Event Review: North American Office Products Awards 2021

NAOPA: back with a bang.


Of all the in-person events missed over the past 20 months or so, award ceremonies have been among the hardest to replicate in any other format. The buzz and anticipation beforehand, and then the industry recognition and standing ovations after a win can simply not be conveyed without a lot of people being physically in the same room.

And it was a very full room indeed when the North American Office Products Awards (NAOPA) were announced at Industry Week ’21 in November (read Together again).

After a COVID-induced 2020 absence and a category rejig which factored in the changes that have occurred – or been accelerated – as a result of the pandemic, a total of nine awards were handed out.

Six vendor awards acknowledged product innovation and excellence in several segments. The three individual awards, meanwhile, rewarded executives who, in one way or another, have made – and continue to do so – an outstanding contribution to our industry, be it in the early days of their ascending career, at their peak or towards the end of it.   

Best Product – Core Business Product

Winner: COLOP – e-mark

Core office products remain a fundamental, but ever-evolving part of our industry – and of the NAOPA. And the winner has done exactly that – inject new and exciting life as well as growth into a traditional and mature segment. It’s COLOP’s e-mark.

The e-mark is a portable printing device that is battery-operated and based on inkjet technology. It works in combination with an app which comprises an automatic date, time and numbering function, plus a barcode and QR code generator. This product is currently available in three editions – e-mark, e-mark create and e-mark secure.

Winning the NAOPA in the Core Business Product category is a milestone in the history of COLOP, commented Christoph Skopek, Managing Director of COLOP Digital, and Head of Sales & Marketing Franz Ratzenberger, especially given the tough competition from other nominations. They said: “This unique award is a reward for our entire team. We are more than proud and it gives us a lot of motivation for the future. It shows that COLOP’s decision to invest in the digital marking sector was absolutely right and forward-looking.”

Best Product – Technology

Winner: OneScreen – OneScreen GoSafe

Away from the traditional, Technology has become a wide open category which encompasses many different products serving many different purposes. The company taking home the trophy was perhaps not well known to many OPI readers – or indeed Industry Week delegates. It is now, in our COVID-dominated new world where employee safety has moved to the top of the agenda.

OneScreen’s GoSafe is an entryway management device that uses biometric technology for scanning and recognition to help firms keep staff and visitors healthy and safe. GoSafe adapts to a company’s access control needs with features including hands-free rapid and secure temperature scanning, mask detection, and 99% accurate facial recognition without a mask.

The NAOPA judges were particularly impressed with how fast GoSafe progressed from concept to customer installation. Says Zee Munir, OneScreen VP Global Business Development: “We knew we had to come up with a high-quality solution quickly that would not only address health needs, but also revive and re-energise activity in schools and in all types of organisations.”

Best Product – Facilities, Breakroom, Safety & Infection Control

Winner: Fellowes Brands – AeraMax Pro

This is a category that was adapted from previous incarnations, with COVID-19 and its impact on the workplace in mind. The winning entry – Fellowes Brands’ AeraMax Pro air filtration system – isn’t in fact a COVID product and has been on the market for a while. But the pandemic has propelled it to extraordinary importance, with air purifiers now essential components of healthier working and living environments.

As the vendor’s Beth Wright, VP of Sales, Americas, commented: “We are thrilled to be awarded the best product in this new category. Our solution has enabled a safe and effective way to get back to life for over 200,000 businesses and schools during this pandemic. Many independent dealers have become trusted advisors to their customers by providing Fellowes’ air purification solutions.”

Best Product – Furniture & Design

Winner: Special-T – CORE by Safe-T

Safety was a primary concern in several of the entries for the new Furniture & Design category. Special-T’s CORE by Safe-T pipped everyone else to the post, with the NAOPA judges impressed with the way this product creates safe environments.

CORE by Safe-T consists of three 120° workstations that allow each person to be seated six feet apart. In the middle is a medical-grade air purification system while, also centrally positioned, a power hub gives easy access to electricity. For extra safety, barriers extend 30 inches above the work surfaces and are made from durable PET material.

VP of Sales Ian Hicks and Special-T’s Florida Sales Manager Michael Maloney said: “We began developing CORE at the height of the pandemic. Our motive was simple: provide employees with the safest possible workspace while offering our dealers something relevant to sell.”

Innovation of the Year

Winner: 3M – Post-it Flex Write Surface

The penultimate product award highlighted overall innovation in our industry, in no particular sub-sector. The winner was a well-known recipient, having won this category several times. Always highly regarded for its continuous innovation, not to mention commercial success for new launches, it was, of course, 3M.

The winning product in this hotly contested category was Post-it Flex Write Surface. It quickly transforms a work surface of any size into a whiteboard by simply unrolling, peeling and sticking. The item is designed to stick to a variety of surfaces, including primed and painted drywall, painted metal, glass, finished wood, and existing whiteboards or chalkboards. Users can customise the size and shape of any roll to fit their needs and both dry erase and permanent markers can be used.

Heather Green, Global Portfolio VP, Post-it and Scotch Brands, 3M, said: “It’s such an honour to receive this award. We have a relentless passion to get it right and an unwavering dedication to our customer, so the whole team feels extremely proud of this accomplishment.”

People’s Choice

Winner: Kensington – StudioCaddy with Qi Wireless Charging for Apple Devices

No other award encapsulates the ‘live’ and community aspect of the NAOPA as much as the People’s Choice award where voting goes right down to the wire and the winner is decided entirely by OPI’s US readers and attendees of Industry Week.

The winner of this hugely popular trophy is indicative of today’s work (and life) priorities: tech-orientated, mobile and space-saving. Kensington’s StudioCaddy with Qi Wireless Charging for Apple Devices is a versatile solution that maximises desktop space while keeping all devices charged, organised and within reach.

Collecting the award on behalf of the entire Kensington team, Sales Manager Erin McGivern and Susan Tiffany, Business Development Sales Manager – East Coast, said: “We’re grateful and proud to be recognised with the People’s Choice award. The StudioCaddy is a great example of how Kensington crafts professional tier products to inspire and allow the modern workforce to perform at its peak.”

Young Executive of the Year

Winner: Hunter Jordan, Herald Office Solutions

It’s vitally important that, in addition to benefitting from the experience of our OP legends, young talent continues to come through in our sector. NAOPA’s Young Executive of the Year award seeks to recognise those who make an impact from early on in their career.

Being part of a family business, Hunter Jordan (pictured) learned plenty about business supplies before he even started his career properly. As his father Thomas Jordan, introducing this year’s winner, explained, Hunter spent all his middle and high school summers getting up at 5.30am to make deliveries for Herald Office Solutions in South Carolina.

To learn not just ‘at home’ at Herald, but gain a broader view of the sector and particularly the sales function, Hunter also interned with an industry partner in Florida for two summers. After graduating from The Military College of South Carolina in Charleston – commonly known as The Citadel – he joined the furniture team at Herald.

Over the past seven years, aside from honing his skills and doubling sales of his division, he’s also become increasingly connected with the wider business community. Hunter serves on the furniture committee of Independent Suppliers Group (ISG) and is involved both in ISG’s NEXT as well as S.P. Richards’ YES group of young leaders. His already strong leadership skills will only get more impressive as his career progresses.

Professional of the Year

Winner: Ian Wist, General Manager, Wist Business Supplies & Equipment

Professional of the Year is an award that gives credit to an individual at the peak of their career, someone who is doing an outstanding job for their company, but also a person who has the ability to influence the future of our industry.

Ian Wist fits the bill perfectly. Announcing Ian as the winner, ISG CEO Mike Gentile referred to his long history of industry involvement, both at his family dealership Wist Business Supplies & Equipment and the IDC as a whole. Using attributes like “dynamic business leader”, “brilliant strategic planner” and “strong negotiator”, Gentile also referred to Ian’s tremendous work ethic and determination. 

Since taking over the family reins in 1987 following graduation from Arizona State University, the dealership has grown sixfold and become the largest privately owned business products reseller in the southwest of the US.

Ian is not just known for his accomplishments at Wist, but also for being instrumentally involved in a wide variety of other industry entities. Among these, he’s part of the Pinnacle board and purchasing committee, the ISG board of directors and City of Hope fundraising groups.

It is this overarching participation in our sector that Ian attributes receiving this award to. He said: “I’ve had the opportunity to learn from so many industry leaders. My amazing staff, manufacturers, wholesalers, buying groups, fellow independents – they’ve all taught me so much over the years and I’ve made lifelong friendships. And then I get an award for it – what could be better?”

Industry Achievement

Winner: Yancey Jones Sr, Chairman, S.P. Richards

The final award of the NAOPA always goes to someone who has made a truly outstanding contribution to the business supplies industry over the course of their career.

‘Inspirational’ and ‘dedicated’ are words often associated with the winner of Industry Achievement. This year, ‘entrepreneurial’ is another adjective to add. Yancey Jones Sr, Chairman of S.P. Richards, is all of the above and plenty more.

The industry is in a better place because of Yancey Jones Sr

Taking a trip down memory lane, ISG’s Gentile went back to Yancey’s early career, explaining how he started his working life in the family-owned general store, selling office supplies and everything else the people of his town needed. From there, he went on to earn a marketing degree and gained the business experience that would help his career flourish down the road.

Having learned the theoretical ropes, he got on with the practice and purchased Meade and Company following his father’s retirement in 1981. The rest – 40 years – is history.

There is too little space in these pages to detail even a fraction of what happened during these decades, but they include acquiring over 40 companies in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and increasing sales of what is now known as The Supply Room from $3 million in 1988 to $175 million in 2019. Most recently, of course, Yancey – along with Mike Maggio – invested time and money in acquiring S.P. Richards (SPR).

Family has always been vitally important to him, but this extends far beyond blood bonds, as was evident when an emotional Yancey accepted the award to a rousing standing ovation. He warmly referred to SPR as family, to the IDC and, in fact, the entire Industry Week congregation. As Gentile poignantly put it: “The industry is in a better place because of Yancey Jones Sr.”