Big Ask: Ensuring success in adversity

What practical steps can dealers take to ensure success over the coming 12 months? Austin Clark asks the industry.
David Riley, purchasing director, Ben Johnson: “I believe the post-election fallout and Brexit are really side issues to the ongoing challenges we face in managing the changing workplace. That said, Brexit has had a huge impact on the price we pay for goods due to extreme exchange rate fluctuations. I would encourage all dealers to pass these increases on, and not to try and absorb those additional costs; it’s just impossible to sustain, and damaging to the whole sector, so pass them on!
“Dealers should also ensure they choose the right partner to help them grow their business. The wholesalers are having to change to adapt to the changes in the marketplace. Spicers, VOW and Exertis all have different offerings; dealers need to choose the partner that best suits their business model and work closely with them. It’s a mistake to treat a wholesaler as a supplier because, in reality, they are a partner. Remember too that they no longer control the market – they follow it.
“We’re all aware of the decline of traditional workplace supplies, so it’s imperative we all buy into other categories. List five top categories and stick with them. Whether it’s FM, packaging, IT, furniture or print that is the focus, choose a partner that can help create a supply chain to the market. We are all seeing Spicers, VOW and Antalis take on category specialists as they quickly realise this is where the growth will come from. Talk to them to see how growth can be achieved together and factor in salespeople – they might have sold office supplies in the past but do they have the skills to become category specialists?
“Finally, a great online presence, alongside an e-commerce platform, is needed. Without one dealers will simply miss out.”
Steve Harrop, chief executive, Advantia: “The good news is that there are new people looking to set up dealer businesses, which is exciting – and these people are not afraid of being in the office supplies industry. The difference is, office supplies is their start point, because they know about them…but it’s not going to their end point.
“Diversity is crucial, technology is crucial but, above all else, put customers first in everything you do and really engage with them, get to know them and stay close to them – and use great technology to do it. Don’t be sympathetic to the traditional ways of doing things and don’t be beholden to those suppliers that you felt have always had your interests at heart but who now are just looking at the bottom line. Finally, find partners who can deliver you the changes and innovations that will actually make your business stronger for years to come.”