Introducing the Business Solutions Association
There’s a new industry association on the block but does it really matter?
December saw the birth of a brand new trade association in the US when two associations, the Office Products Wholesalers Association (OPWA) and the Office Products Representatives Association (OPRA) formally merged into a single organisation called the Business Solutions Association (BSA).
BSA’s inaugural President, United Stationer’s Joe Templet, sees this is an opportunity to breathe new life into the recently strained relationships between wholesalers, manufacturers and manufacturer representatives in the US.
BSA is the second association for the US industry since the demise of SHOPA. The first, the School and Office Products Network, has been fairly anonymous. However perhaps BSA, and its Board of Directors that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the US OP industry, has a better chance of making an impact?
"We looked at the two organisations continuing on their own and we did not see a road for success.
However we did see a lot going on in the industry and we felt that by bringing the two organisations together it would give us the opportunity to discuss common issues.
"We need a single voice and a common framework in which we can focus efforts on behalf of our common customers, the dealers."
According to Templet the idea to merge the two associations came out of OPWA’s last get-together. "It came up during an open forum discussion that went on for about an hour and a half. The next day we sat down in a board meeting format with representatives from OPRA and it was agreed that while we (as OPWA) had been busy with manufacturer/wholesaler issues, it was time to create a forum about the dealer and marketplace conditions."
Templet is certain that it is vital for the industry to have an organisation such as the BSA that runs an event for the US industry.
"We agreed that we needed to focus on the issues of the dealers. And as you look at our industry, United and SP have their big shows and NOPA has its government affairs session but nowhere else is there a forum where we could get people together to talk about common issues. Personally I felt this was one of the reasons to keep this organisation alive and going forwards."
It may seem strange then that dealers are not yet included as a constituency. However Templet points out that this is an association to service not represent dealers. "Why did we not include the dealer? Well, they have their own ‘shows’ with their respective buying groups, so we felt that it wouldn’t allow us to go where we wanted to go."
BSA has identified the week of 6-9 October 2009 for its annual conference which will take place somewhere in Florida. The event will be similar to previous years’ OPWA programmes, but with a greater emphasis on networking and information exchange. For example, scheduled interviews will be replaced with ‘open meetings’, whereby manufacturers, wholesalers, buying groups and representatives can schedule their own appointments for whatever length of time they require.
"We’re planning a convention where we will bring all our constituents together and before an independent dealer panel. Then we can talk about how our constituencies can service them in the marketplace."
Also on the agenda for the meeting will be a technology forum "for technology providers to talk to our constituencies".
Templet is also personally working with a large independent dealer to recruit a major end user to come in and "talk about how the rep group, the wholesaler, the manufacturer working with the dealer can better service end user businsesses".
Templet feels that BSA is already re-gaining some of the momentum that had been lost by its previous incarnations.
"As we engage more reps, we pick up new members. They in turn are getting more engaged with the suppliers they represent. Although this won’t be a 1,000 member organisation, we expect to grow to be able to host a show with 200-400 people in attendance," he predicts.
Templet does not see any conflict with his day job either as SVP Trade Development at United Stationers.
"For United it’s a tremendous networking opportunity – we have a few but they’re aren’t that many left.
"We made a commitment to meet new suppliers who are interested in getting into our industry. For instance, Jim Fahey, the SVP of Merchandising for United, has committed to meeting all new members to the association."
Templet is sincere in his hope that BSA will succeed where other associations have failed by combining an enthusiasm for change with a professional approach. Although you cannot escape the thought that although getting dealers and manufacturers to meet (in the forum) is progressive, it is only a small step in the right direction. However OPI applauds the intention and wishes BSA all success.