Long-awaited and highly anticipated, a sizeable contingent of the European business supplies industry gathered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in late March. It all kicked off with the eighth OPI Partnership on 21 March, just over two years after the previous Partnership event was held shortly before the long and painful pandemic period began.
And judging by attendees’ feedback, it was certainly time to get together again. The two days of strategic one-to-one meetings which brought together the leading vendors, resellers and distributors in our sector from across Europe seemed to be over in a blink as there was so much to discuss. Indeed, for many delegates – and definitely for OPI as the organiser – it was the first large-scale, face-to-face event since before COVID-19 hit.
If spirits weren’t already high enough at the prospect of finally spending ‘real’ time together again, be it for serious business discussions or more light-hearted networking chatter, the European Office Products Awards (EOPA) celebration dinner that followed the first full day of Partnership made them soar even further.
However, there was also a great sense of solemnity in the EOPA dinner ballroom as PBS Holding’s Dr Richard Scharmann proposed an industry toast. He highlighted not only the great joy of finally seeing light at the end of the long COVID tunnel, but also very poignantly and sensitively referred to the tragic events in Ukraine that are casting such a menacing shadow over so many lives right now and causing so much hardship.
As the ten awards of this year’s EOPA were announced and handed out, there were many occasions of tears and laughter, of slight bewilderment and hilarity, and – right at the end – of rapturous applause and standing ovations.
A night to remember
It was definitely a night to remember, said OPI CEO Steve Hilleard, who is also the Chairman of the EOPA judging panel: “Leaders from the European business supplies sector came together for the 21st time to reward the very best of what our industry has to offer. With our milestone 20th EOPA last year having been a downsized, virtual event, I was even more pleased to be back at the Okura in Amsterdam to celebrate innovative products, inspiring campaigns and initiatives, and outstanding companies and individuals.
“The EOPA are always a great reflection of what’s going in our sector. Whether it’s rising to end customers’ new product expectations – air treatment solutions and a renewed focus on sustainability spring to mind – or their evolving purchasing patterns that influence routes to market, the EOPA judging panel was impressed both with the versatility as well as the resilience of all channel operators. So was I, and I’m immensely proud to be a part of this industry and its community.”
Business Product of the Year
WINNER: AIR2COLOR PRO by RENZ
Business Product of the Year was the first award of the EOPA night and it was the category that had attracted the most entries pre-judging. The winning product is from a segment which has gained enormous importance over the past two years – clean air. The judges were looking for evidence of functionality, quality and, above all, commercial success. All these criteria were more than met and the award went to Germany’s RENZ and its AIR2COLOR PRO air quality meter.
The AIR2COLOR PRO constantly evaluates four important indicators of air quality and clearly shows when a room has to be ventilated. The judges felt this was a product that really stood out, offering excellent value to the consumer in a number of work and education settings.
Highly commended: Exacompta and Pilot Corporation of Europe
Wholesaler of the Year
WINNER: Soennecken LogServe
The next award recognised a dynamic wholesaler which is expertly responding to meet the needs of an ever-changing market. And it’s certainly been a tough environment for many operators in this channel, with several heavily investing in their businesses over the course of the pandemic.
The winner – Germany’s Soennecken LogServe – was commended for addressing the challenges of the past two years head on. The judges were impressed with how the organisation’s wholesale operation has continuously invested and delivered considerable improvements to its logistics services in very difficult times. LogServe grew almost 10% over the past year, finishing ahead of expectations.
Highly commended: JGBM
Marketing Campaign of the Year
WINNER: Sustainable Development by BIC
Marketing Campaign of the Year is always a category which attracts plenty of entries and this year was no exception. Clearly showing the objectives of the campaign, understanding the target audience, and outlining the various marketing activities and methods used, are all part of the criteria that need to be met; as is, of course, demonstrating ROI.
France-based BIC stood out among a list of strong candidates. But the judges felt that the vendor’s Sustainable Development campaign was the undisputed winner. They referred to it as highly integrated, well composed and executed through all communication channels, and very engaging. It sent a strong and clear message to its intended audience and delivered impressive results for the vendor.
Young Executive of the Year
WINNER: Falko Köhler
We need more young talent in our industry to ensure its survival and continued success, there’s no doubt. As one entry nominator in this very popular category said: “We need to push a dusty industry into the digital era. Not just by taking the easy route of e-commerce, but by working together as a team, developing new objectives and ambitions, aligning people and finally pushing for execution.”
The winner of the first of three ‘people’ awards embodies all of the above. Falko Köhler won the Young Executive of the Year accolade amid tough competition. In his role as Customer Experience Director, he impressed the EOPA judges with his enthusiastic can-do attitude and highly participative approach, developing and implementing a holistic digital transformation concept at Lyreco Germany. Judging by his credentials so far, the sky is the limit for this budding future leader.
Initiative of the Year
WINNER: Supercharge Partner Programme by JGBM
The next award – Initiative of the Year – attracted a diverse array of entries, illustrating that innovative thinking is alive and well in our sector. The winning entry – JGBM’s Supercharge Partner Programme – was not so much about reinventing the wheel, but more about doing something incredibly well.
According to the EOPA judges, with this straightforward, algorithm-based initiative, the wholesaler has created an efficient formula to help office products dealers genuinely fight back against online competition by using Intelligent Street Pricing. At a time when speed to market has become so important, the Supercharge programme has given dealers a real competitive boost. It’s also a win-win for manufacturers, as they now have an alternative to putting all their eggs in the online basket.
WINNER: Pilot Corporation of Europe
Since the worst of the COVID crisis has eased, sustainability has moved to the top of the agenda again. But real sustainability excellence remains a tough ask and not many operators in our industry have got to this level just yet.
The award went to a manufacturer with a truly 360-degree approach to this hugely important topic, constantly delivering on its comprehensive strategy that includes the full spectrum of sustainability issues – it was Pilot Corporation of Europe.
Pilot’s commitment in this area started back in 2006 with the launch of BEGREEN – the world’s first range of pens made from more than 70% recycled plastic. The EOPA judges were impressed with how, since then, Pilot has constantly strived to do better. The vendor has gone well beyond mere best practice, in the process reducing the ecological impact of its production while preserving high standards of quality and innovation.
Highly commended: Essity
Professional of the Year
WINNER: Pieter Wolters
The second ‘people’ award of the EOPA night went to an individual with bags of leadership abilities, unfailing professionalism and plenty of direct contributions to the success of the businesses he has worked for over the course of his career so far.
The winner of this category, introduced by former Industry Achievement recipient Jonathan Smith, was welcomed onto the EOPA stage amid a long list of accolades from both the EOPA judges and his peers. Incredibly knowledgeable, highly transparent, very team-spirited and fair, and always displaying the greatest integrity are just some of the words used to describe Pieter Wolters, currently Senior Director and Head of Merchandising & Procurement at Staples Benelux.
Tough negotiator and first-class business brain were two other phrases that described this hugely popular Dutch OP personality who has been active in our sector across a range of channels and companies for many years. Over the past four of these, he’s been instrumental in future-proofing what is now Staples Benelux – in an extremely challenging environment.
Reseller of the Year
Sales performance, fill rates and delivery reliability; new service offerings and product categories; relationships with trade partners; and digital capabilities – being good at all of the above is no mean feat, especially over the course of a global pandemic.
But the winner of the Reseller of the Year award – France-based Bruneau – has truly stepped up to the challenge. And succeeded. The EOPA judges were impressed by how this operator rapidly adapted its platform and product portfolio effectively, working closely with its vendor partners. Bruneau’s recent success builds on several years of change as the company has transformed from a France-focused catalogue reseller into a leading European B2B e-commerce player.
Vendor of the Year
The penultimate EOPA rewarded a vendor that paid attention to and succeeded in a range of areas: sales performance and market share gains; innovative, high-quality products and service-driven solutions; diversification; supply chain performance; content focus; and brand strength.
Arguably at no time in recent history have resellers needed as much support and agility as during the COVID-19 pandemic. France-based Exacompta provided it in abundance, winning the Vendor of the Year award for its impressive efforts in terms of adapting to the many and varied challenges. Excellent partnerships, good collaboration and strong communication were just some of the terms the judges associated with this worthy winner, combined with continuous investment and product innovation.
Highly commended: Fellowes Brands
WINNER: Geoffrey Betts
The final award of the EOPA night went to a very well-known personality in our sector. Introduced by another great leader who, until recently, operated more on the fringes of our space, RAJA’s Alain Josse announced Geoffrey Betts as the 2022 Industry Achievement winner for his incredible contribution to the UK business supplies sector and his reach into the wider international OP community.
Betts has not only created and expanded his own manufacturing company Stewart Superior from scratch – surviving several recessions, political upheaval and most recently a global pandemic – but also hugely benefitted our space as a whole through his ongoing involvement in trade associations and industry events.
Sheer determination and an acute awareness of changing customer buying patterns and needs, coupled with unparalleled infectious enthusiasm, make Betts one of the most popular personalities in our industry. His heartfelt and emotional speech upon receiving the award and the rousing standing ovation that followed showed the high esteem he’s held in and how richly deserved this accolade is. His life philosophy likely has much to do with this appreciation: “Treat everyone you meet with respect, enjoy yourself and work hard.”
On a side note, Betts is of course also known for his musical contribution to industry events – many of them organised by OPI – where he has so often entertained the crowds with renditions of famous songs played on the piano or his guitar. It has been our gain and the music industry’s loss – where, at EMI, Betts started his professional career 50 years ago exactly.
Listen to an OPI Talk podcast with Betts that was recorded shortly after he won his award