Category analysis: Core office products

An in-depth look at the traditional office products market. There is life left yet in the sector.

Defining core office products is a subjective business, sizing them up even more so. From filing and archiving products over labels to desktop accessories and writing instruments, the category encompasses so many sub segments that it’s not wise to tar every one of them with the same brush. 

And the outlook is far from bleak. Take staplers. According to UK market research firm GfK, staplers have been one of the star performers so far in 2013 (January to March), with the retail channel in particular seeing strong value and volume growth of 38.6% and 33.1% respectively. Sticky notes, meanwhile, have been doing particularly well in the business channel, with value growth of 23.7%. This compares to value and volume growth in GfK’s total audited UK market of 15.5% and 14.1% respectively. 

In both categories, the high value lifts were driven by a growth in private label products combined with an increase in average selling prices.

Filing downturn

Across the pond in the US, it’s the filing category that is the most heavily influenced by private label products. It’s also the one that over the past couple of years has seen the steepest decline, according to US-based research firm The NPD Group. 

Focusing primarily on own label growth is ultimately counter-productive, says Rita Lübbe, Senior Brand Consultant at German management consultancy firm GMK Markenberatung: “We’re in a market of hyper competition in a category that’s very mature. I think that branding is extremely important here, but actually ranks fairly lowly. But if you are not in the hands and hearts of the consumer you have completely comparable products.”

Indeed, adds Gregg Corbett, UK Marketing Director at Avery Office & Consumer Products: “With many consumers facing budget cuts, offering private label products can seem like the way forward in the short term, but in the current climate what businesses need are products that offer greater convenience, increased efficiency and real value. As job cuts become a reality in many offices, staff are frequently finding that they need all the extra help they can get with everyday office tasks. If resellers can offer products that genuinely speed up working processes it can make all the difference to consumers’ lives.”

There are plenty of bandwagons for vendors to jump on to make their products current and give their ranges a new lease of life. 

Particularly on the desktop accessories front, growth in the US is stimulated by the increase in SOHO workers. Lora Morsovillo, President of Office Supplies at The NPD Group, says: “The growth over the past year has a lot to do with decorative components and you can treat any desk accessory as a decorative fixture within your office.” 

The Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery range is a good example of celebrity endorsement at retail level, with Martha Stewart having her own area section in many retail stores, “providing a home office solution that’s decorative”

Decorative, yes, adds Avery’s Corbett, but it’s more than that: “People are frequently working from a spare bedroom or their kitchen table, so they need accessories that are practical but also feel like they’re part of the home décor. With the Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery range this need is met with stackable desktop items that create plenty of storage space.”

With space issues in mind, Avery has also taken the concept to the office setting, he adds: “Many offices now opt for a contemporary, open plan layout, meaning desktop accessories have had to adapt to reflect this style. With flexible and part-time working a feature of many workplaces, hot-desking also continues to be popular, generating a need for desks to be left tidy and organised for the next person.” 

Picking your audience

So the average desk has become a little less cluttered in these times of hot-desking, digital filing and archiving, but the traditional filing of paper will never be completely replaced. And that’s where stamps still play an essential role, particularly in the education sector, government offices, banking and legal institutions, not to mention most offices where date stamps and stock text stamps are a common feature. It is here, says COLOP’s Marketing Manager Gerald Binder, where stamps equipped with archive proof stamp ink are required. 

Office products – low in importance in the overall scheme of things – may not naturally lend themselves to being bespoke, but customisation is certainly a way to stand out from the crowd. COLOP this year launched its ‘Special edition’ of its standard stamp product. It’s not so much customised as directed at a specific audience – women. It’s the company’s first product made by women for women, says Binder, who reports international success with this small range, particularly used for promotions such as World Women’s Day or Mother’s Day.

Avery has identified the same need for customisation, adds Adam Bratter, Marketing Director of the firm’s US labels segment: “One demand driver for Avery products is the trend towards personal customisation and handcrafted products. As creative entrepreneurs are using the latest technologies to start new businesses, Avery is uniquely positioned as a resource to these micro/small business start-ups. Within the last two years we have created a range of labels in new shapes, finishes and materials and this new line is selling through very well.”

But, warns Lübbe, after you’ve made something that stands out, you have to let the consumer know about it. “If you don’t tell your consumers what’s different about your brand, you can’t expect them to view you as different. Many firms don’t make enough effort towards the end-user.”

Social media importance

And it is here where social media has been increasingly important in bringing products closer to the consumer, sometimes directly, sometimes via the reseller. 

The Pen Shop is a UK-based chain of stores specialising in refillable writing instruments. About 20 months ago, Managing Director Colin McClymont had his first experience of how powerful social media can be. 

He recalls: “Parker was preparing to launch a new product called 5th Dimension. It was a new type of product and we just kept flagging it up on our website and on Twitter with ‘watch this space’ and ‘coming soon’ because we were getting it first in the UK before any other country, and because The Pen Shop had it exclusively for the first four weeks. 

“What we didn’t realise is that all our followers would tweet the ‘watch this space’ to their friends etc, so when we launched the product, within 24 hours we were inundated with orders from all over Europe. That was probably the first time that we had, without any shadow of a doubt, proof that if you’re launching something and you want to use social media to market it, yes, it absolutely works 100%.”