EOPA 2009 review


A stellar evening


by Stephen White


A night of celebration for Europe’s brightest and best at the European Office Products Awards 2009


How do you top a night that included a record turn-out, one of the finest collections of industry names seen at a European event and an oompah band? The answer was to go ahead and make another evening of sparkling entertainment, shock announcements and sheer fun.


Although with only hours to go until the stage lights were lit for EOPA 2009, the question on the lips of the organisers was whether the entertainment was going to show up. Inclement weather in the UK had forced airports to close in the south east of the country, snow bounding runways and stranding passengers.
Among them was Clive Coleman, the guest MC for the night. Last year’s German comedian Henning Wehn had not been as well received or as funny as hoped – as someone noted, his parody of a German without a sense of humour was uncanny – and he was unfortunately outshone by a wonderfully charismatic cameo by Ron Sargent.


However there were high hopes that Coleman, a practising barrister, writer and comedian, would deliver. That was assuming he survived a 100-plus mile trek through the snow to reach an open airport. Fortunately for the diners he made his aeroplane and arrived in Frankfurt hours later to deliver a snappy routine poking fun at George W Bush, the economy and the industry.


Since their inception the EOPA have played a major role in generating recognition and status within the European industry and the standard of entries seems to get better every year. In the present economic climate when competition for business is even greater, award wins are arguably gaining in importance. Entering and winning or even being a runner-up gives a company a crucial edge over its competitors – it’s an especially valuable marketing tool when pitching for new business. Even being placed as a finalist holds great weight when talking to clients.


Consequently it was not surprising that Steve Hilleard, CEO, OPI, and Chairman of the judging panel, told the audience that the judging day in Warsaw last November was the most challenging since these awards were conceived, "reflecting just how established these awards have become and demonstrating the enormous breadth and quality of entries submitted."
"Many of us will have entered 2009 with a degree of apprehension. But the world keeps turning and consumers will keep buying office products," he said.
"Now more than ever we look for innovative products, clever marketing and exceptional customer service to carry us through a difficult period. Indeed, perhaps it’s fair to say that these awards have never been so relevant."


The industry toast was led by Ron Wotherspoon of ECI Europe who chose to use the occasion to announce that he is to leave the company. However Wotherspoon was in no mood to look backwards and dared the industry to rally around in the wake of economic turbulance if it wants to surge ahead in the coming years.
The industry toast was led by Ron Wotherspoon of ECI Europe who chose to use the occasion to announce that he is to leave the company. However, Wotherspoon was in no mood to look backwards and dared the industry to rally around in the wake of economic turbulence if it wants to surge ahead in the coming years.


The winner is…


With the formalities over it was time for the main event of the evening – the awards.


The first award, was also one of the biggest the Wholesaler/Distributor of the Year sponsored by Newell Rubbermaid. Gordon Scott, VP Sales and Marketing Europe of Newell Rubbermaid was first on stage to announce the winner. Looking to win the award was last year’s winner Alpha International with Bureaucrat, Soft-Carrier and Spicers. The award recognises a dynamic wholesaler/distributor that can demonstrate how its unique approach and standard of services have achieved exceptional results over the last 12 months.
Although it narrowly missed out on the main award it was fitting then that Russian wholesaler Bureaucrat received deserved recognition as a highly commended nomination. The company has made rapid progress in the Russian market, and is fulfilling orders from The Black Sea to the Pacific.


With three nominees remaining, it was Spicers that was pulled out of the envelope by Scott.
Collecting the award was Eddy Priem, Managing Director, Spicers Benelux on behalf of Spicers’ CEO, Rob Vale, who was unfortunately one of those caught in the UK snow. Spicers is already the leading wholesaler in Europe and 2008 saw it strengthen its position. Impressively the company managed to increase its total sales by 13 percent to £645 million in the past year. While it remains strong in the UK it also continues to stride on in Italy and The Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe.


This year’s awards saw the category of Online Initiative make a welcome debut. The award has been introduced to recognise those organisations that have embraced internet-based technology to create new business opportunities. Judges were looking for evidence of web-based initiatives that maximise the potential of the internet and ultimately have delivered real results. Unsurprisingly given the amount of investment that most companies are making in this area all the entries were of an incredibly high standard.
Christian Langvad, Director Purchasing/Merchandising Europe, OTTO Office quickly ran through the shortlist of Avery Dennison Europe, Commerce Connector, Durable, Euroffice and Sigel.


All would have made a worthy winner but Avery Dennison Europe managed to nudge ahead of the rest and Peter Sperl, Marketing Director European Categories, Avery Dennison Europe was quickly rushing on stage to collect the award. Avery unveiled its new-look avery.com consumer website in 2008 which has improved the browsing experience for site visitors and offers more information and tools for consumers than before.


The judges were also impressed by Avery’s development and successful implementation of an interactive e-mail marketing system which follows a highly targeted one-to-one marketing approach. Despite a relatively limited budget, the system managed to reach more than 1 million consumers in Germany, the UK and France in 2008.


Dealing in ideas


The third award to be presented was Dealer Group of the Year. Entrants had to demonstrate how they meet the needs of their members by providing the most comprehensive package of resources, products and services. They also had to show how they develop their portfolio of member benefits to react to an ever-changing market.
Presenting the award was long-standing EOPA judge Friedrich Becker Birck, Senior Partner, Friedrich Becker-Birck Consulting. Again judging this award proved tough but it was Chris Collinson, Managing Director and Alex Dunn, Sales Director, The Superstat Group, that were soon on stage collecting a Highly Commended award. The company was so pleased to win the award that apparently the office back home was jumping when they found out. Judges felt its continuing push for innovation in terms of its web-based effort could not be ignored.


If that was the reaction of the second placed company it would be interesting to find out what the Soennecken office was like when it found out that it had won the award outright. After a strong showing last year, the judges felt Soennecken’s time had come. The group has enjoyed a period of growth over the last few years in market share and sales volumes. The group offers a full mix of tailored programmes for its varied group of members, invested in a new j20 million facility in 2008 and is arguably now the biggest dealer group in Europe. Collecting the award was a very pleased company CEO, Dr Benedikt Erdmann.


Few awards carry as much meaning for an individual than the Young Professional of the Year sponsored by Brother. Phil Jones, Sales and Marketing Director, Brother UK stepped up to the stage to win in 2008 but this year it was his pleasure to announce a very worthy winner.


Put simply this award seeks out the brightest young talent in our industry. It is given to an executive who, in the opinion of the judges, has the best chance of driving and influencing the office products industry of the future. Jaimi Cyrus, Director, Channel Sales and Programs, LaserJet and Enterprise Solutions, Imaging and Printing Group, EMEA, Hewlett-Packard not only has one of the longest titles in the industry but was a clear winner this year. She is an outstanding individual who has exhibited the professionalism and dynamism that sets her apart and which will no doubt hold her in good stead as she continues her rise in the industry.


Showing initiative


The evening moved on to the award for Marketing Initiative sponsored by Datacopy (M-real). Marketing is not only alive and kicking it is essential in the office products industry. The winner had to demonstrate the effectiveness and success of a specific marketing campaign and, very importantly, had to clearly give evidence that it was a successful campaign. The judges wanted facts, not fancy unsuccessful ideas. The man with the envelope was Simon Guffogg, Marketing Director, M-real and he handed out a dual Highly Commended award to Newell Rubbermaid for both its integrated campaign for DYMO LabelWriter in the UK and Ireland and European launch of its Paper Mate Flexgrip Elite brand.


Gordon Scott, Vice President, Sales and Marketing Europe, Newell Rubbermaid rose to accept the awards. The DYMO LabelWriter campaign in the UK was an ambitious three-month blast across numerous media that generated a breakthrough in sales. From TV campaigns to guerrilla marketing, Paper Mate’s Flexgrip Elite launch was a sophisticated international campaign that helped grow the entire category in a number of markets.


Collecting the prized main award was Ard Jen Spijkervet, VP Marketing, Esselte Leitz for his company’s Leitz Office Games Campaign. Rolled out across 25 countries, the Leitz Office Games was a massive campaign for Esselte. Tying in the Leitz range to sporting events allowed Esselte and its trade partners to sell more effectively to end users and rewarded retailers that ordered quantities of goods with sports items appropriate to the promotion.


Following that award came the first of two reseller awards.
The first, Emerging Reseller of the Year sponsored by Pilot Corporation of Europe seeks to recognise resellers that are building a name for themselves among the established power players or setting the standards in emerging markets. The judges were looking to find the trailblazers of tomorrow who could show impressive growth achieved by using innovative strategies and exceptional levels of service.
Marcel Ringeard, CEO, Pilot Corporation of Europe ran through the shortlist before announcing that French company Bureau Vallée was the winner.


The company has become a serious player in the French market and in the summer of 2008 the retail franchise celebrated the opening of its 100th store and is committed to 20-25 openings per year with the aim of being present in every town of more than 10,000 inhabitants. The award was gratefully received by Bruno Peyroles, Managing Director, Bureau Vallée.


The second award in the category, Reseller of the Year sponsored by 3M was a pretty open affair as the judges sought to find an established European reseller that is really making a difference to the industry and showing true business innovation. 3M’s Maurizio Beolchi, Business Unit Manager for Office Supplies EMEA stepped up to announce the winner.


Surprisingly, out of a shortlist that contained some major European players such as Kaut-Bullinger, Lyreco, OTTO Office and Printus, it was Bertil Johansson of Swedish company Svanströms that navigated the tables to the stage to collect the winner’s award.


Svanströms has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It has managed the trick of not only expanding its own operations but also the Swedish market by being unafraid of investing and innovating. Definitely a company to watch on the European scene.


Highly contested


On to another highly contested prize – Environmental Responsibility sponsored by EOSA.
Arguably the most difficult category to judge because of a group of outstanding entries, a Highly Commended award was inevitable and that was duly won by Everything Office.


Everything Office led an impressive list of nominees and the judges felt it deserved to be recognised as an example for all those striving to go the extra mile.
Everything Office places green customer schemes such as its toner cartridge recycling and furniture recycling programmes at the forefront of its business strategy.


However that was not enough to the deny team at James McNaughton Group’s Talk Paper picking up the highly contested award. Although because of the snow back in the UK they were unable to pick up the award themselves.


Talk Paper has an exceptional environmental and CSR policy in all aspects of its business, from pulp and paper sourcing, product recycled content, recyclability of products and packaging and supply chain. In the last few months it has introduced a carbon neutral delivery in the London region using an electric delivery vehicle.


Innovation and new products are the lifeblood of the office products industry. It was therefore no surprise that once again there were more entries for the New Product Innovation sponsored by Messe Frankfurt than any other. The judges were looking for originality and innovation of the product, and also considered its practicality, application and appeal to consumers.


Ruth Lorenz, VP of Messe Frankfurt presented a Highly Commended award to Esselte whose International Category Manager, Jasmin Gottselig, took to the stage to accept the award for the Leitz CombiFile.


However, the winner of the top prized pulled out of the envelope was Pelikan for its griffix range, a combination of four writing instruments in one unified system.
Griffix is the first complete product system that "guides children on the journey of learning how to write". The launch of griffix was also pitch perfect, reaching out to teachers and parents through direct marketing and internet activities, plus TV advertising. Collecting the award was Executive Vice President Arno Alberty.


Few awards in this industry are as prestigious as Vendor of the Year sponsored by The Stationery & Office Products Show (SOPX).
The winner of this award proved it was capable of exceptional product development and innovation, as well as a commitment to high standards and excellent customer service. Critically it also showed its strategies had generated impressive business results throughout the year.


Understandably Ronny Van Rossem, VP Merchandising, Staples Europe, was given the longest shortlist of the night with ACCO Brands, Avery Dennison Europe, Esselte, Fellowes, Hewlett-Packard, Really Useful Products, Samsung and Stabilo contesting the award.


Both Phil O’Neill, Senior VP Sales EMEA, ACCO Brands and Hans-Guenther Klenk, VP/General Manager, Avery Dennison Europe rose to accept Highly Commended awards for their respective companies.
Both companies faced many challenges in 2008 but have continued to excel in serving their customers.
However it was the Esselte Europe cast of thousands including President Cezary Monko that ran en-masse onto the stage to accept the award for Vendor of the Year. The third time on stage, the night marked a remarkable year for Esselte. The company enjoyed growth in the US but it was the big successes
or Esselte Europe in Poland, Russia, Czech Republic and most recently in Hungary that were particularly noteworthy. Its high impact and sales-driven web promotions are indicative of the aggressive company that Esselte has become.


OPI‘s Editor’s Choice award was created for those companies that do not fit neatly into the categories the magazine publishes. This year’s award presented by OPI‘s Editor, Stephen White and went to Christian Lane, Managing Director, Foldio.
Armed with a brilliantly simple idea – an art folder that doesn’t crease the paper inside – and no shortage of entrepreneurial courage, Lane captured the imagination of Ryman chief Theo Paphitis when he appeared on the Dragon’s Den TV programme. Barely out of his teens, there cannot have been many younger winners of an EOPA award.


The following award, Special Recognition Award for Outstanding Environmental Leadership, was another first for the EOPA and won by Office Depot.


As presenter Jonathan Smith, VP Sales, Avery Dennison Europe explained: "When the judging panel met in November and were discussing the environmental award, we felt incredibly lucky to be presented by so many strong nominations. However there is one company that has demonstrated a commitment to the green cause, not just in the last 12 months but has set the standard for many years.
"This long term dedication places this company, and the office products industry, at the forefront of the global effort to combat climate change and the creation of sustainable industries. A unique achievement, and one the judging panel felt was worthy of special recognition."


Without question the most touching highlight of the evening was the final one – Industry Achievement. The award recognises the achievements of a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the office products industry in Europe.


Eric Bigeard, CEO, Lyreco, once again stepped up to deliver a quite brilliant and humorous biography of the winner (written originally by Rob Vale, CEO of Spicers, who was unfortunately snow-bound in the UK).


A well-loved, tireless and (looking at the accompanying slides) a fun-loving personality, the winner was Bob Jones. The popular retiring European Sales Director of ACCO Brands was greeted by a warm standing ovation as he took to the stage to deliver an emotional farewell.


In celebration, ACCO invited the audience to celebrate at the bar. There were only few that declined the kind offer.