Event: EPIC & ISSA/INTERCLEAN 2017

Dealer group members enjoyed a productive few days in Las Vegas at both the EPIC and ISSA/INTERCLEAN shows.

EPIC, the joint dealer group show organised by Independent Stationers (IS) and TriMega, is now firmly established in the US office products event calendar. There was an added bonus this year as EPIC was co-located in Las Vegas with the mega cleaning and hygiene show ISSA/INTERCLEAN North America, meaning that dealers were able to take in both events during the same trip away from the office.

First up was EPIC, held from 10-12 September at the prestigious Bellagio Resort and Casino. Attendance was slightly lower than expected as a result of some last minute cancellations due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma that had hit the states of Texas and Florida respectively shortly before and during the event. It did not dampen spirits, however, as delegates took full advantage of the many educational and networking opportunities that were on offer.

Following a welcome reception on the Sunday evening, dealers got down to work on Monday morning, first with their own dealer group meetings and discussions, and then with a series of educational sessions that continued the ‘forDealers, byDealers’ format which was introduced at EPIC in Nashville last year. This involved panels of carefully chosen dealers – helped by a specialist moderator – sharing ideas and best practices on a wide range of topics such as jan/san, marketing, EPIC Business Essentials, pricing, succession planning, millennials, print, furniture, and more.

OPI’s very own Steve Hilleard moderated the highly anticipated and well-attended seminar on Amazon Business, sharing some of the findings of the OPI/MWA research report Piranha Business: Investigating The Appeal Of Amazon Business before opening the session up to dealers, asking them how they compete with Amazon Business.

The forDealers, byDealers format is one that works well and generates more interaction than traditional presentations. This year, almost 60 dealers volunteered to take part in the panel discussions. This willingness to collaborate with other independents and share information, regardless of dealer group affiliation, is refreshing and encouraging.

The second day kicked off with a general session that was opened by TriMega President Mike Maggio and IS CEO Mike Gentile. They provided an update on the EPIContent product e-content initiative and the EPIC Business Essentials (EBE) national accounts programme.

Progress has been made on both fronts: the EPIContent supplier portal is up and running, with vendors adding product content that will enable dealers to expand the number of SKUs they are able to sell (see ‘EPIC Business Essentials on the up’ on page 55 for details of how EBE has turned a corner after a challenging 2016).

The general session also featured some inspirational success stories from dealers – one dealer in particular, Sandy Grodin from El Paso, Texas, had the audience cheering after revealing how he had prevented Amazon Business from winning the office supplies contract from his largest customer (see Grodin’s story on opi.net).

“These dealer vignettes were a highlight of the event for me,” Maggio told OPI. “Four dealers, four success stories that were all different; this points out the strength of the dealer community and the importance of that differentiator.”

In addition, the EPIC Partner of the Year award was presented during the general session, with office furniture vendor HON taking this year’s prize ahead of runners up 3M, Avery, Fellowes and Smead.

EPIC delegates also heard about the charitable work taking place in and around the event. On the Sunday, participants on the third annual Hike for Hope raised almost $10,000 for City of Hope and TriMega’s NEXT and ISSA’s YES young executive committees delivered boxes of goodies to a Las Vegas children’s hospital. EPIC trade show vendors, meanwhile, donated supplies to the Kids In Need Foundation (for more charitable initiatives in our industry, see page 46).

The rest of the day was devoted to the EPIC trade show which featured almost 150 vendor brands. This expo has been much improved over the years, with a number of imaginative initiatives to ensure that dealers stay on the show floor throughout the day. They have the option of one-on-one meetings with manufacturers, for example – known as EPIC Get Togethers – which have proved very productive.

There has also been a renewed emphasis on the expo being as much a buying show as a viewing one. Whereas in the past, manufacturers may have had a month of special offers around EPIC, now it’s one-day offers only available to dealers that are in attendance. “We encourage suppliers to be aggressive with their promotions and those I spoke to said the dollars ordered have gone up,” confirmed Maggio.

Dealers head to ISSA/INTERCLEAN

Following the conclusion of EPIC, dealers were able to head over to the Las Vegas Convention Center for ISSA/INTERCLEAN North America. 

“I remember coming to ISSA/INTERCLEAN for the first time five years ago and the vendors didn’t want to give me the time of day,” recalls Gentile. “They had no idea who IS was or what office products dealers were doing there. Now it is totally different.”

Gentile’s words nicely sum up the changes that have taken place between the traditional office products and jan/san distribution channels over the past few years, so much so that EPIC 2017 was timed to coincide with the ISSA trade show.

Disappointingly, this did not lead to an uptick in the number of dealers attending EPIC, but many of those that did certainly took advantage by visiting the ISSA show. This was facilitated by ISSA hosting a special introductory briefing and tour of the show for attendees visiting the cleaning industry event for the first time.

For IS’s Director of Merchandising Mike Foster ISSA/INTERCLEAN is a chance to meet with existing and potential suppliers as the dealer group ramps up its jan/san capabilities, in particular with its new strategic alliance with Afflink (see OPI September 2017, page 29) and a programme with wholesaler RJ Schinner for the distribution of products, including Afflink private label products.

TriMega’s VP of Purchasing Tom Hoffmann was also at ISSA/INTERCLEAN with the dealer group’s jan/san committee. “With the co-sponsorship this year between EPIC and ISSA, I think this was a great opportunity for many more dealers to walk the show and see the enormity of opportunities the jan/san industry has to offer,” Hoffmann told OPI

“Hopefully, it has opened more dealers’ eyes about the need for a high level of commitment within their dealerships and about what it takes to be successful in this arena – including a reinforcement of the message that it is absolutely vital to have a
 jan/san specialist,” he added.

Raising eyebrows at this year’s ISSA event was the presence of Amazon Business, albeit in a small booth in an area reserved for first-time exhibitors. Speaking to OPI, the e-commerce giant confirmed that it was at the show mainly to encourage jan/san distributors to sign up to the Amazon Business platform as marketplace resellers.

For 2018, logistical issues mean that EPIC will not co-locate with ISSA/INTERCLEAN, but no one is ruling out the possibility of it happening again in the future; there is definitely the desire from both IS and TriMega to develop closer ties with ISSA and the jan/san world in general.

EPIC Business Essentials on the up

12 months ago, the future appeared somewhat uncertain for EPIC Business Essentials (EBE), the national accounts joint venture run by Independent Stationers (IS) and TriMega, as it struggled to achieve sufficient scale. The picture is quite different now, an enthusiastic Grady Taylor – EBE’s Managing Director – told OPI at EPIC 2017, confirming that both dealer groups are firmly committed to continuing with the programme.

Sales are up in the double digits, the organisation is profitable and Taylor fully expects results to be even better in the second half of the year. He puts this down, in part, to EBE having more opportunities with private sector commercial accounts as purchasing managers look for alternatives to the traditional big-box suppliers. It had hoped to announce the award of a major seven-figure contract win at the EPIC show; that was not to be, but news of the award is still expected to be imminent.

Winning in the commercial space is important for EBE as contract fees are usually lower than with cooperative contracts such as National IPA – which has just been renewed – and group purchasing organisations where, for example, EBE members can ‘piggyback’ on the healthcare contract held by independent dealer FriendsOffice.

Currently, about 240 IS and TriMega dealers are enrolled on the EBE programme, giving the initiative a healthy national coverage. This has been important for some accounts, explained Taylor, especially with customers located in rural areas where the big-box suppliers don’t normally have much of a presence.

There have also been some recent developments with EBE’s Order Point e-commerce system, said Taylor. These include additional software that improves available content and adapts to dealers’ own systems, and more access to some of the customer service functions of Order Point. The former is a step to emulate the single database that the big boxes have while the latter enables dealers to handle more of the customer service, which is something they are keen to do.