EOPA: The class of 2018

It's the season of award ceremonies. And while they are not the Oscars, Emmy Awards, BAFTAs or Golden Globes, it was nevertheless a night to remember at the European Office Products Awards (EOPA).

Held for the 17th time in 2018 and for the fifth time as part of OPI’s invitation-only Partnership event at the Hotel Okura in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, a total of 11 awards rewarded exceptional companies, inspiring initiatives
 and campaigns, innovative products and outstanding individuals.

After the networking reception – always a highly-valued part of the event as the biggest and best operators in the business supplies industry come together – and the gala dinner, Bernard Cloquet, Director of International Development at France-based reseller Bureau Vallée, kicked off award proceedings with a heartfelt industry toast.

The ensuing ceremony offered a veritable kaleidoscope of what our industry looks like today – varied, multi-coloured, ever-changing. And perhaps that is part of the enduring appeal of the EOPA, even after all these years – the fact that every single year the make-up of the winners is somehow different and reflects what’s happening in our sector. Even the award categories often change from year to year, with OPI as the organiser and the judging panel always mindful of the need for fluidity and flexibility.

The winning companies are very much a mix of the familiar and the new. What they all have in common is that they are clearly operators that push the boundaries, think outside the box and manage to continuously reinvent themselves. Crowdsourcing as a marketing vehicle? Unheard of in our industry (and most others for that matter) until recently. A video that makes the humble shredder a topic of entertainment? Unlikely.

Recognising what’s good and great about our industry is important and vital for further ongoing improvement. Congratulations to all the winners and here’s to EOPA 2019!

Initiative of the Year

Winner: International Paper

Initiative of the Year was split off the Marketing category this year as the many entries received fitted slightly varying purposes and fulfilled different criteria. 

With its initiative, the winner International Paper further added to its corporate social responsibility credentials. The HP Papers Pink Ream campaign not only reached many geographical markets and increased the company’s own sales, it also made a considerable financial contribution to breast cancer charity, the Komen Europe Network. The initiative was commended for raising brand awareness of a commodity product as well as for generating a ‘feel-good, worthy cause’ factor among its customer base. 

Well done to International Paper for an initiative that successfully combines business with societal benefits.

Marketing Campaign of the Year 

Winner: BIC

This was a big and popular category and one that, given the width and breadth of entries, was quickly split into two sections – Marketing Campaign and Initiative of the Year (see above). 

On the marketing side, the judges were impressed with a number of campaigns and this was shown in the shortlist. With Fellowes as a highly-lauded exception, writing instruments featured strongly in innovative and consumer-driven campaigns. Ultimately, it was the #BICTemptations campaign that most piqued the judges’ interest with its contemporary concept that, importantly, also achieved excellent double-digit sales increases in the process. 

The core premise of BIC’s campaign was a competition on crowdsourcing platform eYeka whereby 15-25 year olds were invited to submit videos about the value of BIC’s 4 Colours Pen. The best videos were then shared on YouTube and Facebook during BIC’s back-to-school season. Great contemporary marketing campaign with content produced by its own customer base that generated impressive results.

Vendor of the Year

Winner: Bi-silque

This was a hotly-contested category that engendered plenty of discussion among the judges. Whittling it down to a shortlist was easy enough, deciding on a winner was not. 

With all the facts to hand and the research done, however, the best of the best soon became apparent – Portugal-based Bi-silque. The reasons? Continuously innovative products in a mature category; considerable sales growth in a saturated market; excellent partnerships with the wholesale and reseller communities; and great marketing across several media. 

The delighted Bi-silque team is richly deserving of this year’s Vendor of the Year award – congratulations!

Highly commended: Fellowes 

Young Executive of the Year 

Winner: Abdul Khamkar 

This award, now in its second year, seeks to reward a young executive who is making a real impact in his/her business and has the potential to shape the future of our industry. 

There were several very worthy candidates on the shortlist, but collating all the feedback received throughout the judging process, there was ultimately one clear winner – Abdul Khamkar from Office Depot. To sum Abdul up in one key word, he is someone who simply “delivers”. This is a person who’s expected to go a long way in our industry, having impressed already with his dedication, can-do attitude and absolute ease to work with.

The business products industry needs young and dynamic individuals to ensure its continued success – Abdul is one of them. 

Reseller of the Year – over €100 million

Winner: Amazon

The reseller of the year category always sparks big and lengthy discussions, as one particular company looms so large. 

Given that the market in many European countries is difficult and presents many challenges, especially for the retail sector, it’s an amazing feat to have a retailer on the shortlist (Bureau Vallée). But this year again, as on several occasions before, it’s the player that is the most disruptive, causes the most headaches to the competition and continuously meets  customer expectations that pipped everyone else to the post. 

Congratulations to Amazon for scooping this award by simply meeting and exceeding most of the criteria in this category. Add high double-digit growth, efficiency and – finally – profitability, and it’s an all-round package that’s hard to beat. 

Reseller with revenues – under €100 million 

Winner: Officeday

A strong presence in their local market is one of the core criteria for winning the Reseller of the Year award. And the winner in the under €100 million category certainly has that. 

Officeday is a true multichannel operator in the three countries where it operates – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – with wholesale, retail and as well as B2B contract operations. 

Expansive in terms of product portfolio, tech-savvy in terms of how to sell that portfolio and ambitious in terms of its geographical reach, Officeday has done all the groundwork towards its objective of becoming an innovative office and school supplies company in the Baltics that provides best-in-class products and services.

Industry Achievement 

Winner: Hans Schmid

The highest accolade of all the EOPAs – the Industry Achievement award – went to a person who would much rather stay out of the limelight and is much keener on getting on with running his business. But that was not the reason why Hans Schmid, President of German reseller Printus, couldn’t be present at the awards ceremony in Amsterdam, with the trophy instead being collected by his wife Mary Victoria Gerardi-Schmid. Sadly, Schmid was taken ill shortly before the event and couldn’t attend. 

Presenting the award to him via Mary Victoria was long-time friend and business partner Horst-Werner Maier-Hunke from German manufacturer Durable. Charting his professional history to as early as 1973 when Schmid’s entrepreneurial spirit first shone through with the purchase of his own business at the age of 28, Maier-Hunke went through some of the highlights of Schmid’s career. He particularly emphasised his achievements at Printus, the company that began as a small mail order operator and developed, under Schmid’s leadership, into a multichannel, multi-million euro operator of stationery products, promotional items and consumer electronics. To give just some of the key facts, Printus now generates revenues of over €800 million ($895 million), employs 1,600 staff and supplies 40,000 products to more than one million customers. Schmid’s latest big business deal was the purchase of OTTO Office in 2015 which at the time added about €200 million in sales to Printus.

The Industry Achievement award stipulates a number of criteria that need to be met: a contribution and clear commitment to the industry; outstanding leadership and performance; and a high level of respect and admiration from colleagues.

Schmid easily fulfils all of them, with Maier-Hunke also particularly referring to his highly ethical approach to business in general, his company and staff in particular, as well as his local community. A highly deserving winner indeed.

Professional of the Year

Winner: Arnold Theuws

Introduced by last year’s winner of the Professional of the Year trophy, Bi-silque’s Beth Wright, this award seeks to reward individuals who are ambitious, dedicated and successful in their company specifically and their channel at large. The 2018 winner meets all of the criteria – and then some.

He – not another female as Wright was quick to point out – has has been running Netherlands-based Quantore for seven years, after several years in the organisation. In fact, Arnold Theuws became the first Quantore employee when CIB and Veneka merged in 2001. Quantore, of course, also won the Wholesaler of the Year award this year, in itself an indication of Theuws’ credentials. 

Theuws is deeply passionate about his business and completely committed to his employees and the cause of the independent dealer. But he expects the same professional commitment, honesty and passion from everybody around him, as Wright humorously pointed out, not just staff but also his members and suppliers. 

One of the early adopters of the dealer group cum wholesaler cum reseller model, Theuws is extremely business-savvy and highly analytical in his approach. Everything about his organisation is progressive – the large, fully-automated, sophisticated warehouse and entire logistics; its continuous investment back into its operations (Quantore is a not-for-profit organisation); its central branding initiative; its budding tender business; and its vision to grow and take market share in a declining market.

Never resting on his laurels and always aiming to do better, Theuws is also hugely personable and the judges had a very easy time indeed on deciding on this year’s Professional of the Year.