Category Analysis: Jan/san 2014

Growing numbers of office supplies players are seeing the potential of the jan/san sector - after all, every office environment needs to be kept clean - and are keen to take share from the traditional jan/san distributors


Wherever people are working, they need a clean, safe and healthy working environment and jan/san products sit right at the core of this requirement. But traditional supply and distribution channels in this sector are changing and many OP wholesalers and resellers are adapting to maximise the opportunities this presents.

Necessity, not nice-to-have

As some OP categories decline, many companies are diversifying into the jan/san sector, aware of the fact that virtually every business or office has a need for these types of products and are increasingly looking to single-source all their office requirements from one supplier.

Robert de Montigny, CEO at Novexco in Canada, says: “The jan/san category has rapidly become one of the main focuses of our growth strategy, with a view to meeting all the supply needs of our customers and dealers. The performance of the jan/san sector is now surpassing other more traditional categories.”

As Debbie Nice, Category Head of Facilities Supplies at UK wholesaler VOW, explains: “Jan/san products are an essential part of running a business – not a ‘nice-to-have’. We’ve seen sales grow at over 35% year on year, but there’s still massive potential and we’re looking for further new opportunities in this sector, particularly in healthcare product areas.”

United Stationers’ jan/san group over in the US takes a similar stance: “Unlike traditional office supplies, shifting behaviours do not suppress demand for jan/san items – employees need a clean restroom and a healthy workspace whatever they are doing.”

This ever-present need has also helped this sector weather economic storms. While other categories suffered significantly, some companies report that the jan/san category didn’t feel the full ferocity of the downturn and many are reporting healthy sales. As Jo Oakley, Buyer of Kitchen & Cleaning at Officeworks in Australia, puts it: “While not totally recession-proof, businesses that cut back on staff still have to ensure they provide clean kitchens, bathrooms and work areas for those that remain. We’ve seen a moderate, but consistent 2.2% growth year on year and we expect this to continue and increase.”

Sofidel reports similar progress in Italy. Marketing Assistant Viviane Gueli says: “It’s been a good year to date with a positive second quarter, and we expect a strong finish. Economic activity, more employment and population growth are all helping to fuel the fire.”

Category statistics back up what all parts of the supply chain are witnessing. Data from GfK in the UK shows that the sector is strong, with total jan/san sales in value up 10.7% year on year, with the last quarter showing especially strong growth of 13.7%. The ‘cleaning product’ sub-category is performing particularly well, with 20.3% year-on-year growth and a 23.6% increase in the last quarter. 

As Leanne Whittaker, GfK Senior Account Manager, Retail World, says: “We believe many B2B retailers and resellers are moving into this area to provide the ‘one-stop shop’ for all business supplies.” 

US data from The NPD Group tells a similarly positive tale. Office Supplies Category Specialist Leen Nsouli points out: “Total dollar sales in the jan/san category grew overall by 2% over the last year, with commercial sales growing 16%. E-commerce sales for paper towels, tissues and dispensers showed a particularly strong 36% rise. We see a trend for first quarter sales of jan/san products to be higher than others, especially for hand cleaners, most likely fuelled by the flu season.”

Germ warfare

Workplace health and safety are key drivers for this sector and the desire to comply with regulations and keep a workforce fit and well by combating the spread of bacteria and viruses means investment in jan/san is seen as money well spent.

According to United Stationers, “unscheduled absenteeism and lost productivity bring considerable cost and workers’ compensation claims are a growing concern for owners and managers”. Creating a clean, germ-free office makes for happy, more-productive workers. “We see lots of potential in those products that support this workplace wellness,” the wholesalers adds, while also referring to seasonal needs: “Spring cleaning and the arrival of the cold and flu season or news stories around health issues such as the spread of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus can drive demand for new products and solutions.” 

Rob Abrahams, European Purchasing Director at ADVEO, also finds that media attention on health stories can impact sales: “Any mention of the rise of a ‘super-bug’ can create a huge spike in demand, especially for hand sanitisers, although this drops back to previous levels as soon as everyone has forgotten the story and the media has moved on. Companies really need to be more consistent.”

At Soundview, a manufacturer of towel and tissue products for the office, Noel Huebner, Director of Marketing, Alternate Channels, notices a growing awareness that “the most effective means of preventing cross-contamination is through hand washing and drying with paper towels”. The healthcare segment, which it also supplies, is especially sensitive to the impact of this practice on reducing hospital-acquired infections.

Raising awareness

VOW’s Nice sees merit in using social media to raise awareness of hygiene issues while Kimberly-Clark has launched the delightfully-named to back its seasonal ‘Prepare to Care’ campaign to lessen the effects of cold and flu in the workplace. The website gives visitors an idea of when the flu virus is predicted to come calling in their location.

Kleinmann in Germany has taken things even further in the fight against office bugs. It’s developed a device (see picture below) that assesses the hygiene status of any surface by measuring the bacteria count and delivering a verdict on its contamination level in seconds. It uses the device in a number of demonstrations to show the effectiveness of its Dataflash cleaning products by measuring bacteria levels both before and after use on keyboards, mice, telephones and desks. “It’s the most effective way of showing the usefulness of our products,” says Kasia Holland, Kleinmann’s Account Manager.

Technology has also had an impact on the products themselves. Vectair Systems regards itself as being on the cutting-edge here, bringing sub-micron fragrance technology, Piezo devices and antimicrobial chemistry to its product range. But despite the impressive-sounding specifications, Paul Wonnacott, its Managing Director, knows that ultimately “customers and resellers just want hygiene products that work well, are safe and don’t cost the earth”. He adds: “We believe in simple science where products look simple and act simple, yet provide extremely powerful results.”

Education is key

With so many new players now moving into the jan/san market, a lack of product expertise is hampering some as they break new ground. As ADVEO’s Abrahams explains: “Without doubt the biggest challenge is around knowledge, experience and confidence about the products. For companies where jan/san has not previously been a core focus it takes time to adapt and understand what they need to do to deliver to their full potential. Education and training are critical to developing this category and we all have an important role to play here.”

Novexco’s de Montigny adds: “Firstly, we had to get our sales force and the dealers on board and convince them of the need to add jan/san to our offering. Secondly, we had to raise awareness among our end customers regarding this new category to change their purchasing habits. The sales force was then trained to assess customers’ needs in jan/san products and educate them as to how Novexco could meet those needs.”

SP Richards is taking a proactive approach to education and training too. Kelly Wilson, Merchandise Marketing Manager, says: “We’ve made two strategic acquisitions this year to help fuel growth in this category and have invested heavily in dealer training. Our goal is to train 1,800 reps this summer with intense one-day sessions in 18 cities across the US to increase their knowledge and confidence level.”

Fellow US wholesaler United Stationers also has a heavy focus on training. As the jan/san group explains: “It takes time for resellers to develop confidence in their ability to sell jan/san products and some shy away from this category altogether. We’ve helped our resellers take on the low-hanging fruit in cleaning products and have a dedicated jan/san helpdesk to provide support when they face challenges. We’ve also established three-day intensive training ‘boot camps’ which complement our monthly webinars and local ‘lunch & learns’.”

The theme continues at VOW in the UK. As Nice points out: “We offer unique jan/san training days several times a year where our VOW+ Partners spend a day with 6-8 key manufacturers getting hands-on experience with the products and are given supportive literature to take away.”

On the manufacturers’ side, Kimberly-Clark Professional takes education directly to its business customers. It’s been presenting the ‘Healthy Workplace Project’ to many different types of company with great success, says Associate Marketing Manager Jeff Abernethy: “Essentially, the Healthy Workplace Project is a programme designed to maintain a clean and hygienic office which helps reduce the transmission of germs through a proven protocol of wash, wipe and sanitise. This, mixed with the right range of products, employee education and marketing materials reinforcing the importance of keeping the workplace health, can have a big impact.”

The overall message is one of a healthy (no pun intended) sector. And if a company really embraces this category and takes time to educate and train both itself, its teams and customers, success is highly likely with a significant opportunity for growth.