EOPA 2014 Review

The EOPA may have moved from their traditional slot at Paperworld, but that didn't stop a high-quality turnout in Amsterdam at the beginning of March

The European Office Products Awards (EOPA) had become something of an institution at Paperworld over the past decade, and the evening was undoubtedly the main networking opportunity for office supplies executives braving the icy climes of Frankfurt, Germany, at the end of January.

Following a decision to take a year out from the awards  while we reviewed the format, OPI was overwhelmed with requests to maintain the event, and so the decision was taken to hold the awards presentation dinner to coincide with OPI’s own inaugural Partnership event in Amsterdam on 5 March.

And what a wise move that turned out to be. With about 90 senior-level executives already in situ at the splendid Okura hotel for Partnership, around 80 further attendees made the short trip for the EOPA dinner to one of the easiest European cities to fly into, although a good number even drove there. While admittedly a smaller attendance than in prior years, it was certainly an exclusive and influential crowd.

Coming just a few days after the Oscars ceremony and Ellen DeGeneres’ now infamous Samsung-sponsored ‘selfie’, it was only fitting for our host John Simonett to attempt a giant EOPA selfie which we are pretty sure is the most retweeted selfie ever from a European Office Products Awards presentation!

These are not OPI awards, of course. To ensure the EOPA are impartial and credible, the winners of the awards are chosen by a panel of independent judges from across Europe. This year, the judging procedure was conducted entirely online, which allowed for the expansion of the panel to 28 industry executives representing all industry sectors.

Highlights of the evening included the Industry Toast presented by last year’s Industry Achievement winner, Marcel Ringeard of Pilot. Ringeard reflected on the changes he has seen in more than 40 years in the industry and called on channel players to once again display their powers of adaptability in the fast-evolving marketplace.

The ceremony came to a close with the presentation of this year’s Industry Achievement award to a visibly emotional Jamie Fellowes. Read on to discover more about this deserved recognition and for details about the night’s other winners.

FM Product of the Year

Smart Wall Paint, Dry Erase Whiteboard Paint

Facilities Management (FM) is certainly an area of interest for many in the industry, as resellers report more growth in the FM category than in any other. It was no surprise, therefore, that this award attracted a strong shortlist of contenders, but the winner – a young Irish company called Smart Wall Paint – did create something of a surprise by scooping the night’s first award, beating a number of global household names in the process.

The product was something a bit different and it caught the judges’ imagination. Dry Erase Whiteboard Paint is exactly that – paint that is applied to any smooth surface, such as a wall, transforming it into a write-on, wipe-off whiteboard surface.

The product is already being sold by a number of office products resellers into offices and schools, creating unlimited whiteboard surfaces for brainstorming and collaboration, and also maximising teaching space.

All in all, this is a great – indeed ‘smart’ – new product for our sector and proves that innovation is alive and kicking.

Technology Product of the Year

HP, HP Officejet Pro-X series

As with FM, technology products have become a key focus for many office products resellers and some smart innovations made this a hotly contested category. The shortlist represented products that have demonstrated commercial success along with strong consumer loyalty over the past year, and pitted some well-known tech heavyweights against more traditional office supplies vendors that are increasingly developing more technology-driven products.

However, it was HP that came out on top this year with its Officejet Pro-X series, a lightning-fast range of inkjet printers offering laser speed, inkjet photo quality and extremely low running costs. The first range of HP printers to feature HP’s new page-wide printhead, the Officejet Pro-X series has consistently scored remarkably high ratings from print experts in dozens of online reviews. Customers also appear to love it according to the sales results shared by some of our reseller judges.

A wonderful development in the print space and well-deserved congratulations go to HP.

Traditional Product of the Year

Newell Rubbermaid, DYMO LabelManager Wireless PnP

In all the Product of the Year categories, the judges are looking for proven success in the marketplace. While traditional products may be lacking the growth of some other categories, it still represents the roots of the industry and the products on the shortlist this year were outstanding examples of sales excellence and innovation.

This was a very closely contested category and the judges commended the runners-up – especially 3M with its Scotch Expressive tape dispensers and BIC for its Cristal Stylus. Both of these products scored very highly, but in the end Newell Rubbermaid took home the award, winning by the narrowest of margins.

The judges loved the Wireless DYMO LabelManager for its easy-to-use features – including the built-in wifi – making it easy to share in the office. And with a large range of tape consumables to go with it, this product is also a favourite among resellers.

Marketing Initiative

3M, Post-it Brand – ‘Ideas that Stick’ 2013 campaign

To win this category, which is open to both resellers and manufacturers, applicants had to demonstrate, above all else, financial results arising from a successful marketing initiative. The shortlisted entries all met that criteria and represented a broad spectrum of campaigns engaging different target audiences.

Once again, the team at 3M used innovative marketing to grow Post-it Brand’s market share and, indeed, helped to turn a declining category into one which experienced year-on-year growth. The fun campaign had it all – social media, sampling, extensive PR, and even a black London taxi. The initiative managed to reach a remarkable 33 million people in the UK – that’s over half the population – delivering a sales lift of 38% for the Super Sticky range.

All in all, a memorable campaign which truly deserved this award.

Dealer Group of the Year

Advantia Business Solutions

The judges were looking for a dynamic dealer group that meets the needs of its members by providing a comprehensive package of products, resources and services, with pioneering initiatives to give its dealers a competitive edge in a challenging market.

The shortlist saw three leading dealer groups in the UK – Advantia, Integra and Nemo – facing off against two of their European counterparts – and former EOPA winners – Quantore and Soennecken.

The judges were impressed not only with the achievements of Advantia, but also with the number of high quality nominations that were submitted from its members – a real sign of a successful and engaged dealer group.

Advantia took a risk with its Truline/office2office partnership and it appears to be paying off – at least according to the members who sent in nominations. The group has been able to demonstrate meaningful financial improvements for its members in what is a challenging and competitive environment.

Professional of the Year

Christian Langvad,
 Director – Purchasing/Merchandising, Business Development, OTTO Office

This important award seeks to recognise a rising star in our industry who has the potential to make a real difference to the office products community. The future prosperity and survival of this industry depends on the drive and innovation of professionals in our space and we are fortunate to have some worthy contenders.

Presenting this year’s award, and a former Professional of the Year himself, Bi-silque’s Bjarne Mindested said that it was “a real pleasure” to recognise the achievements of OTTO Office’s Christian Langvad, describing his fellow Dane as “a true professional, a clear strategic thinker, a win-win person who goes for long-term relationships and achieves great results”.

Collecting the award, Langvad said he was “deeply touched and incredibly proud” to be named Professional of the Year, adding that he was also proud of his team at OTTO Office and proud to be part of the office products industry.

Wholesaler/Distributor of the Year

VOW

Being a wholesaler/distributor can be a tough job. As an essential middleman in the industry, life is all about juggling and balancing: brand vs private label; breadth of range balanced with controlling cash tied up in stock; managing margin to ensure profits for reinvestment while also helping reseller customers remain competitive and profitable. And the list goes on.

The six wholesalers on this year’s shortlist have all excelled in these areas despite the tough economic environment, but the judges opted for VOW and it’s the second year in a row that the UK-based wholesaler has been chosen for this award.

The award supports the changes VOW has undertaken as it continues to improve its business, pay down debt and extend its core product offering.

The judges were impressed with the way VOW continues to identify and provide new, groundbreaking services and solutions for its dealer customers and the consequent impressive growth, which goes against the market trend in the UK.

Pretty inspiring stuff from a business which was close to bankruptcy just a few years ago.

Vendor of the Year

Fellowes

The vendors that made up this year’s shortlist all had success stories to tell and were able to demonstrate impressive results and excellent relationships with their customers.

However, it was Fellowes that most impressed the judging panel of resellers this year. Indeed, it has won plaudits over the past few years, proving that being open, honest and fair with customers will eventually produce a positive outcome, even under the most difficult of circumstances (see opi.net for details of Fellowes’ issues with its former joint venture partner in China).

Despite those recent challenges, Fellowes has invested extensively in innovation, releasing many new products that were backed up with successful pan-European marketing campaigns. This 97-year-old company never deviates from its strong core values, but at the same time is evolving, winning and growing in a marketplace that is more dynamic and challenging than ever before.

Reseller of the Year

Amazon

The Reseller of the Year award seeks to recognise resellers with a strong presence in their respective markets – size isn’t necessarily everything, but impact is. This is tough to judge, as no two markets are the same, but all those on the shortlist stood out for excelling in their regions.

However, no matter what industry event one attends, at some stage the conversation invariably turns to the subject of Amazon.

For most of the vendors that comprised the judging panel for this category, Amazon is one of – if not the – fastest  growing accounts they have, and our judges couldn’t help but be impressed by Amazon’s continued growth in the OP space, its commitment to branded products and the challenge it sets for other resellers.

While the industry tries to second guess whether Amazon will ever get serious about the B2B channel, the company continues its relentless march towards its goal of ‘selling everything to everyone’.

This award is just one of thousands deservedly won by this remarkable $75 billion company celebrating only its 20th birthday this year.

Industry Achievement

Jamie Fellowes

The highlight of the EOPA evening, this award recognises the achievements of a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the office products industry in Europe.

OPI CEO Steve Hilleard delivered a glowing tribute to the 2014 winner Jamie Fellowes, calling the Fellowes CEO “one of the legends in our industry”.

Jamie Fellowes may run a $800-million global business that employs 1,800 staff – in fact, the company has grown sales more than 100 times under his leadership – but one of his most engaging qualities is his humbleness; no flashy cars or first-class plane tickets, just an honest work ethic and commitment in equal proportions to customers, staff and family alike.

When asked to summarise this year’s winner in just a few words, one family member said: “The simple fact is that people matter to him and, because of this, he matters to people.”

And the EOPA judges agreed that he does matter to people, not just in Europe, where he has made such an impact, but also in his home country of the US.

In what was a touching moment, Fellowes was clearly moved when he took to the stage to accept the award, too emotional to offer more than a few brief words of thanks for this industry recognition.