Acco’s long-serving regional vice president, UK & Ireland, Mark Wilkinson, explains why the company has recently returned to the dealer market after a decade away, and how he is looking optimistically to the post-COVID future
Acco has been selling office equipment for more than 100 years; the company has managed such longevity due to making strategic acquisitions over the years, always evolving to the changing demands of the sector and, indeed, trying to shape it.
The company is a global business, but its ethos of evolution holds in all countries it operates in. In the UK Acco is currently re-engaging with the dealer community to take advantage of opportunities in that market.
Back in 2009/10, after the financial crisis, Acco in Europe decided to simplify its market strategy and stepped away from the dealer community. However, the company has now reversed that policy “We very much want to engage directly and indirectly with the dealer,” says Mark. “We very much value our wholesale partners; they are very important to us. We have good relationships with them and, hopefully, this will continue in the future.”
The reason behind the move, Mark explains, is that wholesalers generally only carry about 20% of Acco’s portfolio of some 5,000 products, and some dealers want to source other Acco products directly from the company to complement their wholesale sourcing strategy. “We have found this to be a good opportunity and we are getting good feedback from dealers,” says Mark. “Many of them remember that we walked away, to some degree, but are willing to forgive us for that and are pleased to be working with us again.
“We have Anita Glithero who has been with us 40-something years and she gets a wonderful reception when she rings up a dealer and says she’s from Acco. They can’t believe Acco are speaking with them directly, and it is Anita. We see dealers as an important part of our overall strategy; we are committed to that and have initiatives in place to support that.”
To this end, Acco now have a portal at www.accopartner.com where dealers can browse and buy from most of the company’s portfolio. “Dealers can register with an email address and password. If they haven’t already got a trade account with us, they can order by credit card or work with one of the sales team and get an account set up with us. We have 350 dealers already signed up to the portal, and there is the opportunity for get hundreds more.”
Mark is careful to emphasise that this move isn’t about taking business from wholesalers, but complementing it. “We are trying to ensure that the wholesaler sells the products they stock and market on our behalf – but the other 80% of products are available to our dealers at a competitive price, with the right content, the right data, the right service level.
“We have adjusted our minimum order quantities, and have made sure we are working on our track and trace capabilities so we can tell the user where the products are in the journey. We have also made sure our stockholding is there. We keep improving our communications so dealers can find out about new products or offers – sometimes offers unique to dealers – to give them their own part of this marketplace. We think we are doing a lot for the dealer community, and look forward to working with them.”
This is demonstrative of the upbeat feeling in Acco, and this optimism extends to the future of the office products market this year, despite how challenging it currently looks. “We have had Brexit and the unfortunate demise of customers and key partners like Spicers and Office Outlet, for example,” he says. “There are also the ravages of COVID. The UK has probably been most affected of the major markets and countries in Europe, and that has had a big impact on the office products market.”
That said, Mark insists that there are causes for optimism. “The success of the vaccine rollout enables us to look forward with a little bit more confidence than even three months ago, and there are still lots of opportunities out there. I still think that, if you are prepared to adapt and be flexible in where you focus, there are still a lot of opportunities out there. It is not all doom and gloom.”
For example, there has been the move to digitisation and online spending in the UK market – which hasn’t happened to the same degree in Europe. “Those are quite dramatic, macro-level, changes that are affecting everyone, particularly the dealer,” he says.
There are other ways the UK workplace is fundamentally changing after COVID, Mark adds. For instance, he believes the days of most being in the office 9am-5pm Monday to Friday are behind us. “I think there will still be a need for some level of safety protocols in the office, or any workplace, going forward, that will mean either more space, or more protection, around the employee, depending on what is possible. I think there will be a hybrid environment and we will have employees in the office three days a week and at home two days a week.
“That is something we are going to have to adapt to as an industry.” As ever, the opportunities are there for those who are prepared to be flexible.