Sponsored Article: Highlands

Reckitt Benckiser's (RB) recent deal with Highlands signals the beginning of a determined and full-on attack on the UK B2B office channel from the global consumer goods giant


OPI speaks to Greg Duce, Team Lead of Business Development at RB, and Gordon Christiansen, Managing Director of Europe and SVP of Marketing at sales and marketing services agency Highlands – about the how, where and when the arrangement between the two firms came about, and why the OP channel will benefit from it.

OPI: Greg, our readers will be very familiar with the brands you represent, but perhaps not so much with the company as a whole. Could you give a quick overview?  

Greg Duce: Sure. Reckitt Benckiser  (known predominantly as RB) is a £8.9 billion ($13 billion) global FTSE 100 consumer goods business with a vision to make people’s lives healthier and homes and offices happier. We have a portfolio of power brands – 19 in total – including Dettol, Finish, Cillit Bang, Vanish and Harpic.  

What makes us unique as a business in FMCG is that we invest disproportionately in R&D to ensure we create the best products for our customers that they can then offer to their end users. Around a third of our annual revenue comes from products that are launched in the same year. 

OPI: You recently signed with Highlands to represent you in the UK market. Why? You are a British company and your brands are very well known already.

GD: That’s true to a point. I lead the business development team for RB in the UK. Traditionally, our business has been focused on the grocery and pharmacy channel and not on the office supplies industry. So while the B2B channel would have been stocking our products, it was filtered through various channels, with no direct approach.

Essentially, none of what we’ve done so far in the B2B space with office supplies resellers was targeted or cohesive in any way. 

What we needed was a partner with an understanding of what we had to do to be successful in that space. Highlands has been working with RB in the US since 2012 and they’ve built an excellent partnership there, delivering product solutions and marketing to the office supplies market which has resulted in fantastic growth for RB.  

We wanted to find out if we could replicate this success over here in the UK. We met at the beginning of the year and it was immediately apparent that there was a massive opportunity. 

OPI: Gordon, what does Highlands bring to the table that will enable RB to fully exploit that opportunity?

Gordon Christiansen: Broadly speaking, Highlands is all about helping our clients navigate the office channel to maximise sales. That’s what we do. We want the brands that we represent from many different categories – increasingly sectors like jan/san, facilities management, personal protection equipment and furniture – to be the first choice among office consumers. 

We do that by managing the supply chain, whether it be through the wholesalers, mega dealers, independent channel or e-commerce operators. We also assist with marketing, data and our clients’ overall content strategies. 

The goal is to maximise the brand’s availability in the channel and also to help the channel become more conversant with the RB message.

Like Greg mentioned, there are many of RB’s brands already represented in the channel, but it’s unmanaged and it’s unfocused. Given the expertise and the skills that RB have in terms of product positioning and product innovation, with a more focused approach to the office channel we forecast significant growth in sales. 

OPI: What are the initial priorities? You only finalised your arrangement in April… 

GC: The first thing we had to do was to get our marketing strategy and content right and that work has just been done. We also have our generic pricing strategy agreed.

The next step is to reach out to all the major channel players and start talking about the product range. Product selection, catalogue positioning, overall sales strategy – that type of thing.  

This three-step process is at the core of what we’re about at Highlands: we sell to, we sell through and then we help sell out. The ‘sell to’ is to the wholesalers and the big box players; the ‘sell through’ is around promotional activities, catalogue positioning, content, etc; and then the ‘sell out’ is to help the sales teams of the mega dealers or the independent dealers as well as our e-commerce and retail partners sell to the consumer. 

OPI: Is it too early to talk about customer feedback?

GC: A little, but what I can say is that the people I’ve had informal conversations with are really excited about working with RB and that’s due to the company’s fantastic brands. 

All the research we’ve done shows that people buy the same brands in the office that they buy for the home. As such, the message we’ve put out there about having a proper programme and sales strategy with brands like Harpic, Airwick, Cillit Bang and so forth resonates really well with our target audience. 

So yes, it’s early days yet, but we’re hugely excited about RB’s ‘proper’ entry into the office channel.  

OPI: What about medium and long-term goals? 

GC: In the medium term, we need to ensure that we’ve got an excellent sell through strategy with the big players and the wholesalers. Importantly, we also need to have the major independent dealer channel players aligned, so they can see the opportunities that exist. 

The long-term goal is for RB to be the number one supplier in the office channel for the brands we represent.

OPI: Greg, is there anything you’d like to add to that?

GD: That’s all quite aspirational, I like it. From our point of view, we want to establish ourselves as the best-in-class supplier of household cleaning and personal care products in the office supplies sector. 

Like we have done in the US, we’re positioning ourselves in four different categories under the overall FMCG umbrella. Those categories are breakroom, washroom, workplace wellness and facilities supplies.

OPI: You mention the US. Gordon, can you draw on your experiences in the US?

GC: To some extent. We’re going to take the learnings from our US colleagues both at Highlands and RB and look to apply them in the UK. But only if they’re relevant – it’s not a copy and paste job. On the surface, the two markets may look quite similar, but there are some very different dynamics and if we don’t address those properly then we’re more likely to fail, and failure is simply not an option.

Some of the successes we’ve had in the US have been about educating the people who are selling the product. It’s something we’ll definitely continue in the UK as we believe the training and the up-skilling of the sales teams to have those conversations with their clients is very, very important.  

Something else we’ve done in the US that worked really well is bundling. What this means is working with RB alongside other complementary manufacturers and brands to provide a more holistic approach for resellers into their customer base. That can be a very powerful approach to deliver into the office channel and one we’ll be looking at in the UK too.