As BOSS celebrates its 100th anniversary, CEO Keith Davies talks to OPI+ about the federation’s future, the long-term value of new initiatives such as OPDEX and opXML, and explains how the federation is helping to tackle the industry’s big issues…
OPI+: The BOSS Federation celebrated its Centenary Gala Dinner at Stationers’ Hall in London on 15 September. How did the evening go, what were its highlights and what did you feel was the larger significance of the celebration for the organisation?
KD: It was rewarding to see a real ‘A’ list of the UK industry from all the different channels and the trade press under one historic roof. It struck me that, without BOSS, many of these people would never normally spend time together in a way that facilitates business contacts and often lasting friendships, even between fierce competitors.
There were several highlights for me, particularly the succinct and powerful speeches made by Ron Wotherspoon, Alan Barclay and Rick Needle, but the nicest was the look of complete surprise on the face of my colleague Louis Demetriou when presented with his retirement caricature gift after 24 years of service to the trade.
OPI+: One hundred years is indeed a milestone for any organisation. What do you feel have been the organisation’s greatest achievements to date, and what are your greatest priorities going forward?
KD: We have many successes under our belt, ranging from running the hugely successful Statindex trade show for many years to developing barcode standards in the late 1980s and resolving the thorny and costly issue of ‘packs and pers’ at the end of the 1990s.
Going forward, our priorities remain to inform, enable and improve the businesses of our members by providing initiatives, services and benefits relevant to their needs in a constantly changing marketplace.
OPI+: What do you consider to be your greatest challenges and how do you hope to overcome them?
KD: Firstly, as an organisation funded almost entirely by subscription, our greatest challenge continues to be maintaining revenue against an industry background of ongoing mergers and consolidation. Every time two companies merge we lose a valuable piece of income.
Secondly, we are fighting for discretionary spending in a tight market, for a benefit that doesn’t always have immediate ROI as we are often engaged in activities that take months or even years to come to fruition, such as opXML and OPDEX.
OPI+: How is the OPDEX project going? How have you overcome any stumbling blocks to date and how quickly do you believe the technology will start offering real benefit to the industry?
KD: The challenge of introducing OPDEX, a technology project never before achieved in OP, is a good example of where short-term overhead cost and resource issues for some companies (but not all) prevent them from seeing the massive benefits to be gained in the medium term from improved data management and retrieval. Nevertheless, we now have well over 100 suppliers and growing subscribed and are confident of increasing our reseller support imminently. Most of the industry’s leading names support OPDEX and I would encourage the bystanders to get off the fence and join them since this opportunity should be seized now for everyone’s benefit.
In terms of when the benefits will kick in, I think we’ll see a pivotal change in 2006, once people have overcome their initial caution and unfamiliarity with the service.
OPI+: How successful has your market tracking service been to date and how crucial do you consider this service to the industry?
KD: We’ve just released the first set of data for the first quarter of this year so it’s early days. However, the interest we’ve had from members and non-members is very encouraging. Again, this is an industry first for BOSS; never before has real data been extracted from dealers’ systems to provide accurate and consistent sales information by category on a quarterly basis. As our universe of contributors grows, we aim to increase frequency and produce a monthly report free to our members which they tell us is reason alone to justify the Federation’s subscription.
OPI+: To what extent do you plan on increasing membership over this year and how do you aim to do this?
KD: Our membership, like any association, has a certain amount of churn each year, so we have to replace lost members with new ones just to maintain existing numbers. We will continue to target new entrants to the market as well as win back those companies that have strayed by reinforcing our comprehensive value proposition of new benefits such as the ones mentioned earlier. Our work benefits members and non-members alike, and it’s this latter group that we want to encourage to play their part and pay their way.
OPI+: You have been in talks with the Federation of School & Office Products Associations (FOSPA) over the last few months about helping to stamp out global counterfeiting. How do you feel you can help your members with an international dimension to this end?
KD: Maintaining international links is another vital part of the work BOSS does, often with a long-term perspective. Our associates in FOSPA collectively run several major shows around the world, so it’s of obvious benefit to our manufacturer members, particularly the international ones, to be part of this valuable information loop on their behalf and to be a valuable channel of information in the fight to prevent this unwelcome factor in the trade.
OPI+: In the wake of the general election, you spoke out about the UK government not supporting the country’s dwindling manufacturing community in its drive to gain new markets abroad. How is this problem being addressed in your view?
KD: The short answer is not very well! Funding from UK Trade and Investment has been reduced and access to it has become more convoluted and complex. The direct result of this for British companies in the OP industry is that the expertise and experience of our organisation, built up over many years, will be lost to would-be exporters from next year. As I’ve said before, this contrasts heavily with the situation in the USA and elsewhere where export growth for small firms is encouraged.