Both US-based manufacturer rep group The Highlands Group (THG) and UK-based business development firm The Business Performance Group (BPG) were looking to move into each other’s respective markets, but required a partner that already had an established client base with a different, but complementary, service proposition.
A chance meeting at the 2013 European Office Products Awards dinner in Frankfurt between the two firms set in motion a major advancement in how agencies support resellers.
OPI: What is the BPG/THG proposition?
Luke Chapman: We are working hard behind the scenes to create programmes that can span any of our range of services, from telemarketing and lead generation or end-user demand creation, through to field support at reseller and key end-user level or e-marketing and content management for the e-tail sector.
Bob O’Gara: We are three growing businesses – The Highlands Group, The BP Group UK and The BP Group US – that, when viewed together, offer a compelling proposition to suppliers and resellers in both the US and UK markets.
We are pushing our businesses to become not just simply a provider of outsourced selling for manufacturers, but also a provider of services that support the reseller community at large.
OPI: What does the alliance offer in terms of helping to solve dealer/supplier issues?
BO’G: Manufacturers are happy to invest in dealer/reseller programmes when they can see a clear ROI. Historically, this information has not been easy to come by, either because it was unavailable or not in the interests of the reseller to share it.
Moving forward, the dealers that are willing to share their outbound sales information will derive an enormous benefit from manufacturers/suppliers that will invest marketing funds to help the dealers sell a more profitable mix of products in existing categories as well as new categories of products.
OPI: Has anything surprising happened over the course of the partnership?
LC: It has been surprising how quick the market has been to accept the model. We both believe that the OP industry will evolve even more rapidly (think Staples and Depot), which will only support our model and its viability for the channel and associated channels in the future.
BO’G: Channel blurring across all B2B markets is a challenge and opportunity for all players in the OP market. While our background is in the office channel, we believe that successful players in the B2B market will work across multiple product categories and multiple resellers in the future. We are racing to build a world-class B2B sales and marketing organisation so we can help our partners win as this convergence takes place.
OPI: How similar/dissimilar are the US and UK markets?
LC: The US and UK markets are structurally similar but the cultures differ a great deal. I believe the US has a more entrepreneurial feel while Europe still has a more conservative nature.
BO’G: At first glance it is easy to think that they are quite similar. Both have two wholesalers, there are many independent dealers, and Staples and Office Depot are factors. A deeper look, however, quickly disabuses this. The two wholesalers in the UK are also contract stationers and Staples and Depot are not nearly as influential in the UK as they are in the US.
Finally, suppliers in the US are much more deeply engaged at all levels of the channel in the US.
OPI: What have been the biggest challenges?
BO’G: Introducing brand advocacy into the UK market has been challenging as we are asking suppliers to pay for something new.
Fortunately, we had Avery and Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP) agree to work with us on a test basis to prove that brand advocacy could provide a desirable ROI if conducted properly. Now that the model is proven, we have enjoyed a surge of interest from suppliers wishing to invest in the channel.
OPI: What brands do you have and what brands are you expecting to take on?
LC: In the UK we represent a range of major manufacturers including Avery and KCP, and at this stage we have around ten in total. We also support a range of new market brands and some specialists in the FM sector.
The categories will grow considerably during 2015 with some new channel partners. Our goal is to emulate our US market, which is a basket of key vendors across all of the major product categories.
OPI: What are your priorities for 2015?
LC: For BPG UK it is to continue expanding the range of suppliers and dealers we work with. In the US, it is to build on the foundation we laid down in April 2014.
BO’G: We are completely revamping our field go-to-market strategy to better reflect what our channel partners are asking for. Our field sales team will be introducing a range of marketing tools to dealers to help drive their business with the brands we support. We are building an inside sales team to offer greater support to our suppliers and to more efficiently cover the market.
This year is going to be one of the most transformative in our company’s history. We are engineering the company for the future B2B marketplace.