Event Review: ABC 2016

Embrace technology and new product categories, and engage with your peers (millennials included!) - that was the key message from this year's ABC in Washington DC.

“If we do not evolve, we will fail to grow and if we don’t grow, we won’t be able to reach our full potential!” That statement from SP Richards’ (SPR) EVP of Operations Jim O’Brien at this year’s ABC opening General Session in Washington DC on 21 July was the message to the assembled dealer and vendor community.

While that message from the outset seems somewhat pessimistic, O’Brien proceeded to prove quite the opposite when he charted the history over the past 30 years of the dealer community. “The quantity of dealers has diminished substantially, but the quality of these dealers is light years away from what it once was,” he said.

The reason for this, he added, is that those dealers embraced the change that’s necessary and turned it to their advantage.

Before handing over to CEO Wayne Beacham, O’Brien urged dealers to invest in technology, tools and data; fully explore the facility, breakroom and safety (FBS) categories; expand into the K-12 education market; have an exit strategy; and engage in strategic discussions with their peers.

Beacham, in his candid address to a packed audience, picked up on several of O’Brien’s points and also urged dealers to take on the challenge of technology and emphasised the need to expand existing and embrace new product categories.

In the first of several keynotes of the event, Lisa Bodell told delegates to “kill your company, create more space for innovation in it and don’t think about what you’re doing now but about what you’ll be doing in 10 years’ time”. This was followed by the announcement of the first North American Office Products Awards (read on for more on the NAOPA winners). Delegates then had the opportunity to see first-hand at the Business Solutions Expo what the possibilities are with regards to products in traditional as well as the much talked-about newer adjacent categories.

And on the second day of the ABC it was time to use that product knowledge and learn more about selling these items – it was seminar day. Current trends, selling and margin opportunities were topics covered in a number of sessions, particularly so in SPR’s new FBS and Furniture seminar tracks.

Bridging the generational gap

Another popular topic covered at the ABC revolved around millennials. One specific session took place on the last morning of the event (23 July), and was delivered by Jeff Havens who brought the house down with his hilarious take on the generational divide.

After some rather more serious dealer case study sessions and the annual Town Hall Meeting with SPR senior executives, delegates were left to explore the sights of Washington before the evening’s Gala Dinner and entertainment which concluded not only with the final NAOPA presentations, but also featured another funny man – comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo. An uplifting finish to another hugely successful ABC!

The best… of the best

The seventh North American Office Products Awards rewarded standout – and sometimes surprising – products and honoured outstanding personalities in our industry.

Best Product – Core Office Products: Avery – Easy Align Self-Laminating Labels

This category was a difficult one to judge. There were so many fantastic product entries that the NAOPA judges had a hard time reducing it down to a shortlist, let alone picking a winner.

But sometimes it’s the simple solution to a reoccurring problem in offices and other business facilities which impresses the most and that is exactly what Avery addresses with its Easy Align Self-Laminating Labels. These labels are easy to produce, durable and create perfectly laminated labels without bubbles or wrinkles – without the need for a laminator or any special equipment.

The judges felt that this neat product will be a great seller for dealers. And while these labels are part of the Core Office Products category, Michelle Smith, Marketing Account Manager for Avery – on receiving the award – also highlighted the importance of the industrial, safety and jan/san categories where they are being sold into particularly successfully. She added: “We’re always working very hard to be innovative and it’s a real honor to be recognised by the industry, especially given the tough competition.”

Best Product – Furniture: Safco Products – Twixt Ergonomic Chairs

This is not the first time Safco has won a NAOPA – OPI readers may remember the Zenergy Ball Chair that won in 2013. Well, Safco has done it again.

Increasingly, office workers are looking for active product solutions for their workspaces and the Twixt chair offers just that. This ergonomic product allows users to adjust the angle of the chair so that they can perch, lean or sit, thereby providing an active seating experience. The chair also features a simple touch mechanism that adjust its height.

Judges referred to the Twixt as a “truly unique seating solution” and praised Safco for creating both function and design that inspire fluid movement and user options not seen in other active seating solutions.

Jill Kemma, Safco’s Director of Product Design and Development, commented: “We’re very excited that the industry has been so responsive to this product and that dealers are increasingly embracing the concept of an active seating experience which is really trending at the moment.”

Best Product – Technology: Kensington – SD3600 Universal USB 3.0 Docking Station

In this category, the judges recognise that there is a great demand for solutions that address the increasing mobility of workers. But who wants to spend hours setting up their desk every time they move location?

The Kensington docking station offers a solution that simply works. It enables users to quickly connect and disconnect laptops with their entire desktop setup – including dual HD monitors, a mouse, a keyboard and other peripherals – with a single USB cable. It can also be mounted to the back of a VESA-compatible monitor, leaving zero footprint on the desktop which helps reduce clutter and is important where space is limited.

This latter zero footprint feature, said Kensington’s Director of Sales Kathrin Esposito, is one of the core differentiating factors of the docking station.

The NAOPA judges, meanwhile, felt that this product fills an important gap in the market and predict that it would become a big seller for dealers.

Best Product – Cleaning & Breakroom: Sealed Air, Diversey Care – Consumer Brands SmartDose

Again, it’s the simple idea that often turns out to be the most effective and that is certainly the case for this product in the cleaning and breakroom category.

The judges thought Sealed Air, Diversey Care’s SmartDose was a great product that offers an effective solution to a common problem. It enables users to work more effectively with cleaning products, ensuring accurate dosing, safe usage and cost control while also addressing the often-quoted challenge of minimal space. It’s an all-round great product that provides a solution to several hurdles in this category.

As Janet Kean, Sales Manager of Office Channel Consumer Brands at Sealed Air, Diversey Care, said: “It’s a great honour to be acknowledged for the technology of the SmartDose products. A lot of focus right now is on dispensing machines, but they are not the right fit for all customers. Smaller spaces with high-volume demands, for example, are where the SmartDose really excels.”

Product Innovation of the Year: Fellowes – AeraMax Pro AM III

Absence at work because of sickness costs the US economy alone half a trillion dollars every year and much of that is caused by unhygienic workplaces. While a lot of the emphasis has been placed on surface cleaning, little has been done to tackle the problem of illness caused by airborne contaminants.

Fellowes has addressed this issue with the launch of the AeraMax Pro AM III. It’s an air purifier designed to clean the air in common areas such as schools, offices, waiting rooms and restrooms. The patented EnviroSmart technology detects the environment and automatically adjusts performance with changing air conditions.

The judges thought this was a powerful product which offers a new selling opportunity in a growing category for office products dealers.

It’s also a category that is still relatively new for Fellowes, as President Mike Parker points out. “Winning this award is a tribute to Fellowes as an organisation. We’re celebrating 100 years next year and have come a long way from the Bankers Box. We are embracing this new growth category for resellers which really complements what they’re doing in the cleaning segment.”

People’s Choice: MMF Industries – PayVue Illuminated Cash Drawer

The final vendor award of the North American Office Products Awards was the popular and coveted People’s Choice award, voted for by OPI’s North American readers and delegates of SP Richards’ ABC event.

The winner – by a considerable margin – was the all-new PayVue Illuminated Cash Drawer by MMF Industries, officially launched at the ABC Expo. Using an energy-saving LED light source to clearly light the cash drawer for improved bill and coin identification and placement during transactions in low-light settings, this product clearly captured the imagination of many who voted.

Designed for restaurant, bar and nightclub use, PayVue improves transaction accuracy and speed, customer service, loss prevention management and low-light ambiance.

Ivelisse Gomez, New Product Development Manager at MMF and the brainchild behind the PayVue, said of this brand new product: “The idea behind the PayVue was to find a solution for using cash drawers in low-light environments. What we did was to add an innovative new feature to a product that has been around for a while by simply adding a LED light.”

She added: “It’s a real honour to be recognised by both SP Richards and OPI and indeed the whole industry. It’s also particularly rewarding that the People’s Choice product is actually a product that is made in the US.”

Young Executive of the Year: Rosemary Czopek

Young Executive of the Year is a brand new award, designed to recognise outstanding emerging talent in the North American business supplies industry. And it was given not only to a young person by TriMega EVP of Marketing Michael Morris – Rosemary Czopek is a mere 33 years of age – but also to the owner of a very young company with the millennial customer at its heart.

Gorilla Stationers was created by President Czopek four years ago in Huntington Beach, California, and over that time – and with two acquisitions just over the past year – has grown into a pillar of her community and a regional business force with her staff of 18.

Czopek has always been involved in fostering young talent herself, at Gorilla and through her work with the University of California, Dartmouth and the Goldman Sachs small business programme. She has hosted students from all over the world at Gorilla, allowing them to gain hands-on experience in social media, SEO and web development. Congratulations to this leading light of the future.

Professional of the Year: Bob Shulman

The second award, Professional of the Year, aims to recognise the brightest established talent in the industry, a person with the potential to influence the future of the channel and the sector.

Introduced by CEO of Suburban Stationers Jeremy Bourret, this award went to Bob Shulman, President of the north-east dealer. Not only has Shulman helped the company to triple in size over the past ten years in terms of sales and profitability, he is also a board member of NOPA and a founding member of TriMega’s NEXT committee.

Bourret highlighted Shulman’s professionalism and ability to build excellent teams on all fronts as well as his unerring conviction of always putting the customer first – never more important than in a very competitive landscape.

Involved in and hugely connected with every aspect of the industry in addition to a host of local boards and charitable causes, Shulman is clearly highly regarded by his peers, and none more so than his business partner Bourret.

Industry Achievement of the Year: Kathy Hoyle

The third and final award of the evening was Industry Achievement, presented to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the office products industry over the course of his/her career.

In a moving and emotional speech, Melissa Morris of North Carolina dealer Hoyle Office Solutions introduced her mother, company President/CEO Kathy Hoyle (pictured right), as the recipient of this year’s award, following in the footsteps of illustrious industry figures including Jim Hebert, Bud Mundt and Chip Hummel.

Established 71 years ago by James ‘Red’ Hoyle and always run as a family business, daughter Kathy took the business to a whole new level, according to Morris, always stepping out of her comfort zone and finding new ways to bettering the business in a progressive way.

As a woman-owned company and as part of her role as co-founder of Office Products Women in Leadership, Hoyle’s been instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of creating and nurturing more female leaders in the industry.