On 1 June Antalis Plus celebrated its first birthday. And certainly, one year after Antalis bought the logistics and distribution of the Europa network, there is a lot for the distributor to be happy about.
"It’s been a good year," national director of Antalis UK John Barnes told OPI+. "Within days we were operating at higher service levels than Europa – we are very good at getting the goods to the dealer."
Since taking on Europa – or Antalis Plus as it’s now called, the company has recorded its highest levels and order fulfilment on record (no doubt boosted by an investment in a commercial vehicle tracking system last June). It also added 200 lines to the range; lowered optimum order levels by 50 per cent; and developed its website to include more important information online with real time updates.
Antalis took over the logistics of Europa on behalf of dealer groups Integra, Nemo and United Office Products in June 2005 (the fourth dealer group shareholder, Advantia, had previously teamed up with Spicers.). The groups had decided at the time that it was necessary to streamline services in order to continue adding value to dealers in a cost-effective way. And of course having delivery in-house allowed Antalis to dramatically save on costs.
But Barnes admits there have been some challenges along the way, one of them being Challenge Consortium leaving United last June. But this is no longer an issue, he claims, because Antalis has maintained contacts with the group.
Over the next twelve months Barnes is expecting even bigger things from Antalis Plus, which, one day he hopes, will merge with Antalis. "Over the next year we will continue to improve service levels, reduce costs, widen out the manufacturing base and expand the product range," he said.
The expansion of the range will encompass new product categories including hygiene, jan/san and art and crafts. "We strategically need to work with dealers to keep that moving forward and we need to keep adapting our business model," said Barnes. "A lot of dealer profitability comes from new product and market access such as jan/san and art and crafts, because this enables them to differentiate themselves from the power channel.
"We offer dealers brands, keyline items and bulk commodity products at low costs. But we will never offer a massive range," he added. "The bulk of our sales goes through 1,000 SKUs."
But the linchpin of the plan over the next year, he added, is e-trading. "We will also look at moving e-trading on widely and targeting massive levels of ecommerce… it’s a question of taking what we got and making it available to the widest possible audience."
Antalis UK’s transition from mere supplier to several of Europa’s dealer group members to more of a general line wholesaler has been rapid. The company has even got rid of its manufacturing operations in order to concentrate its focus. (In April, for example, it announced plans to sell its Dyce and Dagenham envelope factories to the Mayer-Kuvert network as part of a new strategic relationship whereby Mayer will then supply envelopes to Antalis’ 20 warehouse locations across the UK and Ireland.) But then, Barnes claims that Antalis always "had a desire" to grow in the wholesaling direction and that buying Europa’s distribution was a "good marriage" and a catalyst for the company’s development.
"Antalis UK has always been 90 per cent a bulk wholesaler and buying Europa’s distribution was a natural progression for the company," he said. "We had the logistics and delivery side of the business complete with our own vehicles, which previously Europa had outsourced. But Europa had the IT and electronics and gave Antalis the chance to get the experience immediately in areas such as purchasing and ecommerce without having to grow the company organically in a start-up fashion.
"And of course, Europa was able to give us a lot of volume early on," he added. "Without Europa it would have taken a long time to get to where we are now."