EOPA 2015: And the winner is…

The 14th European Office Products Awards (EOPA) saw the good and the great of the European business supplies sector gathered in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on 4 March for an evening of achievement and celebration.


With industry peers of the highest calibre in attendance – many guests had been taking part in the second OPI Partnership event during the day – evening proceedings after a fabulous gala dinner began with a warm and witty industry toast by US-based Beth Wright, recently promoted to Chief Commercial Officer of Bi-silque which means that the European market is now very much on her radar too.
Whichever side of the pond you are from, Wright referred to the current staple in the OP industry and that, ironically, is ‘change’.
That change – whether it’s in terms of adapting to different customer demands, embracing new product categories or facing the never-ending need to cut costs and become more efficient – has been felt by all shortlisted companies in the total of ten award categories.
Embracing change

And it is that enthusiasm in moving outside its comfort zone that has seen CEP Office Solutions coming out on top with its ‘Take a Break’ range in the facilities management category or Esselte Leitz rising to the technology challenge with its winning Leitz Icon Smart Labelling System, in the process reinvigorating the labelling category as a whole.
Nominations for the EOPA were many and varied and the judges – comprising industry executives from all distribution channels – had a tough time deciding on the cream of the crop during the EOPA judges meeting in Munich, Germany, last December.
Interestingly, despite the much talked about decline in sales of traditional OP, the traditional category was as strong as – if not stronger than – ever, proving that there’s plenty of innovation, especially if products can bridge the gap between between traditional and digital, as Hamelin’s Oxford SOS Notes Uploadable Notebooks do.
There are always two awards that are eagerly awaited for their more personal flavour and this year’s winners were up there with the best of them. Euroffice’s CEO Simon Drakeford was named Professional of the Year (see also our Big Interview on page 16) while former Lyreco veteran Steve Law was handed the Industry Achievement award.
And so concluded the 14th EOPA, with a rousing standing ovation to Law, the chance to chat and network with friends and peers, and a sneaking suspicion that there’s plenty of life left in our industry – whatever that means these days. The only aspect that might need addressing is the entertainment side of things (those who were there will understand!).

FM Product of the Year – CEP Office Solutions: ‘Take A Break’ Range

Facilities management (FM) has become the go-to adjacent category for many office products companies – manufacturers, resellers and wholesalers alike – as resellers continue to report more growth here than in any other category. As such, vendors that historically haven’t been involved in FM are rising to the challenge and coming up with innovative new solutions, often complementing their existing ranges.

Nominations for this category were plentiful and the shortlist strong, but the winner – France-based CEP Office Solutions – was able to offer the complete package with robust sales backing up a good product. 

CEP’s ‘Take a Break’ range capitalises on two growth areas – storage and catering – and the judges were impressed with the simplicity of the idea, its execution and the remarkable catalogue listings achieved in Europe. A comprehensive and affordable solution for providing drinks and snacks in meeting rooms, the ‘Take a Break’ range has been a great hit with end users already. A well-deserved award for a concept that CEP is now hoping to take across the Atlantic to the US. 

Technology Product of the Year – Esselte Leitz: Leitz Icon Smart Labelling System

Technology products have become another key focus for many office products resellers and some smart innovations made this a hotly-contested category this year. The judges commended all shortlisted companies for their outstanding products that, across the board, combined innovation and great design along with the all-important commercial success.

However, it was Esselte Leitz that pipped everybody to the post with its Leitz Icon Smart Labelling System. With this smartly-designed product, Leitz rejoined the labelling category with a vengeance. Judges liked the easy-to-use intelligent cartridge system and the fact that there’s a wide range of label sizes covering every customer’s needs. Resellers, meanwhile, have reported strong sell-through of the product. Encouragingly also, the product has helped grow – even reenergise – the labelling category as a whole. 

A wonderful endorsement for Esselte Leitz in a historically traditional category.

Marketing Initiative of the Year – Avery UK: Creating a Social Connection with Consumers

To win this category, which is open to both resellers and manufacturers, applicants had to demonstrate, above all else, a real return on their investment. The EOPA judges were not looking at how much money was spent, but whether it was spent well and achieved results. 

All shortlisted entries met these criteria and represented a broad spectrum of campaigns with a vast array of budgets.

3M was impressive and came close to winning for the second time in a row with its promotion. But it was Avery that really captured the judges’ attention with its ‘Creating a Social Connection’ campaign.

It may not have been the campaign with the largest budget, but the judges liked the way Avery created an emotional connection with its customers on social media. This created a dialogue of discussion about Avery products that enabled the company to really understand its online customer. Reaching into the online community also allowed Avery to drive significant brand awareness and engagement which will help long-term growth. 

An engaging campaign well deserving of this award – congratulations to all the team at Avery.

Traditional Product of the Year – Hamelin: Oxford SOS Notes Uploadable Notebooks

Traditional products may be lacking the growth of other, newer categories, but they still represent the roots of the industry, so perhaps it’s not that surprising that this year’s shortlist has again been long and varied, with some outstanding examples of sales excellence and innovation.

As such, the decision to pick a winner was a difficult one and the EOPA judges highly commended ACCO’s Nobo Prestige Whiteboard for its well thought-out concept that is focused on end-user behaviour and encourages up-selling.

Ultimately, the decision was unanimous, however, and it was Hamelin’s Oxford SOS Notes Uploadable Notebooks that took the prize. The notebook combines an old-fashioned paper-based product with a modern way of working, perfectly bridging the gap between the traditional and digital world. Resellers have already enjoyed strong sales with this product in a difficult category, so all credit to Hamelin for making a traditional product modern. 

Dealer Group of the Year – NEMO Group

Nobody is a better judge of a dealer group than its members. On that basis alone, UK-based NEMO Group was in a good position already, since EOPA judges were inundated with nominations from NEMO members wanting to support their group. 

But there was more to it than that. The judges were looking for a dynamic, engaged dealer group that meets the needs of its members by providing a comprehensive package of products, resources and services, with pioneering initiatives to give them a competitive edge in this challenging market.

The judges were also impressed with the range of programmes available and the continued innovation of new business tools designed to help NEMO’s members in their daily operations. 

Wholesaler of the Year – ADVEO

As something of a middleman, the wholesaler/distributor role is never an easy one in our industry, often speckled with plenty of challenges along the supply chain. All the wholesalers on the judges’ shortlist have experienced a difficult environment over the past year for various reasons, but have found a way to succeed and profit. 

The highlight of them all, however, was ADVEO. The company may still be on a journey of transformation but, as far as the EOPA judges were concerned, it should be recognised for what it has achieved so far. In just a few years, the business has gone from being a H100 million ($106 million) Spanish manufacturer and distributor to the leading pan-European OP distributor with sales of about H1 billion. 

Since the acquisition of Spicers Europe, ADVEO has successfully integrated multiple businesses across Europe, rationalised its distribution footprint and made significant investments to move to a common CRM platform.

The judges acknowledged that there is still a lot to do and that not every area of the business is where ADVEO wants it to be, but it has a clear plan and is moving in the right direction – which can only be good for the European wholesale market. Congratulations to a company that has risen to the challenge!

Professional of the Year – Simon Drakeford

The winner of this award should be a shining example of the industry – somebody who drives not just his own company, but the entire sector; somebody with vision and plenty of entrepreneurial spirit. 

This year’s winner has all of the above and more. OPI’s Steve Hilleard presented the award to a relative newcomer to the industry, somebody who joined his company in 2007, bringing with him the valuable experience he gained during several years working in the telecoms sector. 

Simon Drakeford from UK online reseller Euroffice was the worthy winner and his seven years in the industry have been eventful indeed. For a start, his company’s sales more than doubled to about H55 million ($59 million) in that time, despite competing directly with some of the largest online retailers on the planet. 

Drakeford also led Euroffice’s management buyout and oversaw the expansion of his company into a number of European markets. Most recently, he established Office Power, a new division that allows smaller resellers access to Euroffice’s software, services and support platform.

Widely regarded as a true innovator, the judges also referred to Drakeford as someone who’s extremely entrepreneurial, dynamic, proactive and passionate about helping others to drive the change that is necessary if our industry is to survive and prosper. A true professional indeed.

Vendor of the Year – Clover Technologies Group

For this category, size or age don’t matter – nominees could be well-established vendors or small and upcoming players. It’s all about substance. 

The vendors that made up the shortlist all have success stories to tell, and they can all demonstrate impressive results and excellent relationships with their customers. And on the face of it, the winner of the award – Clover Technologies Group – was maybe a surprising choice, as the judges recognised the efforts of a company best known as a remanufacturer.

But – and that is why it scooped the top prize – there is more to Clover than remanufactured ink cartridges.The company has successfully diversified to become a provider of total environmental solutions and is now the world’s largest collector and recycler of mobile phones and inkjet and laser cartridges.

The EOPA judges were impressed with the quality of Clover’s products and, importantly, with its outstanding service, the latter perfectly reflecting the way in which vendors need to evolve to be more solutions-driven as opposed to focusing purely on transactional business.

Very well done to Clover Technologies and the team!

Reseller of the Year -Coolblue

This award seeks to recognise resellers with a strong presence in their respective markets – it’s not about size, but about impact. It’s a tough category to judge as no two markets are the same, but all shortlisted companies stood out for excelling in their regions.  

Past winner Amazon, for example, deserves another mention for the influence it continues to have on our industry. But there are other online success stories out there and the winner – Coolblue – was perhaps a surprise on the night, as it definitely wasn’t one of the usual suspects. 

The judges, however, were very excited about Coolblue, a fast-growing online reseller in Benelux that provides a broad range of consumer and business products, including a range of office and technology items.

It’s not just the rate of growth from zero to about H500 million ($533 million) in just 15 years that impressed them. Another jewel in the crown was the unique and fun identity of the firm that resonates so well with consumers who appreciate not just outstanding levels of service, but also the company’s easy-to-navigate website and competitive pricing.

Industry Achievement – Steve Law

To many, the most anticipated, even emotional, award of the EOPA and the highlight of the evening is the Industry Achievement award. This award, as ever, recognises the achievements of a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of our industry in Europe. 

Rob Vale, industry veteran and former President of Staples Europe, took to the stage and delivered a heartfelt tribute to Steve Law – formidable competitor, friend and former colleague at Lyreco.

And it was indeed at Lyreco where Law spent over 25 years of his professional life, first in the UK for many years and then, from 2011 until he stepped down as CEO of the global contract stationer in 2014, in France. 

Those two countries, of course, were but two of the places he’s been to, travelling to many far-flung corners of the planet, all for the cause of making Lyreco one of the best recognised, best organised and just simply best contract stationers in the world. 

Choosing Law as the winner of the Industry Achievement award took little discussion during the judges meeting, all agreeing unanimously how richly deserved this accolade is. 

Having had only a relatively short official notice period after he stepped down, Law took the opportunity to thank all EOPA attendees and the industry at large for a fabulous office products career. And perhaps we haven’t quite seen the last of him yet – that would indeed be a loss to all who know him!