Review: Big Buyer 2017

Big Buyer continues to be the annual focal point for the Italian stationery and office supplies market, with great attendance again at this year's show.

At the end of November, about 7,000 visitors congregated in Bologna, Italy, to see what 280 exhibitors from across Europe had to offer in terms of innovative new products and services.

Big Buyer General Director Simonetta Pfeiffer said: “This year’s show offered a complete experience that was perfectly in line with market developments and changing end-user demands. The most important international manufacturers exhibited at Big Buyer, generating considerable attention from global buyers.” 

She added: “We always strive to make Big Buyer  a truly international and multi-targeted event, and this year we had considerable interest from foreign buyers, particularly from the Balkans and countries in Eastern Europe.”

The timing of the show so late in the year may seem strange to some, but as Paul Phelan, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Pilot Europe, told OPI, product selection for 2018 catalogues in Italy is still taking place. As such, Big Buyer remains an important launch pad for new products – as highlighted by Pilot’s introduction to the Italian market of a range of limited edition pens co-designed by pop star Mika to mark the company’s 100th anniversary in 2018.

For Stuart Seymour, European Sales and Marketing Director of Hopax Europe, this year’s Big Buyer was an opportunity to re-connect with the sales agents of Siam, the company’s distributor in Italy. The go-to-market sales model in Italy is still dominated by independent agents, so Seymour recognises the importance of presenting new products and pointing out product attributes and selling points in person to agents who are also representing other brands.

Gaining traction

It was a similar story for Ken Trenberth, Group Trading Director at desktop office supplies manufacturer Rapesco. The company only entered the Italian market about a year ago in partnership with distributor Tecnoteam, but is already seeing traction with a listing in the local ADVEO catalogue for 2018, while other agreements are in the pipeline.

OPI also bumped into several members of Bureau Vallée’s senior management in the Big Buyer aisles. Founder Bruno Peyroles and his team were there mainly to finalise vendor programmes for the franchise group’s entry into the Italian market which is scheduled for the first half of 2018. The company’s master franchiser in Malta, Marc Frasson-Botton, was also at the show to explore ways of increasing the presence of Italian brands in his stores, given the proximity of Malta to Italy.

The proliferation of paper-based stationery exhibitors at Big Buyer underlines the resilience of traditional categories in Italy, with many visitors from local retailers in attendance at the event. Recognising this trend, Bi-silque’s Business Development Director for Italy, Danny Berendsen, had tailored the company’s booth towards school and educational buyers as opposed to office and workplace purchasers.

Having said that, the B2B sector was also well represented at Big Buyer thanks to the efforts of trade association AIFU, whose members include the leading players in the Italian market. In what has become a Big Buyer tradition, AIFU President Adriano Alessio gave his annual overview of the Italian OP delivery channel, providing details of the latest sales and category trends. While there have been low single-digit fluctuations during the year, the value of the market overall for the nine months to the end of September was flat compared with the same period in 2016, Alessio revealed.

This stability was largely due to price increases. And with volumes falling, the underlying trend is still downwards, something that was seen most clearly in the ink and toner category which was down in the double digits. Together, the ink/toner and paper categories still account for almost 50% of sales by the biggest B2B resellers in Italy, and the reliance on these declining categories is obviously a concern.

Unsurprisingly, the growth categories that Alessio referred to include jan/san, safety and breakroom, although they still account for a relatively small part of the overall mix. Safety was the fastest-growing category, up almost 50% year on year. While the AIFU figures didn’t refer to specific resellers, this jump in the safety category was arguably largely down to Lyreco which has been investing in this area for the past few years.

Also at Big Buyer was Anita Singh-Gunther of European trade association SOFEA who spoke about the organisation’s environmental product labelling initiative and the SOFEA online platform which is about to be launched.

At the end of a successful show, Mariella Nasi Pfeiffer, Big Buyer founder and President, concluded: “Given the positive results and feedback, we have already started work on the 2018 event, with the aim of organising another multi-faceted, well-targeted fair for an international audience.”

Celebration and sadness

This year’s Big Buyer was a time of celebration for some companies, but was also tinged with sadness after the recent passing of some emblematic figures in the Italian office products industry.

Industry trailblazers Paolo Prati of Nykor Pilot Italia, Giorgio Balma of Balma & Capoduri and Renato Testa of Favorit have sadly passed away in 2017, and OPI extends its belated condolences to their families, friends and colleagues.

On a happier note, Fellowes Italy Directors Paolo and Monica Leonardi hosted a wonderful cocktail evening to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fellowes, while Stefano di Veroli and his team held a party to mark the 25th anniversary of franchise chain C’ART.