Show Review: SOPX

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SOPX is a surprise hit

by Stephen White
Could this show signal a return of the UK trade fair?

Blame the gloomy economic forecasts that had filled the collective consciousness of the UK market or the snowy start to spring, but exhibitors and visitors alike that turned up to the Stationery Office Products Show (SOPX) held at London’s Business Design Centre in April arrived more out of curiosity than expectation.

You had to feel sorry for the organisers. Despite their buoyant pre-show press releases that were filtering into the market, the feeling percolating those who were planning to go was that the UK needed a dedicated national trade show like Hillary Clinton needs a publicist.

However, the sun came out and the show itself proved to be a revelation. Most importantly for the 100 or so exhibitors, this was an event where people were turning up ready to do business. On the show floor, the message was clear: the assembled manufacturers and resellers realised that the UK was ready, albeit on a tentatively small scale, to hold OP trade shows again.

The event attracted visitors from across the country and, according to the organisers, consisted mainly of independent dealers and the major retailers.

Theo Paphitis, chairman of stationery chain Ryman and a rare TV celebrity in our sector through his association with the popular series Dragon’s Den, officially opened the show. He echoed the growing feeling that such an event was "long overdue". Indeed, it had been so long since a dedicated independent trade fair had taken place that most couldn’t agree on when the last one was.

New product for the UK
Pleasingly, the show was full of new products and services for the UK market giving the event a sense of freshness. Of the more than 100 companies exhibiting, over three quarters were showing new products.

GBA Pen Company, distributors of Fisher pens in the UK, displayed their 60th Anniversary limited edition Bullet pen, but it was PenAgain’s ErgoSleek pen and Twist ‘n Write pencil that caught the eye. Both are designed so you write while your index finger sits inside the arms of the wishbone-design. The Twist ‘n Write has already been a success in the US, where it has become a popular tool for children struggling with learning to write. The inspiration for inventor Colin Roche came while "I was getting cramp in detention and then suddenly I realised I had the solution".

Bostik showed off the limited edition Pink-Tack, its individually-numbered special packs that are being sold nationwide in support of the Breast Cancer Campaign.

MSE Europe launched its UK ‘Final Tier’ dealer programme while Smead introduced a new range of antimicrobial filing products. Axis First unveiled its new software solution, Axis Harmony.

GH Neville exhibited its new Leopard files, while PostSafe showed its range of Prezzibags and Trodat its new Mobile Printy pocket stamp.

Crucially for the exhibitors, buyers were moving through the aisles ready to do business. One exhibitor seemed almost in shock when he revealed he had "20 or so really decent leads. We’ve been totally taken aback." And that was just the first day.

Steve Keen of Advantia Business Solutions was delighted that there were so many new products and companies to see at the event. "It’s been great to see people in niche markets rather than just the same old, same old in product areas that are in decline," he said enthusiastically.

BlueSky Systems Solutions, the company behind back office systems Horizon and Horizon-Web, were still receiving enquiries from dealers a week after the show.

"We were pleased that the dealers that attended were of a high calibre and would like to thank the organisers for putting on a very well run event. We hope SOPX becomes a permanent fixture on the OP calendar and BlueSky will definitely be exhibiting next year," said sales director Nick Townsend.

Visiting dealers included big names such as Egan Reid, Langstane Press, Accord Office Supplies and OyezStraker Group. Colin Campbell of Langstane remarked: "It took me half an hour to get to the main exhibition area, because I kept bumping into people I knew."

It was pleasing to note that many of the UK’s main dealer groups also attended, including Advantia, Integra, Nemo, Office Club, Officepoint and Superstat. Exhibitors also reported that they had WHSmith, Woolworths, Staples, Makro, Osborne Stationers, Ryman, and Spicers on their stands.

Serious business
"SOPX has arrived," beamed organiser Chris Leonard-Morgan shortly after the close of the show. "Exhibitors have seen serious buyers and have done serious business over the last two days.

"It’s been wonderful to see so much enthusiasm from both buyers and suppliers. The show looked brilliant, especially for a first-time event, and reflected the dynamic and diversity of the industry. Exhibitors did themselves proud. And this is just the start!"

Long live the UK trade show.