Two weeks ago David Grassby left Spicers after 22 years in OP wholesaling. As the dust from his move starts to settle, he talks to OPI+ about the end of an era, the trends that have shaped his time at Spicers and his plans for the future
OPI+: How does it feel to have left Spicers after seven years with the company – and indeed OP wholesaling after 22 years?
David Grassby (DG): It’s early days but it feels exciting. I have had a great time with both Spicers and Kingfield Heath, but now it is time for me to spread my OP wings into other sectors of our industry.
You only have to recall the year when it all started [in my case 1984], to realise just how life has changed and how long one has been around. Mobile phones weren’t invented and fax machines were all the rage back then.
OPI+: So what are your plans?
DG: In the short term I am busy responding to the many kind messages of support that I have received from friends and supporters in the trade. It is at these times you realise just how many people you have done business or had dealings with. The dealer feedback is probably the most gratifying.
Having been in wholesaling for so long, if I am to remain in this industry, then I hope that my skills and experience can be utilised in a different part of the trade.
[In the meantime], I plan to devote plenty of energy in cheering on England’s World Cup team, ably supported by "Mr Guinness".
OPI+: What were your worst and fondest moments at Spicers during your time there? What do you feel were your biggest achievements?
DG: The worst moments were when service slipped to dealers and bright young colleagues felt the need to leave to get on.
My fondest moments are a mixture of the tangible and intangible. The SOS exhibition is now a recognised industry highlight and the responsibility for the revamp of the 5-Star brand image are probably the two that are uppermost in my mind.
I also enjoyed the challenge of "crisis managing" one of our RDCs for a brief period when it was in service and morale meltdown. That ship didn’t sink and was handed over to a new captain intact!
On the less tangible side, when I joined Spicers, I was asked to help the company soften its image, especially in the eyes of customers. I would like to think that I played some small part in doing that. The introduction of more dealer consultation and the projection of a friendlier and more relaxed approach have worked in part. Customers and vendors that have attended Spicers events and functions seem to think they are more interesting and good fun.
OPI+: What were the biggest changes you’ve witnessed at Spicers in your time with the company? In what ways do you feel Spicers UK is better placed for the future than it was a few years ago?
DG: The biggest changes have happened in recent times and are still taking place now. I do believe that Spicers is now reacting in a meaningful way to a marketplace that has seen its largest competitor re-invent itself and get stronger. At the same time, [it has seen] the introduction of newer, competitive threats. Spicers will have to compete, no question, and needs to adjust its business model accordingly.
A new senior face, with new and bold ideas, is a very good start.
OPI+: What trends have most impacted the OP wholesaling community during your 22 years with the industry?
DG: Not necessarily in any order but the introduction of EOS and the wholesalers’ mixed attempts to manage that within their mix.
Second, the reduction of national office product wholesalers from four to two. Four was perhaps too many, three gave dealers greater choice.
[There was also] the emergence and now the consolidation of dealer groups. Groups do not get the praise they should, dealers often moan about their group, suppliers see them as just adding levels of cost, but for many dealers the support and differentiation their group gives them is a real plus and many represent good value.
Lastly, seeing the "contract stationers" move down the line to target smaller consumers, thus giving small and medium-sized dealers serious price competition.
OPI+: How do you believe the role of the OP wholesaler in the UK will change over the coming years?
DG: Not as radically as some might think. The wholesalers’ role is pretty well defined, but if they are to help dealers compete more effectively they (and dealers) will have to operate on lower margins and cost bases to compete.
Bringing new, innovative products to the consumer more quickly and being able to promote products dynamically and more effectively will give dealers something to compete with.
OPI+: Do you believe that the wholesalers’ relationship with both manufacturers and dealers is stronger now than in the past? How do you believe it could be further strengthened?
DG: The wholesalers need dealers and the dealers need wholesalers. If two major protagonists enter into a war of attrition, no one wins in the long run.
The word partnership is overused and rarely done well. The dealers that are keen, hungry, willing to participate and try things without being too margin-greedy, are not in the majority. And suppliers will spend money if it moves product.
Perhaps the wholesaler, with supplier support, should place a greater level of marketing support with dealers that have these qualities and less with the rest. In return those dealers will repay that investment with greater sales and their long-term loyalty.