Analysis: What’s in store for 2017?

OPI asked some of the key figures in the industry about their thoughts for 2017 after the turbulent past 12 months.

The industry is set for another year of increased web-based business, with more focus on automated sales advice. Naturally, online behemoth Amazon will cast its long shadow over the industry too. Indeed, the ongoing impact of Amazon was one of the most prevalent responses when OPI polled industry peers about the key issues of 2017. 

With these forecasts in mind, BOSS CEO Philip Lawson urged the sector to return back to the forefront of online sales innovation in 2017. He said: “Buying online will accelerate. Smart online suppliers will turn a self-service model into automated sales advice. Online chat will grow too, but automated intelligence will grow faster. We were once at the forefront of online sales as an industry [and] we can keep up, but we need to invest.”

ADVEO Chief Product Marketing Officer Ronny Van Rossem sees the impact of online sales as potentially driving the industry to find a new business focus.

He believes that digitisation and consolidation will be the two key topics of the year: “Not only will a company like Amazon continue to be disruptive and push companies to rethink their proposition, digitisation will continue to impact substantially the volume as well as the type of products that will be bought by consumers.”

He added: “This will also continue the discussion as to how we talk about the office products industry. Should we be looking at a new name like office solutions or office business solutions?”

Guernsey CEO David Guernsey in the US views 2017 as a year of “tremendous change” for all the traditional resellers of core categories like office products, jan/san and breakroom. 

He said: “New competitors, most notably Amazon, and end consumers – and not just millennials – have already rewritten the rules. This isn’t what is coming, it is what’s here. We resellers are mostly in a mode of catch-up. Customers lost or, at best, sales leakage, leads to declining order sizes and delivery expectations that border on the absurd. 

“Do resellers understand why and, more importantly, what to do about it? Independents typically have two key partners in, or tangential to, the supply chain – wholesalers and dealer groups. I would argue that both of these key partners are just as vulnerable to the new reality as their dealers. This begs the question: how are all of these folks working together to implement the needed change?”  

Source Office & Technology CEO John Givens takes a similar view, predicting that the more resourceful dealers will continue to find avenues of revenue growth outside the traditional markets of office coffee services, printers and copiers, and business furniture, to instead grapple with new business processes, technology integration and go-to market strategies.  

Givens suggests that smaller legacy office supplies businesses will have to consider major reinvestment strategies or join with larger progressives that have the depth of management, systems support and capital investment needed.  

Gavin Ward, CEO of Australian dealer group Office Brands, takes a forthright view of fortunes in the coming year, firstly highlighting the fact that traditional core markets are in decline.

He added: “Amazon is of major interest for everyone – how do we deal with them as they enter our market? Are they friend or foe?”

Ward also calls for a renewed focus on the unique points of difference of buying groups/franchise models around the world, a look at how they approach their markets and how they are working to improve their capabilities and spread investment.

This view is shared by GOJO Industries Commercial Sales Director Bill Cardone who questions whether the US buying groups will struggle to remain relevant, and whether manufacturers will re-evaluate how they use sales representatives.

In the UK market, Westcoast Managing Director Alex Tatham warned of more price increases as the US dollar strengthens leading dollar-nominated businesses to increase their prices in the UK pound sterling currency.