For those of you who do not know, this is my last issue as editor of OPI and I will leave you in the very capable hands of the excellent Stuart Qualtrough. I find myself just a couple of months shy of four years at the OP industry’s premier magazine and I like to think that I will have left some lasting memories in the minds of our readers (and not just the kind of unfortunate memories that get branded into the consciousness of delegates after one of the familiar evening drinking sessions at an OPI conference).
I promised myself that I would get through this look back at my time at OPI without using any of the accepted clichés that get trotted out in such retrospective articles.
Therefore, I have imposed a strict ban on "it seems like only yesterday", "looking back" and even the glib classic "doesn’t time fly when you are having fun" – is that phrase ever said with sincerity anymore?
So, looking back it seems like only yesterday that I was starting my first day at OPI, well, doesn’t time fly when you are having fun (sorry, thought I’d just get them out of the way early).
Ultimately, it is the story of the independent dealer that has most struck a chord with me and has dominated my time as news editor and editor of OPI magazine. OP dealers have provided a fascinating microcosm for the global struggle we see today between the small business and the corporate monolith. It is true to say that dealers must feel like something of an oppressed mass nowadays with the rise and rise of the OP power channel squeezing them from one side and the mass market operators (led by Wal-Mart) sticking a metaphorical knife in from the other.
I like to think OPI has always been on the side of the dealers. We have highlighted stories of dealers succeeding against the big boys, sought to shine a light on best practice, and warned of new dangers in the mid-market. With initiatives such as is.group’s RDC project we have analysed, been critical when necessary, but also applauded the group for not just sitting in the middle of the road and praying that the juggernaut of the power channel won’t hit its members.
And yet, the last few months, more than any other in my time at OPI, have brought worrying news for the dealers. The big three US dealers – Prime, Allied and WB Mason – have felt the breath of the power channel on their necks with Prime and Allied now residing in the clutches of Staples and Depot respectively.
And you can add to those two super dealers, numerous dealer acquisitions made by the power channel over the last year. Of course, the familiar cry of "the big boys can’t match us for personal service" keeps coming up in even more regular intervals but, while this still holds some truth, I fear that it could be little more than a cry in the dark from some dealers.
Is personal service really a differentiator anymore? Especially in the age of online transactions where most people actually don’t want to be bothered by personal service anymore and just want to order and pay in two easy clicks of a mouse.
I certainly hope that the independent dealer can work out a formula to protect the mid-market and remain as the flesh on the bones of the OP industry.
I wish them all the best for the future.
Goodbye and good luck.