Dacris with two other family members back in 1993. He’s always been a progressive leader, willing to think outside the box and keen to invest both in his business and its staff. 2020 was the year when collaboration with all parts of the supply chain, compassion for his employees and no small amount of composure in the face of considerable adversity really paid off.

Industry Achievement

Winner: Richard Scharmann – Watch the presentation video

The final EOPA – and this year is no different – always goes to an individual who has had a significant impact on our sector. The judges are looking for someone with excellent leadership skills and outstanding competencies in the channel(s) they operate in as well as involvement in and contribution to the industry as a whole. 

This year’s winner – Richard Scharmann, CEO of Austria-based PBS Holding – fulfils all of the above criteria and more. Having spent his entire career at this multichannel organisation that is focused on Central and Eastern Europe, Scharmann has always closely monitored and fostered organic growth while also investing in new opportunities, aware of consolidation trends in Europe’s markets.

The acquisition of Office Depot’s Central Europe operations in late 2019 has been the most sizeable of recent investments, while just in February – after the EOPA judges meeting – PBS Holding added Staples Solutions’ Global Accounts Team to its tally.

Scharmann knows every facet of his company inside out and over the years has earned the respect and trust of industry peers, partners as well as, indeed, competitors. He is also a well-known and much-liked pundit on the international conference circuit, where he often expertly and collaboratively shares his insights and knowledge.