EOSA (European Office Supplies Alliance) CEO Peter Basci is confident that the alliance can find a new member in France following the announcement at the end of September that €230 million ($318 million) reseller Fiducial is to leave at the end of the year.
Speaking to opi.net on his return from the BPGI annual conference in New York, Basci said that he already had more than one interested party and a number of options were open to him in the search for a replacement for Fiducial.
Saying that, Basci still left the door open to the Lyon-based supplier for an eventual return to the EOSA fold.
"Fiducial was the best possible partner for us in France," he stated. "Of course we would welcome them back."
In the meantime, potential candidates include fellow BPGI members Buro+ (formerly Sacfom) and Majuscule, with whom Basci is bound to have developed ties over the last couple of years.
The departure of Fiducial is the fourth loss for EOSA in a little over a year, following those of then largest member o2o in 2009 and eastern European members Biuro Plus of Poland and the Czech Republic’s Partner4Office.
Between them, these four suppliers represent getting on for €500 million in end-user sales, and their loss is definitely a body blow for EOSA.
However, while economic and currency issues were at the heart of the o2o, Biuro Plus and Partner4Office decisions, Fiducial’s announcement could be seen as a low blow that Basci didn’t see coming.
EOSA’s press release announcing Fiducial’s decision is frosty, to say the least.
EOSA announces Fiducial’s termination of its membership by the end of the year; this said even though Fiducial gained an international perspective and could share best practices with other fellow European office suppliers within EOSA.
"We regret this decision first and foremost because Fiducial could profit from our EOSA benefits, amongst other things of the purchasing gains via our joined private label activities and our membership of BPGI," says Peter Basci.
Nevertheless, Basci maintains that he is not bitter about the decision.
"Business is business and bitterness is perhaps not a business-compatible feeling. Of course, we are really sad that they left and we don’t really understand their decision. But they have taken that decision and we have to live with it."
opi.net understands that Fiducial – as one of the largest members of EOSA – may have been frustrated by the heterogeneous nature of the alliance and the varying interests of its members. It may have also had issues with the positioning of EOSA’s private label a-Series range in relation to its own established Progress brand.
If so, these would certainly be reasons that Basci would not see as justifying Fiducial’s decision to depart.
He certainly admits that, historically, decision-making within the existing EOSA framework has been a slow and often laborious process, requiring the signatures of all the members. However, this is now changing with the preparations for the alliance’s new cooperative status in the final stages of completion in readiness for the new year. Indeed, Basci says that executive decision-making processes have already changed to reflect the new structure and the executive team is now free to take decisions on behalf of the membership.
Regarding the disparate size of the membership – Spain’s Unipapel now has over €800 million in sales following its acquisition of Adimpo, while new Dutch member Hedera has around €12 million – Basci argues that this has not been an issue in the past, citing o2o and current members Plate (Germany) and Errebian (Italy).
The private label issue is also a bit of a red-herring, as far as Basci is concerned.
"I personally feel that dealers tend to overestimate the value of a private label brand," he states.
"Private label is not important for a customer. What the customer wants is a good product with an assurance that price and quality meet its needs."
Basci points to his own iba business in Switzerland where there is an ongoing transition from iba-branded products to EOSA’s a-Series.
"We have found out that whenever we change from our iba-branded private label to a-Series we haven’t encountered the slightest problem," he notes.
"With iba, for example, there is brand value in our name. But if you are a customer of iba and you think we are doing a good job, that’s where the real trust is – not in terms of a name on a product, but in terms of a service brand. Customers have confidence in us to provide them with the right products whether it’s called a-Series or something else. I think that it is an illusion of the dealers to vaunt their own brands."
In terms of product sourcing, Basci says that larger members can benefit just as well as the smaller ones. If one member has substantial volume in a product category with its own private label, deals have been negotiated with suppliers to provide the same terms overall, with products packaged either as a-Series or in the member’s private range.
"The important thing for me is that we can bundle the quantities – that’s where the savings lie," states Basci.
Basci says that developing the a-Series has been a major focus for EOSA over the last 12 months and that volumes and sales have increased "substantially".
Next on the agenda, apart from finding a replacement for Fiducial, is the UK membership issue, which has not been resolved as quickly as Basci had hoped for. Lines of communication with two potential members have been open for some time, but the situation would appear to have stagnated, "for reasons which I do not fully understand", admits Basci.
Basci has also been occupied over the last few months, let’s not forget, with the succession planning of his iba business. With the deal with Migros now done and dusted, he looks set to be able to devote more of his energy to EOSA.
The Fiducial blow may have taken Basci by surprise, but EOSA is certainly not down and out.