It was perhaps the words of Staples CEO Ron Sargent prior to his Big Interview that most aptly summed up the value of the OPI Global Forum, the latest of which took place in Chicago at the beginning of November.
Sargent called OPI the “glue” that sticks the industry together and it is difficult to recall another event which brings together such an international representation of independent dealers, big box players, resellers, vendors, wholesalers and service providers under one roof. About 90 senior executives from North America, Latin America, Europe, Australasia and Asia gathered at Chicago’s brand spanking new Langham Hotel to get to grips with the key issues affecting our industry today and those likely to shape its future.
Sargent’s 60-minute Big Interview with OPI Editor Andy Braithwaite brought to a close an intensive two days of seminars, presentations, roundtables and networking sessions. The Staples CEO gave his views on a number of topics, such as the state of the industry, the re-invention of Staples – including its ‘beyond office supplies’ and online strategies – and the future of retail for office suppliers.
Chatham House rules mean that we are unable to provide any specifics for this article, but it was certainly interesting to see how the world’s largest OP reseller is getting to grips with the almost perfect storm of digitisation, economic austerity, e-commerce, Amazon and younger generations entering the workforce.
Given all these challenges, it would have been understandable if a sense of gloom and doom had prevailed at the Global Forum, but this was far from the case. In fact, it is fair to say that delegates went away with a renewed sense of optimism about future opportunities. Products have come and gone in the past, it was pointed out – remember VHS tape and diskettes? – and the OP industry has such a sophisticated distribution and logistics model that it is in a strong position to take advantage of areas such as category expansion and end user supplier consolidation. We’ve faced periods of radical change before and come out the other side – perhaps looking a bit different, but still with that same entrepreneurial and pragmatic approach to business.
One interesting concept that came out of the event was that of ‘cooperatition’ (cooperation + competition) – competitors working together for the greater good of the industry.
We’ve seen aspects of that recently with, for example, the Independent Stationers/TriMega EPIC event, but what if that was taken a step further and the power channel and independents developed closer ties? Product data would be an obvious example, but how about other areas such as shared sales data, product sourcing and the supply chain? There has been an undercurrent for some time that independents should cooperate more in their battle against the big boxes, but perhaps the real ‘enemies’ are the likes of Amazon and Walmart.
A special mention must go to event moderator Chris Westfall who stepped in virtually at the last minute in place of Jeffrey Hayzlett. Westfall’s energy, his quick grasp of the key industry issues and his presentation and interviewing skills certainly played a major part in the overall success of an event which was regarded by Global Forum ‘veterans’ as the best one yet.