Vendor Profile: Lining up the future

Keeping pace with an ever-changing business landscape is difficult at the best of times, but for France-based office products and stationery manufacturer Hamelin it is par for the course - after all, it's been conquering the market for more than 15

Established in 1864, Hamelin is a leading manufacturer of school and office products ranging from notebooks, notepads and diaries, to binders, files, pockets, desk lamps and office accessories.

Headquartered in Normandy, France, the company is still proudly family-owned and has successfully steered the business with a steady hand through wars, economic crises, changing office trends and more. 

Hamelin started as a maker of accounting books and ledgers and switched to school and exercise books after the Second World War. From the 1970s to the 1990s, it was busy consolidating in its home market while expanding overseas. But it wasn’t until the early 1990s that it made its first acquisition outside of France in order to grow the business. 

Since then, Hamelin has developed an international presence through acquisitions in the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway. It now has more than 2,000 employees worldwide and annual sales of over €400 million ($498 million). 

OPI talks to Hamelin CEO Eric Joan to find out more about the company and its future intentions in the face of a rapidly-changing stationery and business supplies market. 

OPI: The 1990s marked a turning point in the company’s history. Up until then, what was Hamelin’s main business?

Eric Joan: To maintain our growth, we started to look outside the core categories of books and pads and acquired a few companies in our home market in the filing and envelope business. We also bought a plastic converting firm, which was the starting point for our protection and presentation segment.

Our growth continued in France in three primary groups: books and pads, envelopes and filing products. Having said that, in 2013 we decided to sell our envelope business to Swedish company Bong. 

In 1993, the group made its first international acquisition. We bought books and pads manufacturer Enri in Spain – it’s now called Hamelin Spain. It marked the beginning of the expansion of the company outside France.

In 2007, we bought Canson, which was an attempt for us to enter into the fine art products segment. But it was too far removed from our fundamental business and we decided to divest it. We sold Canson in 2016 to Italian group FILA which allowed us to really re-focus on Hamelin’s core school and office markets.

OPI: How does the business look today?

EJ: In the two key school and office markets, there are a few categories where we have a strong and leading position in Europe. In notebooks, pads and diaries we are the largest manufacturer on the continent with the strong Oxford brand. 

The acquisition last year of Czech-based protection and presentation business pro|office meanwhile has helped us to consolidate our position in the plastic filing products market. In manila filing items we also have a very strong position in Europe. Organisational products all fall under the Elba brand.

OPI: Could you please expand on the Oxford and Elba brands?

EJ: Currently sold in 90 countries around the world, Oxford is our flagship brand which we have been focused on developing since 2000. We have multiplied sales tenfold since that time and we consider it to be the category leader in mainland Europe. It is still a key focus for our future growth. 

While the growth of Oxford has been fed by innovation, its success can be attributed to brand awareness. We have TV campaigns in our core markets of Portugal, Spain, France, Germany and Poland and an active communication strategy through social media in all countries where we have a presence – especially during the important back-to-school season.

Elba is about organisational products. We prefer this term to filing products as that sounds old-fashioned and dusty. Elba is one of the major brands and we are extremely strong in most European markets.

Although this traditional segment is slowly declining, we are investing in the growth of individual organisational products and part of that strategy was the acquisition of pro|office in June 2017. It makes punched pockets, plastic folders and any kind of products to protect and carry documents. We are now pushing the Elba brand in Central Europe where pro|office was stronger than us. 

Our future investments will concentrate on personal organisational items in the area of document management, both in manila and plastic-based products. 

Going forward, we will also continue to develop Oxford as a leading brand for innovation in Europe. 

Digital focus

Hamelin proves that traditional office products can straddle the digital divide. In January 2017, the company launched SCRIBZEE, a free smartphone app – available for both iOS and Android – that enables handwritten notes from Oxford notebooks, notepads and diaries to be scanned, saved and encrypted in the cloud. 

The notes can be consulted, edited and shared, and are accessible from any device. SCRIBZEE can also be linked with Evernote. The app is compatible with the majority of current Oxford products, with plans to extend this to all items under this brand in the future.   

Hamelin CEO Eric Joan says: “Today I would say that we have more than 50% of our range available and compatible with SCRIBZEE. As far as our key target is concerned – students from the age of 15, adults and professionals – our compatible products cover around 90% of our portfolio.

“We are picking up a steady pace of users for the SCRIBZEE app and with our own in-house development team working on the project, we are able to release new functionalities on a monthly basis.”

 The pendulum has also swung back as Hamelin has developed physical products to incorporate SCRIBZEE digital functionalities: index cards for students to make revision notes; flipchart paper for meetings; and sticky notes to access vital information on smartphones (named Oxford Spot Notes).

Breaking from tradition

For more than 60 years, Unilux has been a recognised brand of desk lamps. Today, it features numerous product ranges designed to create a harmonious working environment through the latest technology and innovation. 

Sporting new logo branding and elegant overall design, the Unilux line includes lamps, coat stands, clocks, Bluetooth speakers and manuscript holders. 

The latest additions to the range expand the existing set of products and enlarge the brand’s contribution to the health and well-being of office employees. The Updown footrest and Ergodesk help workers avoid the harmful effects of a sedentary office life. Unilux also offers a discreet and powerful R-Pure air purifier for individual desk use. 

The newest innovation is the intelligent Eyelight lamp. Incorporating the My-Unilux application, the Eyelight follows the circadian cycle, automatically varying the colour temperature from warm yellow to light blue. Adjusting the quantity and quality of light according to needs improves concentration, aids sleep patterns, reduces irritability and can help with winter depression. 

Hamelin CEO Eric Joan says: “The Unliux brand is growing and we are proud of the new range that we have launched.”

For more information visit: www.my-unilux.com.