Turning point for national accounts?



Turning point for national accounts?


Details of TriMega’s much-awaited national accounts programme were released on the eve of the SP Richards ABC conference in June. Will it be a game-changing development for independents in the US in their battle against the power channel?


It has been about a year since leading US dealer group TriMega and national wholesaler SP Richards announced their strategic alliance. At the time, there was some confusion as to the main reason for the tie-up, with initial communications focusing on buy-side synergies and the need to minimise the cost-of-goods gap between the independent dealers and the power channel players.


Subsequently, it became clear that the alliance had come about after a TriMega RFP for a national accounts programme partner which had also included a bid from SPR’s main rival, United Stationers.


Details of the new programme – called Point Nationwide – were officially released at a meeting in Miami on 23 June, on the eve of SPR’s annual conference.


At the meeting, TriMega CEO Charlie Cleary revealed that the effort to find a solution to offering a national accounts programme had begun in 2007, becoming a strategic initiative in 2008 and finally approved by the TriMega board in July 2009 at the time of the SPR alliance.


"The timing is perfect," Cleary told the meeting. "The market is crying out for another choice that is more flexible, passionate, fun, and easy to work with, values integrity and genuinely cares about the individual needs of customers. National account customers have told us that the big three are inflexible, all look the same, have become a bit arrogant and even disinterested."


According to TriMega figures, the national account business controlled by the three big boxes adds up to $8 billion dollars (presumably including private and public sector business) and the dealer group is looking to win $100 million of that business over the next three years.


It has certainly assembled an experienced team to lead the Point Nationwide endeavour, thanks in the main to staff cuts made at the big boxes.


Dave Guinn, who has served in executive capacities at Boise Cascade, BT Office Products and Corporate Express, is described as "the inspirational architect" in researching and developing the Point Nationwide business model.


Tom Van Hootegem, with 30 years of national account experience at ‘Max and Corporate Express, will lead the sales effort.


Former Corporate Express and Staples Strategic Account Project Director, Pam Quick, has 15 years of national account implementation experience.


Andy Sullenberger is another former Corporate Express/Staples executive with 20 years of system experience has been instrumental in building the Point Nationwide website and system platform.


30-year Boise/OfficeMax veteran John Emmott will lead the bid pricing and proposal efforts to win business while looking for margin enhancements.


On the SP Richards’ side, COO Rick Toppin, who spent almost 10 years with Corporate Express before joining the wholesaler in 2008, is said to have played an instrumental role in forging the strategic alliance and national accounts programme.


But, as Cleary, was quick to point out, there is more to Point Nationwide than an impressive team of people and a lot of work has certainly gone into the project over the last year.


Trimega worked with Kokopelli, a Chicago-based creative agency to develop the Point Nationwide name, the branding strategy around Point, PowerPoint presentations and sales material and everything that will touch national account prospects.


For the dealers, or CSPs as they’re known (Customer Service Points), Point Nationwide provides them with a number of productivity tools, including a CRM system, and RFP response package, online training and intelligent e-marketing.


The system partner that developed the Point Nationwide website and platform is BMI, and the company has customised its OP Revelation platform and Microsoft Dynamics NAV software to meet the specific needs of the national account customer. The first impression is that it certainly seems packed with useful tools and features.


One important development is that ECI has partnered with Point Nationwide and BMI to expedite the system integration of DDMS and Britannia with the Point Nationwide system so that it is ready to go immediately.


One of the participants at the meeting told OPI that he was "impressed" that the infrastructure had all been put together so quickly.


However, there still remain a number of controversial – or potentially controversial – issues with Point Nationwide.


Not surprisingly, the alliance with SP Richards is at the forefront of the programme, and it goes without saying that SPR is the exclusive wholesaler for Point Nationwide. Quite how this will sit with TriMega’s first call United dealers – and there are a lot of those – is still unclear. A further example of the TriMega/SPR v. is.group/United divide that everyone is quick to deny?


Furthermore, products from preferred suppliers under the SPR and TriMega strategic sourcing alliance will come up first in customer search results. Reward for those preferred vendors, of course, but another part of the move towards wholesalers offering a more restricted selection of branded products. And, ironically for those preferred suppliers, first up in alliance search results will be the Business Source brand of products that was recently introduced: a brand that customers will not initially recognise and may not be inclined to purchase.


TriMega and SP Richards have made major investments in the project – both in terms of staffing and in setting up the technological infrastructure. Questions will therefore be raised about the target of $100 million in three year’s time. That represents just 1.25 percent of the total national account business, according to TriMega’s own figures.


Both major dealer groups in the US now have their own national accounts programme – is.group got in first with its Your Trusted National Choice programme – but it is TriMega that seems to have the most riding on it. Time will be the judge of how successful both schemes prove to be.