Avery’s head of office products, Tim Bond, tells opi.net that the brand is going to be a lot more aggressive in product innovation and in getting its messages across to consumers.
When a competitor like 3M decides to enter your product category, you know you are in for a battle. However, Tim Bond, Avery’s Group VP, Office Products, says that the wheels had been put in motion to revamp its office products business before Post-it’s recent entry into the labels market.
"We actually took a really hard look at our business situation about a year and a half ago and reached the conclusion that a much more purposeful approach and a deeper commitment to innovation was really going to be the key to us changing the trajectory of the business," he told opi.net from New York, where he had been attending Avery’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
"We did actually reach that conclusion before any new competitors in the label category came around. But now that we do have meaningful new competitors taking a look at the category, it just reinforces the importance of our innovation strategy from my perspective."
Avery is no stranger to having to face up to a strong, new competitor – HP moved into the printed media space as well about five years ago – and has been investing heavily in the last six months as it deploys a "spend and defend" strategy in the category.
The stakes are high for Avery’s office products division – printed media accounts for around two-thirds of its annual sales of some $850 million.
Bond says that the division has been hard at work for about the last six months working through the details for a much more aggressive approach to innovation as Avery looks to expand its product range and consumer appeal.
"Our issue is we’ve got a really strong current position in the marketplace, both with our customers and with consumers, and strong market shares, but those are strong market shares in some fairly mature product categories," he states.
"We have a great opportunity to really change the growth trajectory of the business through a lot more focused and strategic work in the area of innovation. Especially, I think, we have an opportunity to really begin to bring some new solutions to existing consumers as well as some new products to new consumers we may not be selling much to today."
One of these opportunities, argues Bond, is to look at non-printable media products.
"In recent years, a lot of our time, attention and resources have gone to the printable media portion of our portfolio – things that go through a printer – and we have great share positions there. We’ve taken that requirement off more recently. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to innovate in important businesses like labels [Avery has just been awarded a patent for its Easy Peel label sheet construction – Ed], but we are trying to expand our growth opportunities by looking at things that don’t necessarily have to go through a printer, like with the label pads and note tabs that we introduced last year."
Bond says that they came up with the ideas for the new products after focusing on the consumer and listening to consumers in different environments.
"We looked at what other things we could be doing to help them label, identify, organise etc., and it’s by really listening to consumers that we came across these two opportunities called Label Pads and Note Tabs."
Another opportunity for Avery, says Bond, is to expand the company’s reach into consumers’ home environments.
"A broad definition of where we do most of our business today could be described as professional organisation and identification. Then, as we think about opportunities for expansion, another broad heading we would use is personal organisation and identification. So there are lots of applications that we can participate in, whether that be a home office or just helping to organise different rooms around the house, or garage storage – those kinds of things. We’re pursuing a lot of new opportunities in this area."
Other markets that Avery is looking to develop are the whole vertical of education – where Bond feels there are big opportunities to deepen the relationship with parents and kids, and also to do a lot more to meet the needs of teachers – and products for mobile professionals.
"We’re really observing and getting deeply into the ecosystem of these target areas," says Bond.
"That’s how we think we can best learn about needs that are unmet today. Sometimes those needs are stated, quite often they’re not stated – you have to kind of understand them through observation. So we’re devoting a lot of time and effort to that right now so that we ensure that what we develop going forward is really born out of a clear consumer need."
Backing up this strategy of investment in innovation is a desire, says Bond, to be "more aggressive" in terms of demand creation.
"We’re going to be much more active and physical in the marketplace," he states, "because it’s not going to do us a lot of good to create great new solutions if no-one knows about them. So we’re really committed to bringing the full package."
In the US, Avery is in its fourth week of radio advertising and TV ads will come out in the summer.
Last year the company was the first in the OP space to sign up to the Box Tops For Education programme in the US, a well-established fundraising initiative for schools that has already seen Avery contribute $250,000. And Avery has just announced a new online community on Facebook called ‘The Organization of Moms’, which will feature time-saving tips for mothers.
"I’ve been with Avery nine years now and we haven’t done any broad-based marketing like this during that time," notes Bond.
With a positioning as a provider of personal organisation and identification, could Avery be looking at making acquisitions (Mead or Smead, for example) to strengthen its position?
It’s not something that Bond rules out.
"Acquisitions are definitely a possibility going forward," he admits. "It’s not a specific plan today, but clearly a possibility."