For the past couple of years in our annual Top 100 introduction, we’ve been suggesting that it’s a ‘pivotal’ time for the business products industry – well before the word ‘pivot’ began to be used extensively as a COVID term. In 2019, this was mainly due to structural changes in the US while, in 2020, it seemed that coronavirus would have a profound impact across all channels.
It would certainly not be out of place to use the adjective again as we move into the final quarter of 2021. Second, third and even fourth waves of COVID-19 have meant a delay in many parts of the world to what was being touted as the ‘new normal’ in the workplace.
While some markets have seen a recovery in 2021, other regions have been hit by further lockdowns. And at the time of writing, there were still grave concerns about the consequences of the Delta variant which is casting further doubt on the timing of office re-openings.
All this is adding fuel to the fires that are the shift to e-commerce and the acceleration of digitisation. Speak to any well-known vendor and they will probably tell you Amazon is their fastest-growing customer account. Therefore, COVID must be behind the large number of new entries, right?
Changed landscape in Europe
Well, not entirely. While the pandemic is creating unique challenges for the business products industry, the leading resellers around the world are proving to be a pretty resilient bunch – down, but most definitely not out. What has had a big impact over the past 18 months are the divestment strategies of the now-former private equity owners of Office Depot and Staples Solutions in Europe.
The sell-offs of the two iconic brands have been completed and these pan-European entities are no longer part of the Top 100. In their place, we have some new ‘local champions’ emerge, such as Firmo (Portugal), OT Group (UK), Office Centre (Netherlands) and Office Depot Nordics.
All of these have acquired former big box assets and contribute to the changing reseller landscape in Europe (for more on the international rise and fall of the big boxes, read Over and out).
On the other side of the Atlantic, huge changes could be just around the corner. Surely, it’s just a matter of time before Staples and Depot’s retail operations combine which, in turn, raises questions about the future of their B2B divisions.
We shall see, but we are still missing a name against Staples Inc following the departure of Sandy Douglas earlier this year.
Bring in the new guard
It’s good to see some younger faces making their first appearance on the list as family-owned companies successfully complete their transitions to the next generation of leadership. A shout-out here goes to Plate in Germany as Ingo Schmidt takes the helm and to Australia’s COS, where Belinda and Amie Lyone are now co-CEOs.
Take a look at the Directory section of opi.net, where you can read the updated profiles of all our 2021 Top 100 candidates. On the topic of remarkable individuals in our sector, also read our Spotlight: Leaders of the future in this special celebratory issue where we focus on the younger generation – the potential new guard. Who are the Top 30 under 30?