Monthly comment by Stuart Qualtrough

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I hope you all enjoyed happy holidays and have had a successful start to 2008, a year that is bursting with promise, opportunity and potential.

First of all, may I offer my sincere apologies for not flying into Frankfurt to attend this years’s Paperworld event.

Unfortunately, my close attention is required on a large project that means the time cannot be found to jet out of London even for a couple of days. I’m fully aware that this time last year, I rallied against those companies that were withdrawing their support from the exhibition.

It certainly may appear that one should practice what one preaches, but my absence this year is simply unavoidable – apologies again.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to pass on my congratulations to all the short-listed finalists of this year’s European Office Products Awards. I participated in the judging exercise in Zurich earlier this winter and was extremely impressed with all the submissions.

It showed to me an industry in good health, when such a varied and impressive line-up of people, products and services were submitted or nominated for judging. The list of award winners is clear evidence, if any was needed, that there is a very deep pool of talent within the office products industry.

Don’t miss next month’s EOPA review in OPI to read about the highlights and high-flyers of the European market. I’m sure you’ll share my confidence and enthusiasm for the future.

In this Olympic year, the spotlight will be firmly on China, but at the moment all industry eyes are looking at the US and a number of worrying trends that continue to emerge.

In this month’s OPI, we examine the potential of a US industry price war following an aggressive marketing campaign launched last month by Office Depot. Not everyone seems worried about the warning signs over the looming battle for a diminishing number of customers.

As everyone knows, there can be no winner in a price war – not the manufacturer, the retailer (big box or independent) or even the consumer. Targeting prices is often an initiative that is undertaken at the sacrifice of other crucial functions, such as quality service.

Industry stalwart Mike Gentile of is.group remains unshocked by the move and believes his independent dealers will remain largely unaffected. He told me: "Quite frankly, Office Depot has been losing share due to a demoralised salesforce, senior management that has zero experience of the office products industry and a complete disregard for meeting customer expectations."

He added: "Our dealers do not get new business on price, for them it’s all about service."

I would recommend that all independent dealers should remember these sage words in the weeks and months ahead.

Elsewhere in the magazine, we take a close look at the opportunities in the writing instrument sector, the future of teleworking and the potential health risks present in today’s office environment.

Make sure you don’t forget your copy of OPI for the Paperworld exhibition and best of luck tackling the weary legs and foot blisters.