For an industry blessed or cursed (depending on your point of view) with a fine choice of exhibitions, the wholesaler expos remain the most energetic. The choice of vendors and manufacturers on show – many of which have stopped presenting at other events – certainly help to give ABC and United Stationers’ Vision an edge.
ABC is one of the few shows remaining where everywhere you look, you can find some of the industry’s biggest brands mixing with some others that hope one day to challenge the household names.
With conditions in the market still tough, you may have expected the number of exhibitors to have fallen – yet this year’s Office Products Expo was the largest ever at ABC.
Larger exhibitions such as Paperworld have seen declines in numbers, so it was refreshing to see one so eagerly supported. According to one dealer waiting for the shuttle bus between the event hotels and the convention centre, perhaps manufacturers are beginning to realise that they can’t afford to miss out on opportunities to meet dealers anymore. "We come here to see their products, but they need us guys as well."
There was plenty of product on show for visitors that they could get up close to and use, or – in the case of Horizon USA’s cool-as-it-gets 3D projector – sit back and watch.
While that grabbed the attention, it was breakroom and Jan/San exhibitors that dominated the floor, providing a not-so-subtle hint at the current direction of the industry.
This year’s Expo was the first to include a special showcase for the product finalists from the North American Office Products Awards held the night before. There were over 250 entries and you can imagine that with prime expo real estate up for grabs, it will be an even more competitive fight between vendors in 2011. With end-users crying out for innovation, that can only be a good thing.
Many dealers told OPI that they see the Expo as not just a way to see new product but also a vital way to maintain contact and touch base with their vendor partners.
David Seesemann, whose company USA West represents Pilot, ACCO and Acme among many others in several western US states, said that dealers, wholesalers and vendors are indelibly linked. He summed it up by paraphrasing an OP industry proverb. "To make dealers successful there has to be a balance [between the three]."
Seesemann, Principal at USA West, told OPI that the objective of the Expo is less about selling and more about networking. "We reach out before this event and come to meet and greet dealers directly here," he explained.
Tom Bovee, a visitor to the Expo, told OPI that he used to run his own office supplies company before it was eventually bought out and he has since moved on to consultancy. At one stage he considered moving to another industry, but there was one thing which convinced him that would be the wrong thing to do.
"I like this industry and the people you deal with. We’ve seen the number of independent dealers decrease – you could check this, but I think there’s only one independent store left in Miami."
With the NOPA show now gone, Bovee explained that expos like ABC have become even more important
Darren Barr of Liberty Office Products is one of the company’s main sales reps in Houston selling office products, technology products, printing supplies and, as he says, "you know, the whole nine". Apart from last year when he and his wife welcomed their new child into the world he has been to every ABC show.
He said: "We’ve done everything so far and I think this is the best one [ABC] yet, especially the seminars. In the past it’s been a lot more about SPR’s products but this one has been really useful."
New York dealer SCS agreed. "I’ve been a dealer for 33 years, so I know all the vendors, but this is the first time I’ve been to ABC – and it’s great. Other shows are only one day long, but here you’ve got more time. Also, we’ve really enjoyed the venue."
From further afield, Bill and Laura Gray, originally from Renfrew in Scotland, operate online reseller The Office Dealer from Alachua (Florida) while still serving the UK market as well. The company has been doing $1 million of business through SP Richards in the last three months and Bill Gray ranks it as one of the fastest growing online retailers in the US. It has also taken on the Business Source range of products.
As Bill joked: "I tried to buy the domain name but it was already gone! We’re here for product knowledge. Compared to similar shows in the UK, this event is just immense and brilliantly organised."
Also from the UK and mixing in with the crowds were representatives from European wholesaler Spicers. It will be interesting to see if Spicers can apply anything from this show to its own dealer event that is due to take place in December.