Sector Analysis

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Any colour you like – as long as it’s green

by Alison Bowie
It is not unfair to say that sales of filing and desk accessories have stagnated in recent years, but the demand for environmental products is now spurring sales. The future’s bright: The future’s green.
Virtually everything we do today has some kind of environmental consequence. From what car we drive or how many flights we take a year, to the food and drink we consume or the clothes we buy, there’s often a heavy price to be paid by the planet.

And it’s not just our personal lives that impact on the environment. Our working life can make a difference, too – a fact more and more of us are waking up to. Nowadays, it’s not just the big blue chip companies that are taking their environmental responsibilities seriously. Even the smallest of companies aim to do their bit for the environment. Many are actively taking steps to improve things – everything from reducing their carbon footprint to sourcing products responsibly and encouraging staff to become more environmentally aware. Something as simple as asking colleagues to leave their cars at home and take the bus can all have a positive impact on the local environment.

Armed with so many green facts, it’s hardly a surprise that office products consumers are starting to really sit up and take notice of exactly what type of products they are using in the workplace.

Whether that office be at home, on the road or in a corporate environment, increasingly end-users are beginning to question the green credentials of everyday office products.

Fierce competition
On the front line when it comes to this change are filing and desk accessories.
Under pressure from fierce price competition, own-label penetration and the increasing use of digital storage technology, this mature market has undergone some testing times in recent years.

But now many manufacturers believe the environment may hold the key to a brighter future, providing golden opportunities for those willing to invest time and money in developing environmentally friendly products and services.

Idealplast is one manufacturer working hard to capitalise on the green trend.

The company has been a producer of desktop accessories in hard plastic for more than 60 years, exports globally and makes products for private label, Smead and Corporate Express, among others.

With 67 staff and a new production facility in Tallin, Estonia, Idealplast produces recycling bins for offices and industry, reflecting the demand for more environmentally focused products.

And there are plans to bring out a line made from recycled plastics.

"Key trends are definitely environment issues," says Idealplast’s International Sales Manager, Michael Matsson, who believes this is an important area for the sector.

"Yes, filing has gone down. Letter trays and magazine file boxes are down, for sure. We have to work with office furniture producers to find new ways of tackling this. Waste paper will always be there and has to be taken care of. Ergonomic and environmentally friendly products will be in demand."

Now with ISO14001 certificated production in its new factory, Idealplast has placed environmental issues at the heart of its business for many years.

Its recycling bins have been made of recycled material since 1995 and have seen "big success" which is still "growing", informs Matsson.

Therefore, the launch of its Idealplus Recycled series of products has been a natural progression for the business, he adds.

"The Idealplus recycled series is made from recycled plastics," explains Matsson. "All waste from production is recycled directly. The waste water is used for heating of the factory."

He continues: "All polystyrene and polypropylene can be recycled and reused to 100 percent, so it is extremely environmentally friendly."

Matsson is confident that Idealplast has made the right decision by launching a new recycled range onto the market at this time.

"I am 100 percent sure that the Idealplus recycled range will be a big success," he enthuses. "Nobody has launched anything like this before, so our expectations are high. The trend we are seeing from the consumer is eco-thinking."

Influencing strategies
A demand for more environmentally friendly products is also influencing the strategic plans of French filing and desk accessory supplier, CEP Office Solutions.

"The green trend is very important for us," says Cedrik Longin, CEP Office Solutions’ International Sales Manager.

"In February 2008, we were awarded the prestigious ISO14001 certification. This internationally recognised standard specifies the requirements for an organisation’s environmental management system and reinforces the company’s commitment to a process of continuous improvement."

He adds: "With ecological concerns at the forefront, there is an increasing demand for green products. Soon CEP will be able to launch an even more environmentally respectful range."

Filing specialist Fellowes is also seeing increased consumer interest in environmentally friendly products.

"The UK sells mostly filing boxes," says European Marketing Manager Steve Hickey.

"The long-standing popular products are the R-Kive system range, the R-Kive Premium range and the R-Kive Panda range, proceeds from which are donated to the World Wildlife Fund.

"There is a clear move towards 100 percent recycled products," continues Hickey. "They are not carrying the same premium as they used to, so are more accessible. Research for our R-Kive core product range shows 71 percent of consumers buying products look for 100 percent recycled products."

The R-Kive range, which includes storage boxes, transfer files, filing units and magazine files, is 100 percent recycled and uses water-based inks.

"This has been the case for some time," explains Hickey. "We wanted to show that you could buy good quality products with strong design features that didn’t have to be the stereotypical brown."

As far as the company is concerned, environmental issues will continue to heavily influence the filing and desk accessories sector in the medium term.
"Fellowes predicts growth in the next 12 months, especially for truly recycled products," comments Hickey.

The environment is also an ever more important issue for Keba Sweden – a company that develops and sells products for document display and storage.

Exporting products to 25 countries around the world, Keba’s bestselling product is its polypropylene binder – which has been in production since 1982.

"It is made out of environmentally friendly polypropylene, and due to its construction, is long-lasting and hard-wearing which means you can use the binder every day for many years," explains Claes Jelse, the company’s Marketing and Sales Manager.

Following on from this success, the business has developed Kebaecolite – a plastic binder made from up to 95 percent recycled material – which will be launched across Europe and Australia during 2008.

Like all products, the new binder has been fully evaluated for its potential impact on the environment and has, says the company, passed with flying colours.

"The mechanism is also made out of plastic," explains Jelse. "It means that when the time comes in 20 years or so, you can dispose of the product in the plastic recycling bin without disassembling.

He adds: "The Kebaecolite is really a world class unique product which we are very proud of. It is ergonomic, ecological, long-lasting, light, economical and unique, so I am convinced the market will accept it with open arms."

Jelse also believes that environmental matters will continue to impact on the product sector for some time to come – a view supported by Keba, now in the process of introducing major changes to its catalogues to reflect this.

Jelse explains: "The issue of environmental friendliness will dominate the market for the coming years."

He adds: "The first pages in the catalogues will contain ecological and environmentally friendly products instead of computer accessories. This will be a pan-European issue in 2009 and later a global one."

Keba is also keen to ensure its reseller customers capitalise on the green trend in the months and years ahead.

Jelse believes that this issue, along with the need to promote and sell top quality products, will ensure success for the reseller in 2008 and beyond.

"I believe the winners will be those who can explain to end-users what benefits there are for using high quality products and environmentally friendly materials – the type of products that will last for years and put an end to the ‘use and throwaway’ culture."

Promoting the use of high quality products, as well as the benefits of using environmentally friendly products, is also recognised as a key manufacturing issue by Brazilian supplier, Acrimet.

Boasting 40 percent year-on-year growth, almost all the company’s sales are through the reseller channel.

SOHO sensibilities
Specialising in desk accessories and filing products for home and corporate offices, Acrimet has produced environmentally friendly products and won the Social Responsibility Award 2007 – "the most prestigious award by the Brazilian office products market," explains Export Manager Jaime Nascimento.

He says: "Acrimet sees a lot more recycled products in the filing and desk accessories sector in the next 12 months."

Nascimento also believes 2008 will see continued consumer demand for fashionable, top quality products.

"Consumers are tired of those products of low quality like desk sets with no colour or design coordination," he comments.

"There is a growing consumer demand for high quality products. They want beautiful products with vibrant colours and design with matching desk accessories. The resellers must work to attend to the needs of these consumers."

This view is shared by Longin at CEP Office Solutions who recognises the demand for coordinating products is being driven partly by the SOHO (Small office, Home office) market.

"The SOHO market influences sales because most of the consumers want to have a ‘nice’ office," he says.

"All around their computer, they place complete ranges, using office accessories as decoration. Desk mats and desktop organisers are some good examples of this trend."

CEP’s determination to bring stylish, attractive products suitable for different types of office to market has led to the development of its new Isis range.

Longin explains: "The Isis range is one of our successes for this year. Isis is an innovative office accessories range with elegant design styling to blend with all office layouts. Moulded in highly robust impact-resistant polystyrene, with an attractive price position, this range combines marketing and technological know-how."

The international sales manager believes it’s the development of products like this and a general new product development policy that have enabled CEP to win a large part of European market share. "At the moment, the desk accessories product sector is quite dynamic. The leader in France for several years, CEP has also acquired a notable part of the European market thanks to an intensive new product development policy, protected by model and patent standards, matching fashion in terms of design and colours.

"Europe is, for us, one of the best geographical growth areas. Our products really fit with the consumers’ needs in terms of design, colours and innovation."

Popular colours with end-users currently tend to be black and blue, although "lilac grows quite fast," he remarks.

Filing fashion
The influence of fashion on this product sector and the importance of providing customers with fashionable, attractive designs is something that should not be underestimated, says Jelse from Keba.

Describing filing and desk accessories as "one of the most crowded categories", Jelse says it is vital resellers recognise consumer desire for adaptable, attractive products that can be combined in many different ways.

He says: "If you look at fashion today, you will find almost all kinds of designs and colour charts. It means that in our business you can see all the standard colours and still find what you call i-mac colours."

For Keba binders, the company has introduced a new colour chart that is compatible with the whole product portfolio, making it easier for the end-user to mix and match products by colour.

"I don’t know if it’s a trend, but customers are asking for product families, meaning nice products that can be combined," he says. "A good design is always possible to sell."

However, manufacturers may hit a stumbling block if buyers are cautious about adding new products and designs, explains Jelse: "Buyers are sometimes under enormous pressure to keep down the number of SKUs and there is a focus on price which puts a certain strain on the development of new as well as existing products."

This tendency to focus on price, rather than quality, can be costly for resellers in today’s climate, believes Jelse, who urges them to work closely with their manufacturer partners if they want to maximise opportunities in this product sector.

He explains: "I think resellers need to show the market they are the experts and I hope they will focus more on quality products. They should try to leave the cheap and low quality products to others," he adds. "I am convinced that close cooperation with manufacturers of quality products is essential to develop business."

Keba sells its products all over the world, but is currently seeing good growth in Australia, Japan and "some markets in central Europe," reports Jelse.

This success is largely due to the use of local distributors in each country and they all know their market. "Without their efforts, it would have been hard for us to reach national players in each country," he emphasises.

Geographically speaking, Matsson of Idealplast says one of the most important growth areas for filing and desk accessories for the company is Russia.

He explains: "Bureaucracy is the growth factor in desktop filing, so Eastern Europe is growing, whereas Western Europe is stable to down. Russia looks most promising, with a growth of more than 15 percent annually."

As for the general health of the product sector, Matsson believes there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, although the demand for certain types of product is changing. "All of Europe has been growing economically and this means new workplaces and new customers for desktop accessories," he says.

"At the same time there is less and less need for products such as letter trays as email is used more. All-in-all, the market is stable and the growth is in the ‘new’ economies," he points out.

SOHO slowing
Unlike some manufacturers, he believes the development of the SOHO sector has had less of an impact on filing and desk accessories than predicted.

He explains: "It’s not been as big as expected, I would say. I think that many companies are actually reducing work from home offices. Now that the economy is getting cooler, there will be more space in the office for those who keep their jobs. However, we do see a small growth in magazine file boxes probably due to the SOHO sector."

Looking to the future, Idealplast believes growth will come from the factory floor or warehouse where "there are big opportunities for the market to catch up," explains Matsson. "There is a growth via the industrial/office catalogues of Manutan and Takkt, for example."

He believes resellers should be working more closely with those on the factory floor if they are to truly exploit the opportunities.

In Acrimet’s home country of Brazil, Nascimento believes organisation will be a key consumer issue in the future.

"Getting organised is a goal for everybody these days," he says. "People are buying more and more accessories for organisation, thus we are pleased with the good strong growth in Brazil as well as in other countries. Consumers tend to be much better informed and demanding nowadays."

The company has focused on Latin American countries in the last year and has seen good growth, particularly with its three letter tray ranges.

"A lot of countries here are emerging markets with plenty of opportunities," Nascimento reveals.

"We have focused on Latin American countries as our main strategy, as this region is very close to Brazil and we have a lot of logistics capabilities and many more opportunities here. This is a great region and we are pleased that we are a leader in our product category."

He adds: "All our products are performing nicely, but our three letter tray families are the bestselling product ranges, along with our office organiser. This has been a real sales success story in all Latin American countries, especially in Brazil."

Asked what advice he would give resellers looking to grow sales of filing and desk accessories, he urges them to put quality first.

"With regard to sales strategies, I recommend that they should be much more committed to quality. A firm belief in this and hard work are what is moving our sales forward," he says.

Fellowes also has a message for resellers hoping to capitalise on the environmental trend – make sure your customer is buying a suitable product.

"Consumer dissatisfaction associated with a poor selection is normally linked to selling on price, whereas value for money is really what people want," says Hickey.

"Keep the message simple – products must be strong and 100 percent recycled. Ensure you can show clear end-user benefits that demonstrate the difference between products to help them select the right product for their needs."

Whatever your personal stance on the environment, one thing is certain – an increasing number of manufacturers are recognising the importance of this issue in the workplace and are taking major steps to respond to consumer demand for greener filing and desk accessory products.

Can you afford to ignore the trends? Maybe it’s time to listen to your customers and suppliers and take their lead?