When I was invited to dip a toe, or perhaps in this instance a whole foot, back into the OP industry as Acting Editor for this issue of OPI magazine my first thought was how much the industry would have changed. Over the years I have kept an eye on things with the odd article or supplement so I wasn’t totally entering the fray again with virgin eyes, but there’s no substitute for being back at the helm of the industry’s premier publication to see just how things have progressed.
The first thing that hit me was how many of the same senior executives are still in place. Steve is still putting out fires at Office Depot, Sam (at least until a few weeks ago) was still resolutely in charge of the resolutely third placed big box operator OfficeMax and Ron was, of course, still heading up the OP juggernaut that is Staples. In terms of independent dealers, the key figures were still Charlie and Mike (more on him later) with Wayne and Dick steering the wholesale ship. For the industry as a whole, I was expecting to be reminded of either the old adage of "the more things change the more things stay the same" or those famous words of Bob Dylan "the times they are a changing".
In the first instance it has to be recognised that while I’ve been away these last five or six years there has been the small matter of an economic disaster that brought the world’s financial infrastructure to its knees (you would have noticed it), although the industry appears to have made a decent job overall of navigating those choppiest of choppy waters or at least a better job than many. However, the overriding aspect that has struck me is the shift in positivity around the industry towards the dealer community.
When I was formerly in charge at OPI, there was real debate about the future of independent dealers. Any chance of them giving the big boys a graze let alone a bloody nose was essentially fantasy. Now, the effect of the opening of state contracts for office supplies has seen a genuine win for the dealers versus the power channel and it’s easy to class 2010 as the year of the independent dealer without being accused of hyperbolic exuberance.
In particular it’s fascinating for me to see Mike Gentile’s progression as head of is.group. The last time I was patrolling his time at the top of the dealer group there was much consternation over the launch of the group’s RDC model and whether it was worth the cost to members and whether they should be getting into that territory in the first place. Indeed this month’s Big Interview sees the is.group chief briefly reflect on that time, highlighting how things have come to fruition and savouring a year that has seen him pick up members from rival dealer group TriMega while scoring a career high with his role in securing the US Communities contract.
My favourite part of the interview is when Mike is asked why he changed his mind from his earlier view of organisations such as US Communities being "a scam". His answer? "I got the business." The times are indeed a changing.
Bruce Ackland, Acting Editor