Category Analysis: Time For Action

Jan/san continues to be an area of great opportunity but time could be running out to make full use of the robust category.


For a category that has had the mantle of saviour for a few years now, there are still a good many questions around jan/san and whether office supplies resellers are making the most out of the opportunity.

Despite the concerted efforts of all interested parties to ensure the traditional office supply chain gets full value from the category, there is still a nagging feeling that the opportunity isn’t being fully grasped with both hands.

At SP Richards, cleaning and breakroom supplies have been the wholesaler’s fastest growing category for the past five years and it has made significant investments to help accelerate growth and add expertise in the field to drive results. SPR’s Category VP for Cleaning and Breakroom Supplies Chris Whiting certainly doesn’t mince his words in declaring that the category is “absolutely critical to the future of our dealers”.  

At UK wholesaler VOW it’s a similar story especially as some more traditional categories are on the slide. “We have to focus on new product areas that can help us continue to grow with our existing customers”, says Facilities Supplies Category Head Debbie Nice. “Jan/san is very important as we know that our dealers’ end users are buying these products already so it’s a natural progression for them and us.”

Over in Hungary the top wholesaler is also benefitting from the robust category with Corwell saying it represents “a remarkable part of our turnover”.

Corwell follows international trends very closely and identified jan/san as a growth area for the future some years ago. 

Marketing Director Gabor Pataki says it is still one of its fastest growing areas although he recognises that there are still barriers to capitalising on the category that remain years on.

He says: “Minimum order quantities are sometimes too high for an OP wholesaler. Suppliers have to respect that there are two steps to the end-user (wholesaler – reseller) so they should adapt their pricing accordingly. We also have to open the eyes of more and more resellers to realise and understand the big possibilities this category can bring.”


Indeed, the engagement of the dealer community is still surprisingly an issue with a category which you’d imagine was a well-worn selling point by now. Of course not all of this is down to lack of interest or business nous on the part of dealers and wholesalers could still be doing more here.

Pataki explains: “We have already done much in terms of assisting dealers’ efforts, but much more could be done for sure, we are still learning this market. We are continuously working on how to help our customers be more successful with jan/san products.”

Corwell’s current promotional efforts here include dedicated promotional leaflets, sales rep incentives and e-newsletters with the company’s latest initiative being a private label project.

At SP Richards they have been aggressively adding new SKUs and filling product gaps and the wholesaler believes they now have a product selection that addresses 99% of the end users’ needs to keep their office healthy, safe and clean.  They are also exploring adjacent categories too such as safety and first aid products.  


Marketing support is obviously pretty key here but over the next few years most agree that the emphasis should be on training and encouraging dealers to increase the knowledge of their sales force to give them the confidence to engage new buyers.

Nice adds: “The end-user market is served by specialist jan/san suppliers who are confident in advising and training end users.  When the wholesalers introduced printer supplies 15 years ago we were in a similar position, but knowledge and confidence developed to enable EOS and technology to become a normal part of the product range. This is very much the same issue here.”

SPR agrees that training and education is vital and it’s not as easy as it may sound to recondition the sales mentality to jan/san.

Whiting says: “We want to educate our customers on how to find the person in the back of the facility who is responsible for the jan/san, facility and safety products.  It seems easy, but in fact, this has been quite a challenge for many sales representatives to move outside of their comfort zone.  Our Business Development Managers (BDMs) have worked directly with dealers to make qualified end-user calls.  After a couple of joint calls, the idea of going ‘off the carpet’ becomes less intimidating.”

Whiting also believes hiring a category specialist is crucial for dealers but only if the new hire is managed properly and is aligned with the marketing strategy of selling what is in the programme, rather than focusing on products that are not supported by e-content or marketing from their wholesaler.


Another key question here – and many dealers will be asking this right now – is how they know they are doing well in this category and making the most of it? There’s no blanket answer to this but there are guides as to what kind of percentage of sales you should be looking to be doing in jan/san.

The Paradigm Group’s Ralph Bianculli Jr says: “Our OP sales have been very healthy in jan-san/breakroom and our OP dealers continue to do a good job growing this category. Our baseline to determine how well an OP dealer is doing in our category is this: jan/san & breakroom should constitute 17% of overall sales. If more than 17% of your overall sales consist of jan/san and breakroom items, you’re doing a great job.”

While the positivity within the category continues there is that feeling that dealers still yet to capitalise fully here could find they miss the boat entirely as others seek a piece of the pie.

This could most likely come from other adjacent category resellers such as industrial supply companies or online behemoths such as Amazon.

Bianculli says: “I predict that the major industrial suppliers (Grainger, MSC etc.) are gearing up for a major push in the jan/san and breakroom category – and why not? It’s a perfect cross-sell with their industrial goods. Although they’re selling the category now, I think they realise the opportunity for growth and the need to sell a ‘solution’ instead of a product.”

And on the Amazon subject, Paradigm and Bianculli are already seeing how keen the company is in this area.

Paradigm has seen tremendous growth with and says it has become a major channel for B2B buyers in the smaller offices although Bianculli says he doesn’t see it as a threat to the larger pieces of business in the near future.

Bianculli adds: “We are now in discussions to add our entire breadth of product on their site in addition to the 20 SKUs currently being sold.”

Food for thought indeed and if there’s a clear developing message in this key category  right now it’s probably that it’s pretty much now or never for jan/san if you’re a dealer looking to take advatnage.