Event Review: OPI Global Forum 2016

The sixth OPI Global Forum, held from 13-15 November at the Sofitel Magnificent Mile in Chicago, was the biggest and best attended yet.

Approximately 130 senior-level executives from aound the world gathered for a superior content as well as networking experience. The international flavour of the event was stronger than ever, with a sizeable contingent from Australia, Europe, Mexico and Canada attending, in addition to the many US delegates.

Conference moderator Robert Baldrey was back by popular demand – he also moderated the last (and fifth) OPI European Forum in London in December 2015. After a brief ‘state of the industry’ address, he expertly guided the attendees through a packed schedule of presentations, panel discussions and roundtable groups over the two conference days.

Greater dealer focus

For the first time since the Global Forum concept was launched in 2009, the independent dealer community (IDC) accounted for a sizeable proportion of the delegate list. And indeed, the roundtable discussion specifically aimed at progressive independent resellers, dealer groups and wholesalers was one of the best attended of all, testifying to the fact that a certain contingent of the IDC is fully embracing the challenges thrown at them.

As one dealer delegate commented: “At events like this all the various market trends are being talked about. To see that we’re on the same track really validates that we’re going in the right direction.”

In lieu of a big interview with just one person, OPI this year opted for a real power panel discussion at the end of the first day of the conference, with Essendant’s Bob Aiken, ADVEO’s Jaime Carbó, Staples’ Joe Doody, 3M’s Jeff Hillins and SP Richards’ Rick Toppin all in attendance. Hosted by OPI’s CEO Steve Hilleard, this panel aptly illustrated the calibre of the conference. And, given that Chatham House rules apply throughout – precluding us from divulging any specific details – it also allowed them to be candidly honest in their views.

It’s safe to say all five panellists face challenges in their respective positions that perfectly mirror those of the industry at large. These include the challenge of growing margins and customer loyalty in an increasingly price-transparent world, the changing workplace due to, for example, the Internet of Things, and the increasing need to customise offerings and also include more content in marketing campaigns.

Overriding all other topics and the biggest elephant in the room predictably was Amazon, formidable in its customer reach and technological expertise. This makes the prospect of Amazon Business – already a reality in the US and since very recently Germany – an even more daunting one.

But while the topic of Amazon – and technology – was an omnipresent one, there were plenty of other issues that were covered in some detail and that delegates perhaps had a better chance of conquering: successful succession planning, exploring new product adjacencies, facing and combatting the threat of cyber attacks, engendering customer loyalty, etc.

One of the highlights of the event is the unrivalled networking opportunity that it brings. One delegate said: “The networking at the Global Forum is superb. Being with other leaders in the industry, whether they be customers, competitors or non-competing vendors, has been really vital for me in being a successful manager in my own business.”

The next OPI European Forum will be held from 14-16 June 2017 at The Westin Grand in Berlin, Germany. For details, visit www.opi.net/EF2017.