EB: Robert Horne sees dealer potential



UKpaper merchantRobert Horne recently announced the establishment of a new division specifically for theUKoffice reseller market.


opi.netspoke to Divisional Director Paul Farrell to find out more.


Robert Horne’s office reseller division comes as part of a broader initiative by parent company PaperlinX to find new revenue streams in the context of the declining core paper market. The company already provides solutions for the commercial print sector and has a growing signage business. Now Robert Horne is aiming for growth amongst its office reseller customers with its new office reseller division, currently a UK-only initiative, but which could be widened out to other markets if successful.


Divisional Director Paul Farrell has been with Robert Horne for just over a year, moving over from sister company Howard Smith Paper following a rethink of the group’s office papers operations which have been consolidated under the Robert Horne banner.


Farrell says that the decision to set up the office reseller seller division has been driven by changing consumer trends as traditional paper-based communications decline. That, coupled with currency issues which have hit manufacturers supplying into the UK, doesn’t make the UK market an attractive proposition at the moment from a manufacturer’s point of view, he argues.


However, even as market conditions improve, paper consumption is not forecast to return to previous levels, meaning Robert Horne can either trade down with the market, or look for new solutions. Obviously, it is the second option the company has chosen.


"I think we’ve ultimately spent far too long looking at just cut sheet office paper and this has been at the expense at widening out our offer," suggests Farrell.


"A typical end-user consumes a lot more than just office paper and even a lot more than just office products. So our reseller customers are looking for their supplier base to come up with more goods and more services that add value; they look to us to give them the tools that help them go out and sell more and ultimately maximise margins."


The Robert Horne offering will therefore be based on a wider product assortment, but also on services for resellers.


In terms of product, a new envelope range has just been launched, which Farrell describes as a "quick win".


"Quickly bolting envelopes onto what we do has already made us a lot more relevant because, together with paper, it’s one of the main product categories that the dealer has."


350 packaging SKUs have also been recently added into the product range, tapping into the three regional packaging distributors acquired in 2009.


Farrell says that Robert Horne is also looking at the other main categories within the dealer channel. "We’re talking to many manufacturers and looking at a number of partnerships as well with suppliers that may even just result in us having distribution arrangements," he adds.


"Our strength lies in global procurement. we can hook quite easily into Far East manufacturers as easily as we can hook into European, UK manufacturers or any other global manufacturers from that point of view, so that’s a real strength for us."


Farrell said that this will predominantly involve branded products for the office dealer channel and revealed the company was close to finalising arrangements to bring in one or two major branded products.


From a marketing perspective, Farrell argues that this will be something that differentiates Robert Horne from its competitors.


"What we try and do is take the time to understand the reseller’s business, and ultimately what tools they need to help promote themselves. If you were trying to encapsulate that, ultimately what we’re selling is the ability to make money out of a product category. So in other words we’re not just about offering a basket of products at a price; we’re about helping resellers to actually sell products and maximise their margins. So we have a more intimate approach and one that’s more valuable for the dealer as well."


Farrell says that marketing activity is organised on a bespoke basis focusing on individual resellers rather than as generic campaigns which "don’t suit everybody".


This could include things like loyalty schemes for dealers’ customers or even staff. One recent successful campaign saw a member of a dealer’s sales force win a weekend trip to Barcelona.


One thing that Farrell is keen to stress is that Robert Horne is not seeking to replicate a more traditional stationery model.


"We’re still geared up as a company for selling bulk," he points out. "It’s about moving pallets and shifting boxes, and the model is ideally geared to delivering into a reseller’s warehouse. Office products is not something we are moving into. What we do want to do is complement what we do already with our core paper segment and add value. We can source globally so we can hook into the main product categories with the fast moving lines."


He also argues that the model is complementary to that of the traditional wholesalers.


"We’re not just talking about basket products at a price; what we’re talking about is helping the dealers to maximise the margins out of a particular category. So it’s bespoke marketing, it’s promotional support, it’s an understanding of their business and how the reseller can maximise margins.


"But equally, we’re not trying to cut out the wholesaler. In fact, I think there is still very much value for us working with the wholesaler. As I said, we’re box shifters, moving products and pallets in bulk, which the wholesaler isn’t. So there is still a good fit for us here. We’ll always look to shift pallets, but still work with the wholesaler as almost tripartite to the agreement, to pick up on the smaller stockless dealers or those dealers who need smaller drops, and we’ll try and close the loop that way."