Inside the BOSS Members’ Day

This story was originally published in June’s edition of Dealer Support.

An important event in the OP industry calendar, the BOSS Members’ Day landed on 22 May this year with old friends and new faces coming together for a particularly strong turn-out. Held at the stunning Stationers’ Hall in London, the day kicked off with BOSS chairman, Geoffrey Betts, and Chief Executive Philip Lawson updating the room on the organisation’s work over the past year and what it has planned for the future. Highlights included record attendance for meetings of the manufacturing and Leaders of the Future forums, new chair people in the RSMG and Writing Instruments Association and, for the year ahead, further work on BOSS radio, more ‘an evening with…’ events, a solutions-selling course and discussions on single-use plastic and big data.

Chairman of the BOSS Business Supplies Charity, Graeme Chapman, also had good news – four of the charity’s trustees have formed a marketing team to better spread awareness of the group – and he thanked those who have kindly donated in recent months. Next Peter Frost, CEO of Proficiency Group, discussed everything that Amazon is doing right and what the OP dealer can glean from this (Amazon was very much a major topic of the day, in fact). Business supplies is now a $50bn industry for Amazon in the UK alone; Frost explained that this is because Jeff Bezos – Amazon’s CEO – is obsessed with the customer and that his focus goes beyond the buyer. Bezos was quoted as saying that Amazon is, “The world’s most customer-centric company,” hence his business focusing on getting products to customers quickly and cheaply. Personalised productivity is the future, Frost concluded.

This was certainly food for thought as we retired for lunch, where the cafeteria-style spread – a change from the usual sit-down meal – allowed guests to mingle and ruminate on the discussions thus far. On returning to the main hall, feeling refreshed, Charles Jarrold, chief executive of BPIF, discussed Brexit implications – this, of course, remains something that it is impossible to predict the outcome of, but Jarrold did have some positive news; GDP in the UK print industry continues to grow and advertising is up due to the increased time people spend absorbing digital media.

There has been a downturn in the number of companies in this sector, but sales are still good and some print areas are growing, such as cartons and labels. “Print gives an experience that digital can’t,” said Jarrold, as he impressed upon the audience a need to target niche segments, personalise and customise.

Martin Wilde, of Martin Wilde Associates, then gave his state of the industry report which highlighted the direction in which we’re moving. It was a surprise to nobody to hear that the traditional OP market is in decline; however, the industry in general has increased 3.5%. Some of the largest growth categories are now catering, janitorial, furniture and PPE and Wilde’s collected data suggests that the majority of OP dealers are looking to spend money on specialists in various areas over the next year. The promise of this industry diversifying and innovating was a welcome message of hope for the audience.

Four members of the Leaders of the Future committee – chaired by FusionPlus’s Steve Bilton – then got together to answer questions from guests, proving that the industry is in safe hands as they expertly and confidently tackled the subjects thrown at them. The main topic to take away from this discussion was, ‘What can dealers do that Amazon can’t do?’ The answer simply lies in better service, according to the committee. The somewhat divisive topic of the impact of social media was also discussed, with the committee agreeing that Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are perfect ways to begin the journey towards customer loyalty because they add a human touch in a world where face-to-face selling is declining rapidly.

Finally, Simon Drakeford, chief executive of EO Group, discussed the transformation of our industry and how buyer expectation is driving this. Agreeing with the Leaders of the Future committee, he believes P2P – or person-to-person – selling is still the most important thing for dealers to take hold of, because big players like Amazon don’t have the ability to touch the customer. He said that, “Everyone should have an Amazon strategy”– not to attempt to topple the behemoth, of course, but to better handle and adapt to its influence. Drakeford summed up by stating what he believes the characteristics of a winner are: flexibility, knowledge, scalability, focus and efficiency.

Closing comments from Betts rounded off the day, followed by a drink or two in the stunning garden while winding down with the great and the good of the industry. Our thanks to BOSS for a hugely enjoyable and informative day.