The right path

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is.group’s annual meeting in San Antonio from 11 to 14 May was always going to be of the utmost interest, coming as it did at a crucial time in the history of the US dealer group. With CEO John Kreidel preparing to hand over leadership to is.group president Mike Gentile and a charm offensive still in full flow for its distribution programme, OPI’s man in San Antonio reported an atmosphere not without tension and a general session that was long and laborious.

In essence, the event was about communication – communicating the group’s future direction, communicating the benefits of the distribution programme, communicating an overall vision to battle the ever encroaching power channel. Let’s face it. It’s not easy to win the hearts and minds (as the Bush administration would say) of hundreds of small businessmen scattered throughout the US, and it’s not easy getting so many different businesses and entrenched philosophies to sign up to a single vision.

is.group’s distribution initiative has brought much success to a number of its most prominent members, of that there is no doubt. But Gentile is still trying to make the success of others convince all members to jump on board with conviction.

As Mark Austen, head of UK dealer group Office Club eludes to in the Big Interview this month (see page 50), dealing with so many different individuals can be like juggling a class of schoolchildren. Certainly in his news focus interview in the March 2005 issue of OPI, Gentile’s frustration was there for all to see when he said: "It’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result."

Clearly, is.group has been in no mood to do a Nero and fiddle as Rome burned and, in a heartfelt burst, Gentile spoke of breaking paradigms and putting ego and greed aside to work together in the independent dealer channel.

is.group, in a bid to boost volume through its RDCs and reach out to the whole dealer community, showed its hand when it offered its distribution programme to non-members last December by way of a 120-day trial.

So is the only true way forward a much closer relationship between the two big US dealer groups, is.group and TriMega, and even the possibility of them working as one? Or will they continue to make their own differing ways along the shining path to what they hope will be an independent dealer victory against the might of Staples and Depot? Next month’s Hot Topic will take an in-depth look at the key subject on every US independent dealer’s mind.