As one of the ‘mature generation’ who has seen the changes in the office products market over the last 25 years, I started to wonder what the next 25 years might bring and who will be the movers and shakers of the future.
There have been many entrepreneurs in our industry who have set up companies, bought and sold businesses and made millions (and some have lost millions), but is there that same appetite for change? Can the young entrepreneurs of today have the same dramatic impact on the industry that the entrepreneurs of yesterday had?
We have seen both the good times and the bad; the reduction in the traditional wholesaler base in the UK down to two majors, the rise of the office products retail superstores, the growth of the contract stationer, the demise of many independent retailers, the move into our market by the large multiple retailers and, more recently, the dramatic arrival of Amazon into our marketplace.
So what do we need to learn from the past and what do we need to do to sustain the future of our industry?
The people that take the industry forward have always had good ideas, an eye for the market, a determination to succeed, self belief, and a single-minded focus on achievement. They have also been in the right place at the right time and gained a little bit of luck on the journey. But today they need more – much more – if they are going to succeed in this fast-paced corporate marketplace.
The macroeconomic world is changing, so knowledge of finance and the murky waters of mergers, acquisitions and corporate finance is essential. These entrepreneurs need to be financially savvy and at the same time commercially aware, and have the ability to persuade and carry their financial backers with them.
Technology and products are changing at a faster rate than before. Single sourcing and the one-stop shop started in the 1980s and is now the norm. EOS represents over 50% of the market today, while facilities management and jan/san are increasing in market share. So they will need an eye for the future products and technological needs of their customer base. The good entrepreneurs will not be looking to compete with the rest of the pack but to add value to their customer base through other innovative products and services which the competition does not supply.
Marketing strategy is changing. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube have only been around a few years but are completely changing the way we communicate both in business and socially. The good old catalogue will continue but now needs to be online and interactive. Customers want information at the press of a keystroke and do not have time to wade through pages of information. QR codes give us immediate access to information via phones, tablets or PCs. Suppliers and customers want to spend their marketing budget where they get the best return.
The buyer is now likely to be a 20-something PC savvy end-user who knows what he or she wants and wants it immediately. The young entrepreneurs have been brought up with modern, fast-moving technological change and need to continue to use this in order to stay ahead of the game.
The days of white collar office workers bunched in large office complexes with common needs and requirements are here no longer. The move to homeworkers has been made possible by the advent of technology, meaning the young entrepreneur must motivate and manage his or her team through a variety of new management techniques.
So are the young entrepreneurs of the future up for this challenge? I believe the answer is yes but they do need the counsel, mentoring and wisdom of the more experienced generation so they can understand what to take in and what to reject.
Roll on the next 25 years of change.