Learn to work together
by Jan Grye Pedersen
John F Kennedy once said: "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
The same question is relevant for office products suppliers. Ask not what your purchasing organisation can do for you; ask what you can do for your purchasing organisation. Times are changing. All independent dealers have two to three years to learn how to cooperate in bigger groups if they want to survive.
Most people can remember when they used to shop in their local baker, grocery store, butcher or any specialist kind of shop. In just one or two decades supermarkets owned by big capital corporations swept across the market and took over.
The same thing has happened in the US in our line of business, with the growth of Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax.
I’m aware that is.group has recently won a big government tender and I congratulate the dealer group for that. But whenever I’ve been to the US I’ve been surprised by the lack of breadth in independent dealers’ basic product lines. In my view, it has been very easy for Staples and the other big boxes to take market share.
However, there is still hope for independent OP dealers. From my point of view, all of us need to rethink and learn some fundamental truths about small dealerships. Here are my five basic pieces of advice:
1. Alone we are too small.
2. Most countries have only space for one big, strong purchasing organisation. Be a loyal member.
3. Accept that good logistics is the key to earning money. The best logistics system should be ready to fulfil all the needs of a modern office. From coffee, water and sugar to Christmas gifts, computers and printers – they should all be supplied. Solve your logistics problem and you are halfway there.
4. Accept that you will have to sell certain products under cost. The supermarkets do it with beer!
5. Commitment, commitment and commitment again. It is the only way to keep manufacturers’ respect in the long term. This is what secures you the right prices.
Am I too optimistic? I see some opportunities. For example, manufacturers are now aware that Avery Dennison has four customers that make up more than 85% of its revenues in the US. Another opportunity is the fact that Walmart has not succeeded in Germany, to the extent that it has actually withdrawn from the country.
In the US, government offices have realised that they didn’t always get the prices they had been promised from the big boxes and have subsequently looked elsewhere. In the Netherlands, Quantore seems to be getting stronger and stronger, and in Denmark we are working on it. As is the case in the Netherlands, office suppliers and bookshops have found a way to cover the total market for office products in Denmark.
BPGI and other big purchasing alliances have to work hard to grow stronger more quickly in order to secure our future business. If this doesn’t happen, the future of independent dealers will be even tougher than anticipated.
OP dealers, I’m sure we can survive but only if we all learn to think with our brains instead of our hearts.