Event Review: EOPA 2019

European Office Products Awards: A sprinkling of magic.

The leading lights of the European business supplies sector came together in early March to celebrate exceptional companies, personalities and all-round achievements. The occasion? The 18th European Office Products Awards (EOPA), held at the spectacular Hotel Okura in Amsterdam, Netherlands, during OPI’s sixth Partnership event.

It was an evening of magic in every sense of the word. Starting with a networking drinks reception, business leaders from across the industry were dazzled by some jaw-dropping card tricks from magician Lee Smith. The entertainment continued during the fabulous presentation dinner where Smith was joined by equally mesmerising host and compère for the evening, Paul Martin.

The business end of the night kicked off with a short and engaging industry toast by Staples Solutions CEO Dolph Westerbos. This was followed by the awarding of ten EOPAs, covering a wide range of achievements by companies and individuals across the channels. These included creating and successfully selling the most innovative product of the year and coming up with an inspiring and results-driven marketing campaign as well as re-energising a dealer group and defying all the odds in a challenging retail environment.

Interestingly this year, none of the winning companies were new to the EOPA, all having been shortlisted or, in several cases, winning in various categories before. It’s a fact which once again proves that continuous innovation, keeping abreast of opportunities and embracing them – in terms of digital or sustainability, for example – and an unwavering eye on the customer pay off. The winners are clearly the crème de la crème of the European business supplies industry, so a very emphatic congratulations to them all!

Product of the Year

Winner: HP Inc

Product of the Year is often the category with the most entries and this year was no exception. But are the nominated products truly innovative? Importantly also, have they resulted in commercial success and benefit both the reseller community and the end consumer? These were the types of questions the EOPA judging panel asked before coming up with a shortlist and then, ultimately, a winner.

HP Inc’s Sprocket Photo Printer ticked all the boxes, particularly in the B2C segment where the product has done much to reinforce HP’s outstanding brand recognition. Meeting the needs of next-generation customers, the Sprocket’s sleek design fits into any handbag or pocket. Users can print instantly from their mobile, and personalise prints with frames, icons, emojis and text. The Sprocket represents best-in-class print quality using ZINK technology. A deserved winner in this category.

Video of the Year

Winner: Brother International Europe / Highly commended: ZenOffice

As video content becomes increasingly vital, companies that produce interesting, creative and informative videos to showcase their products and services while engaging the customer are reaping the rewards. The EOPA judging panel looked at how the diverse entries submitted attract the viewers’ attention, bring the subject to life and convey the intended message. Return on investment is also important, either in terms of sales generated, customer engagement or enhancement of brand awareness.

This was a category that had some big names with big resources in it on the one hand, while also containing entries that produced engaging as well as informative videos on more of a budget. Hotly debated, Brother International Europe pipped everyone else to the post by creating a striking video that captures the essence of a new Brother product and “brings labels to life”. Pan-European in its target outlook, Brother’s video has also enjoyed outstanding exposure across various social media platforms.

Initiative of the Year

Winner: Fellowes Brands / Highly commended: BIC and JGBM

This is a relatively new category that recognises initiatives which, in one way or another, have a positive impact on an organisation. Whether they be charitable or local community activities, new online or e-commerce solutions, pioneering technologies or new revenue opportunities, the EOPA judges were keen to see why initiatives were introduced and how they delivered the desired outcomes.

The shortlist covered pretty much all of the above criteria, but it was Fellowes Brands with its social responsibility activity that captured the judges’ imagination and scooped its first trophy of the evening. The vendor’s winning initiative was the long-standing GIVE Program which is dedicated to building local and global partnerships that address humanitarian needs in a number of key areas. To commemorate its 100th anniversary, Fellowes had set an ambitious GIVE target and challenged its European team to raise €100,000 ($114,000). By March 2018, it had already made €104,290.15, overachieving its target at an early stage.

Wholesaler of the Year

Winner: Exertis Supplies

The shortlist for the Wholesaler of the Year award displayed some well-known names from across the European business supplies industry. Quite different in make-up and outlook, it covered the spectrum from broad, multichannel operator to small, almost niche, player. It was certainly among the most hotly contested categories, exacerbated by the fact that wholesaling in general is facing considerable challenges.

But it was UK-based Exertis Supplies that came up trumps, winning for the second time in three years. The EOPA judges were impressed with this operator because it does what it sets out to do extremely well. Simplistic and highly effective in its approach, the focus is on low cost and service. Not value-added sales or marketing services, but range, availability and speed of delivery. Exertis Supplies was also commended for its excellent vendor and dealer partnerships.

Marketing Campaign of the Year

Winner: Fellowes Brands / Highly commended: Avery and Durable

This category is open to any organisation that can clearly show the success of a specific marketing campaign. Judges evaluated the objectives of the campaign, an understanding of the target audience, specific marketing methods and their creativity, and return on investment.

The entries received were many and varied, with the resulting shortlist covering everything from low-key, in-house marketing on a budget to resource-heavy broad campaigns. Deciding on the winner was a difficult task, with the judges looking for a demonstration of visible success.

After very long discussions, the winner was one that did exactly that – it was Fellowes Brands with its Sensible Steps for GDPR campaign which aimed to educate OP resellers and business consumers about the new European GDPR legislation.

Aside from increased awareness, its integrated campaign resulted in a considerable uptick in the shredder category overall, with Fellowes specifically benefitting with market share gains and sales increases. Well done to Fellowes for winning its second EOPA of the night.

Vendor of the Year

Winner: ACCO Brands EMEA

Vendor of the Year is always a hugely popular category that encourages entries from companies big and small across a broad product spectrum. With initial nominations whittled down, the judges quickly zoomed in on the shortlist of four to find an operator that has really set itself apart from the competition in some way.

Discussions soon turned to ACCO Brands EMEA for its all-round excellence in the face of considerable upheaval. Over the past 20 months or so, the company faced the task of integrating two businesses in Europe  – Esselte and ACCO Brands. And it’s done so with great aplomb, resulting in the judges unanimously deciding that the Vendor of the Year award should go to this manufacturer for outstanding efforts and initiative. Highly regarded across a vast product portfolio, ACCO Brands EMEA has done a remarkable job combining the two entities while at the same time instilling a positive, new culture among the workforce and with its channel partners.

Reseller of the Year

Winner: Bureau Vallée

The shortlist in this category was short and to the point. In addition to quite simply highlighting the best and most successful resellers in the European OP space, it also reflects just how challenging the industry is right now for many operators. And while the two runners-up – Germany’s Böttcher and Amazon – have done exceedingly well, it was France-based Bureau Vallée that received the highest accolades.

As the EOPA judges commented: “Office supplies retailing is a tough business in which to succeed and very few players have made it work in Europe. Bureau Vallée is a real stand-out performer. Despite its size – almost €500 million ($565 million) in sales and with double-digit growth every year – the company has always retained its start-up spirit and is the envy of its on- and offline competitors.”

From opening its first outlet in Paris in 1990 to currently running about 350 stores in Europe and Africa, Bureau Vallée has defied all the challenges that exist in the retail sector. This is partly due to the fact the online revolution hasn’t had such a ferocious impact on its French home market or indeed its other locations just yet, but also because the reseller has retained its incredible brand success as a result of consistently good service, product availability and an excellent staff work ethic.

Young Executive of the Year

Winner: Scott Castle

The Young Executive of the Year category was the first of three ‘people’ awards announced during the EOPA night. It seeks to reward young and dynamic individuals who are making a real difference to their organisation already and have the potential to really shape the future of our industry.

Scott Castle, Marketing Manager at VOW, had no trouble convincing the EOPA judges that he was the right candidate to receive this accolade. Having been at VOW for over five years, Castle has shown creative initiative, endless enthusiasm and a thirst for sourcing new opportunities. He has already shown some leadership skills when he developed a fully-integrated marketing plan for the wholesaler. He has also displayed wider-ranging industry commitment through his role on the BOSS Leaders of the Future Committee.

Professional of the Year

Winner: Julie Hawley

The second individual award, the coveted Professional of the Year, went to someone who has spent many years in the business supplies industry, but who, over the past couple of years, has really excelled at reinvigorating one of the UK’s dealer groups.

Introduced during the EOPA evening by long-time friend Steve Haworth, CEO of the EVO Group of Companies, it was Office Friendly’s Julie Hawley who was the deserving winner of the award. Hawley has done a fantastic job at putting her mark on Office Friendly since her permanent appointment as Managing Director at the end of 2016. Since that time, she has been involved in a whole host of different and new strategic initiatives, both on a national and also international basis, all of which have driven the group forward and had a positive impact.

Hawley is highly regarded for her expertise as well as integrity and foresight in a market – and channel – that is facing huge challenges.

Industry Achievement

Winner: Bruno Peyroles

The final award of the EOPA evening was dedicated to an individual who has had a significant impact on our industry. The prestigious Industry Achievement trophy is given to someone with outstanding leadership qualities, often running a company very successfully for many years with great integrity and with much more than just the bottom line in mind.

This year’s winner, Bruno Peyroles of French retail operator Bureau Vallée, is all of that and much more. Peyroles has been instrumental in securing the continuing success of his company through sheer hard work, perseverance and unwavering entrepreneurial spirit. Evidence of that success was already seen earlier in the evening when Bureau Vallée secured the Reseller of the Year award.

Presenting the trophy to Peyroles was Charles Nusse, Managing Director of Exacompta. Nusse referred to Peyroles as a “bold and courageous person”, someone who has made a profound difference to the industry, putting people at the heart of his company, making sustainability a key component of his business policy, and aspiring to total customer satisfaction at all times.

Charting Peyroles’ career, Nusse referred to his friend and business partner as having first witnessed the OP superstore concept in the US in the 1980s when it was launched. He took on board what he saw and created the first 900 sq m (9,000 sq ft) store in 1990 in Maurepas, west of Paris, with the following concept: an office supplies store, self-service driven and located on the outskirts of town, with an amazing discount positioning. Branded discount stationery was born in France.

The rest, as they say, is history. In 1995, Peyroles opened a second store, then a third in 1997. His introduction of the franchising concept in 1998 then enabled the brand to develop very quickly, resulting in nearly 350 stores today in countries reaching from France, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Malta in Europe to burgeoning outposts in Cameroon and Tunisia.

Humble, loyal, resolute, committed and demanding are all words associated with this great leader. Another one is progress: Peyroles never rests on his laurels and continuously, with the help of his team, comes up with new ideas to make sure the company will still stand strong in many years to come – despite the predicted demise of traditional OP retailing.