Event Review: EOPA 2016

The European Office Products Awards (EOPA) not only featured a rejigging of some of the categories, but also a few surprise winners...

Now in their third year as part of OPI’s Partnership event, the European Office Products Awards (EOPA) welcomed the best of the best at their 15th outing. 

The awards ceremony took place at the five-star Hotel Okura in Amsterdam on 9 March. It was an evening filled with great food, wine, company and celebration. 

With over 170 guests attending the awards – about 100 of whom were already in-situ as OPI Partnership attendees – the affair kicked off with a glorious gala dinner during which guests were entertained at their tables by British ‘Magical Champion’ Darren Mac.

Dinner was swiftly followed by a reflective yet uplifting industry toast from Avery VP of Sales Europe Jonathan Smith. “It’s true to say we’re all facing a fast-changing and ultra-competitive industry, but when was that ever not true?” he said to the audience, adding that “there are many who have lived through turbulent times in this industry, have survived at least four recessions, and will remember the doom-laden forecasts over the past 20-30 years. And amazingly, we’re still here – how great is that?” 

The results…

There were some interesting results this year, not least a perhaps slightly controversial choice for Reseller of the Year, while Fellowes took away the Vendor of the Year award for the second time in the past three years. 

As always, the winners were not chosen by OPI, but by an independent panel of 19 judges made up from some of the industry’s most knowledgeable and active members. 

By all accounts, this year’s judging – which was held in Budapest in December 2015 – resulted in some rather interesting discussions and decisions, one of which ended in the original Business Machines and Technology Product of the Year awards being combined into the Powered Product of the Year category. This, the judges felt, better reflected the wide variety of entries.

While Professional of the Year winner Michel Van Beek was unable to attend the awards evening in person, OPI CEO Steve Hilleard had previously tracked him down and surprised him before the event to present the accolade. As such, Van Beek addressed the EOPA audience by pre-recorded video.

The Industry Achievement award was handed to Esselte CEO Cezary Monko to rapturous applause.

Also noteworthy are several firms that were highly commended by the judges, including Renz for its Ring Wire Opener in the Core Office Product category, Fellowes’ AutoMax 200C Shredder for the Powered Product, as well as ALSO International for Wholesaler of the Year.

The winners

Core Office Product of the Year

International Paper: Easy Open Solution

According to the judging panel, this was a difficult category to assess due to an overall lack of product innovation – except for the winner International Paper (IP), that is.

The Easy Open Solution is a ream of paper that has a tape attached across the short side of the packaging and which that can be pulled open like a zip. As the zip is on the short side of the ream, there is still enough strength for further storage if not all the paper is used.

What really impressed the panel about IP’s Easy Open Solution is that while it may not seem particularly exciting, it certainly meets an unmet need in the category. As one judge remarked: “It is an innovative new product with a real differentiating factor; it could be a game changer in the category if others copy it.”

Both the ream wrap and box base were adapted to communicate the new solution to end users, and based on year-on-year figures, Easy Open generated an additional 6% in volume purchases in 2015.

IP said the concept was developed from feedback from partners and end users who complained about the difficulty of opening reams of paper.

Vendor of the Year

Fellowes

For this particular award, size is irrelevant – the main criteria is which vendor sets itself apart from the competition.  

There were several strong candidates, either with new product development or exceptional growth, such as Bi-silque, or with a completely new approach to the market like Epson. 

But overall, Fellowes ticked all the boxes. It’s made a considerable effort to diversify its portfolio, has a strong and respected brand, good sales performance and has reported market share gains. Fellowes has continuously built on its experience and expertise while thinking outside the box and exploring uncharted territories. 

Fellowes’ corporate tagline is ‘Innovation in motion’, which it works towards in every aspect of its business. This has led to over 100 product solutions being introduced in the past year across its shredders, laminators, storage and organisation, workspace management and air treatment product lines.

The company has enhanced and maximised its core product segments and also expanded its offering into new and pioneering categories such as privacy filters (from zero to 31 million/$1.1 million in less than 12 months) and air purification (from zero to 33 million in less than three years for the AeraMax Personal specifically).

Despite a challenging European economy, Fellowes Europe achieved 16% growth in 2015, including double-digit increases in Spain, UK, France, Poland and DACH (Germany, Austria and Switzerland). The vendor also recorded increases across all categories, delivering an additional 315 million in sales, including 77% growth in air purification, 16% in shredders and 40% in storage and organisation.

Facilities Management Product of the Year

Henkel: UniBond Aero-360 Moisture Absorber

This category is one of the most challenging of all to judge – most products have been around for a long time, but for the most part are relatively new to the office products channel.

It’s also one of the largest categories in terms of sheer diversity, as outlined by the shortlist, and the judges felt that all of them had something to offer. OPN’s Muggi and Newell Rubbermaid’s Slim Jim Step-On Container attracted plenty of attention, but it was Henkel’s Moisture Absorber that was crowned champion. 

With today’s heavy focus on health and well-being in the office from both the employer and employee sides, it’s no surprise that a product aimed at promoting a more hygienic workspace was chosen. 

The Moisture Absorber was launched to create healthier air in enclosed spaces such as offices. It is an aerodynamic device based on 360° air circulation for increased efficiency. It helps prevent mildew, mould, peeling paint, condensation and bad smells. 

The device is easy to handle with its one-touch loading tray, draining spout and a transparent tank to monitor the amount of fluid collected. In addition, it won’t spill, makes no noise and uses no electricity. 

Judging the product against the category criteria, this cost-effective and well-conceived product was the clear winner. 

Judges believed the product would do very well in the OP channel, and were impressed by the efforts Henkel has made with regards to marketing, including a large £2 million ($3 million) TV campaign coupled with print, digital and word-of-mouth campaigns that undoubtedly helped to push sales through the dealer channel.

Crunching the numbers, the moisture absorber market grew by 109% in 2014 versus 2013. This was driven by Henkel’s UniBond, which managed to grow its market share from 44.1% to 63.5%, a growth trend which continued during 2015. For the first six months of last year, the market increased by 52% year on year, and the company’s UniBond gained 42 points, reaching a market-share level of 78.4%.

Innovation of the Year

Fellowes: AeraMax Air Purifier

This is one of the most exciting categories overall – it drives the industry forward, opens up new sales opportunities for dealers, can reinvigorate struggling categories or even create new ones. 

This was another hotly debated category that had the judges questioning exactly what makes a product innovative – design, function, or a combination of both. 

The AeraMax Air Purifier also taps into the increasing health and wellness trend. Fellowes specifically chose commercial target markets – offices, healthcare, education and hospitality – where it felt the product would create the most impact in improving air quality by reducing the presence of airborne germs, pollutants, viruses, allergens and unwanted odours.

The AeraMax system is smart and uses sensor technology to adjust its performance based on the needs of the environment. It is designed to seamlessly and safely integrate into a facility to become part of the building framework once installed. 

Fellowes offers a five-year guarantee on the product which has patent-pending EnviroSmart Technology and makes the AeraMax a unique and innovative air purification system. 

The first six months of results in 2015 put the product on track to achieve sales of 33 million ($3.3 million) in its first year. A lead generation plan is also being implemented to develop awareness and understanding among B2B decision-makers.

Fellowes was applauded for entering a category outside its traditional remit. And while the product may pose some new challenges due to installation and servicing issues, it is a new segment and for those savvy enough presents a selling opportunity for the channel. 

Marketing Initiative of the Year

Pilot Pen UK: Pilot FriXion Sponsors Best Solo Artist at the 2015 NME Awards

This was one of the most popular categories with plenty of nominations leading to a very strong shortlist. 

Pilot Pen’s campaign was hailed as the undisputed winner of the category for understanding its audience, campaign originality, innovative methods used and the ROI generated. What impressed the judges the most was that Pilot Pen had looked at a totally new audience – the consumer of tomorrow – and come up with an original and creative concept with an overall brand-building goal. 

There were a number of aims with this campaign, including: raise awareness of the FriXion brand to millennials; grow sales and market share in the office supplies and mass market channels; align the brand with a contemporary, relevant brand for the target audience; and take an approach to audience engagement not seen before in the OP market.

The three-month campaign included a brand presence within NME magazine, its web platform and awards, as well as social media and other marketing activities that  supported the 2015 NME Awards.

As this was a brand-building exercise, it’s not easy to accurately determine ROI, but at the end of August 2015, year-to-date like-for-like sales of FriXion pens had increased 25% in volume and 17% in value. Pilot Pen’s Twitter followers had also grown from 2,000 to around 6,000 by the time the campaign had finished.

Dealer Group of the Year

Integra Office Solutions

The judging panel was looking for a dynamic dealer group that gives its dealers a competitive edge. While Integra Office Solutions came away as the clear winner, there was stiff competition, most notably from Netherlands-based Quantore.

What clinched the deal for Integra was the wide range of services that the group provides, as well as its treatment of each individual member. Integra enjoys a close relationship with its members who are highly engaged with the group – 90% of dealers adopt Integra’s award-winning catalogue programme; 89% are categorised as Initiative own-brand supporters (the Initiative brand was relaunched at the end of 2014); and 85% of Integra’s membership subscribe to the group’s online print and email marketing solution.

In 2015, Integra launched new publications for FM and Premium products, as well as Initiative refurbished smartphones and a closed-loop MPS solution.

The recent repurchase of the group and a return to cooperative status – which took the board more than three years to secure – is fundamental to supporting its members and repatriating surpluses to dealers. After the buyout that saw the Integra management acquire 100% of the group’s share capital, the group appears abuzz with excitement about the future. 

Wholesaler of the Year 

JGBM

With the largest number of entries, all of which came from different markets with specific demands and peculiarities, this was the toughest category of all to judge. 

However, JGBM was the one entry that really stood out in terms of how it understands the importance of e-commerce.

The trade-only distributor specialises in office technology for dealers throughout the UK, offering a high level of product expertise, backed up by a cutting-edge marketing department that incorporates an in-house software development team.

The distributor has added Augmented Reality to its product catalogue, offers an in-house-built CD-ROM interactive catalogue, and re-writes its own enhanced data for each SKU.

The wholesaler fully embraces the concept of e-commerce and customers’ digital needs. In addition, the investment the company is making in proportion to its sales is impressive. Importantly, JGBM is trying to deal with Amazon by being different, innovative and quick to market. 

Powered Product of the Year

Epson: EcoTank Printer Range

This category is actually an amalgamation of two previous categories – Business Machines and Technology Products. 

Despite having only been recently developed, Epson’s EcoTank was credited with the potential to turn a whole category on its head with its range of printers featuring refillable ink tanks. The colour printers designed for small businesses and consumers eliminate the frustration of running out of ink – the Supertank lasts around two years – and fewer ink refills also mean less waste. 

When compared to a traditional printer, the ink included with the EcoTank is equivalent to around 20 sets of ink cartridges and reduces printing costs by 70% on average. 

Epson is looking to carve out and establish an entirely new printer category with the Supertank. The concept itself is not new, but it’s the opposite to the traditional business model in printing – customers usually purchase a cheap printer with expensive cartridges.

Reseller of the Year

Amazon

With heated discussions debating the pros and cons of the companies on the shortlist, one reseller not only met the requirements of all the criteria, but beat the rest of the competition hands down. 

Some may still consider Amazon a controversial choice, but it’s a company impossible to ignore. Amazon is simply a game changer, and one that is inspiring other people and businesses to follow its lead.

Other resellers that deserve a mention include Codex for its outstanding performance in the Irish market; Bluefish for its ability to transform from a traditional contract stationer and for its professionalism and growth, both organically and through acquisitions; and Büromarkt Böttcher for its phenomenal – and seemingly unstoppable – growth record.

Professional of the Year 

Michel Van Beek, President, Fellowes EMEA 

The future of the business supplies space depends on the drive of individual professionals. This important award recognises a member of the office products industry who shows leadership, not only within their own company but across the sector. 

Michel Van Beek began his office products career as a salesman with 3M in 1998 and steadily made his way up the management ladder. After a spell with GBC, he joined Fellowes in 2006, rising to become European President nearly four years ago.

No-nonsense, straightforward, proactive and with a unique ability to connect with anybody – not only within the organisation but also with customers – are just a few of the comments the judging panel used to describe him.

His passion for this industry is unrivalled, his reputation for integrity well deserved, and the support and respect of his team is unwavering. 

As Van Beek was unable to attend the awards ceremony, OPI’s CEO Steve Hilleard surprised him while he was hosting a Fellowes European Leadership Team dinner to present the award. 

At the awards dinner, Bi-silque Chief Commercial Officer Beth Wright had the honour of introducing a video clip of Michel Van Beek where he admitted to be flattered, humbled as well as honoured to be recognised by competitors and customers alike. 

Industry Achievement

Cezary Monko, CEO, Esselte

For the most part, the Industry Achievement award has been given to senior OP executives nearing the end of their career. This year, however, it was presented to a man who continues to build his career and will undoubtedly continue to make a significant contribution to the OP industry for many years to come.

 The judges felt that he should be recognised for his outstanding contribution to the industry thus far.

Cezary Monko joined Esselte in 1992 as Country Manager Poland. By the late 1990s then Esselte CEO Bob Scribner had predicted that he would one day become CEO of the entire company. 

Over the next few years, Monko worked tirelessly to build Esselte’s presence in emerging markets, and in 2002 was promoted to head up all European sales. He held this position for three years before he took responsibility for all of his organisation’s European and International business functions.

In 2010, Monko led the successful acquisition of large Sweden-based competitor Isaberg Rapid which continues to be an important part of the business today. In 2014, Scribner’s prediction became reality and Monko became CEO of the entire global organisation after the sale of Esselte’s Pendaflex North American business to RR Donnelley, which led to the retirement of former Esselte CEO Gary Brooks. It was a decision welcomed by colleagues who describe him as “well respected, trusted, popular and a strong leader”.