Show review: Leaders of the Future

UK trade association the BOSS Federation held a Leaders of the Future forum in April.

Independent dealers often bemoan the fact that despite forever being urged to change the way they operate to safeguard their futures, they’re rarely given any clear indication of how they can meet these demands.

It is clear, however, that effective OP businesses tend to take personal responsibility for their actions and adopt paths that put their organisations on a route to growth – a key message to emerge from a new, innovative forum held last month.

During BOSS Federation’s inaugural Leaders of the Future event in Birmingham, UK, younger members of the business supplies industry – those who may one day run companies and lead key commercial departments – were given an insight into the current state of affairs, an indication of what the sector might look like in years to come, and inspiration about its potential.

Opportunity during times of change was a subject discussed by Adrian Butler, Managing Director of wholesaler VOW, and Simon Drakeford, CEO of online reseller Euroffice, as well as Managing Director of dealer group Integra Aidan McDonough, in separate presentations. Addressing the audience, which included a significant percentage of 20- and 30-somethings, Drakeford said: “It’s going to be a very different industry to lead in the next ten years than it has been in the last decade.”

He also advised that those operating in OP will need to innovate and change by understanding how emerging trends will directly impact their businesses. He reiterated the importance of putting the customer’s requirements first, but suggested having a ‘plan B’ due to the rapid pace at which today’s market tends to change. Dealers should ensure they improve upon what they are good at, Drakeford commented, and aim to increase efficiency through technology. There is no use claiming to be a Luddite, he warned, because it is now essential to get to grips with innovation in the tech space.

Future-gazing

Some interesting predictions were made regarding the direction of the industry, including the possible emergence of a super-dealer to further take the fight to the big boxes, contract stationers and leading e-tailers. McDonough (who is pictured above, right, receiving an award at the event) suggested that there is potential for a £40 million-plus ($61.4 million) dealer in the UK, created by consolidation.

Spicers CEO Alan Ball proposed the development of a larger, more collaborative annual show in the UK – much like the EPIC conference which rival US dealer groups TriMega and Independent Stationers will run for the first time in 2013. 

And as facilities management and breakroom products continue to grow in importance to the traditional OP players, CEO of leading UK reseller office2office Simon Moate encouraged the industry to use this success as a platform for tapping into new product categories.

“OP is a fantastic anchor to build from,” he noted. “Vendor rationalisation is a key procurement strategy, especially in B2B.”

The younger delegates that OPI caught up with at the forum were encouraged by what they had heard, with some of the topics discussed appearing to have had resonance.

Tom Petty, a 26-year-old Sales Administration Manager at business products supplier Stewart Superior, remarked: “Hearing about the speakers’ experiences and seeing their enthusiasm highlights what a dynamic industry this is. It provides me with fresh enthusiasm for the sector – and it’s exciting to be part of an industry that is changing.”

Despite the drizzly West Midlands weather outside, the event suggested that the storm clouds currently hovering over the business supplies industry are far from permanent if opportunities are grabbed.