[Dealer interview] An ethical ethos

Nell Walker spoke with key Paper Round team members, in March 2019’s edition of Dealer Support, about their unique circular economy and closed loop lead products – and what keeps these products relevant and popular
With sustainability, circular economy and closed loop ever-present in the minds of businesses and individuals alike, a dealer like Paper Round has never been more relevant. I sat down with Gary Tremaine, business unit manager at the company, whose many years of experience in the office products – and, latterly, recycling industries – have given him a fairly unique opportunity to deliver these offerings while incorporating genuine environmental benefits to the BPR Group customer base.
Gary started in the industry around 30 years ago, with Copy Graphic. After several years in the industry set up his own business, selling it 11 years later to the his very capable business partner. Arriving at Paper Round in 2011, Gary was tasked with taking the then-fledgling business unit forward and incorporating real environmental strategies to create greater synergy between the stationery business unit and the wider BPR customer base.
The business unit was already an Office Friendly member, which made the induction seamless. However, BPR is a much larger organisation with a focus on recycling. “So, while we’re a typical Office Friendly dealer, our lead products are made from what we collect from our London locations,” says Gary. “Over 3,600 tonnes of our recycled paper goes into making Image A4 80gsm each year, plastic bottles get made into extruded polyester – and, subsequently, into workwear and promotional products – and we even make business cards out of recycled single-use coffee cups. We also provide over 270 tonnes of fibre to Northwood, which turns that fibre into 2Work FM paper. These are all great stories when talking to customers.”
Drawing attention away from price
These added benefits often move the conversation away from price and the traditional dialogue around stationery. “We now engage with prospects around circular economy and/or closed loop, moving onto the more recognisable products groups further down the line,” Gary adds. “Blue Planet has had a huge impact on what our customers want and expect, and we are perfectly placed to satisfy those needs.”
At this point Jamie Cullen, senior account manager and FM product category manager, joins in the conversation to add his wisdom to the discussion. “I think we’ve always had demand anyway, because of our recycling clients. We’re the hippies of the recycling world, so everything is done correctly – for example, we’re very strong on source separation to get the best value from recycling, and nothing goes to landfill.”
The clients Paper Round picks up recycling from had long wanted to be able to buy back the paper that was being collected through the recycling service, according to Jamie. “Plus, sustainability is seeping into people’s consciousness more and more,” adds Gary. “They’re more aware, and are realising that there’s a commercial benefit to recycling – before, it was always a cost in their minds. There’s a great story behind what we sell, because of where it comes from, and I don’t know anybody else who’s making a 40% margin on paper.”
This circular economy – the process of collecting paper and bringing the recycled end-product back to the company that threw it away – brings recycling home to the customer “in a really tangible way,” in Gary’s opinion. “We could collect recycled paper from you today, for example, and, in six weeks’ time it could be back in your printer. It makes it a bit more emotional; it makes people feel that they are personally helping the environment.”
The ‘Blue Planet effect’
In the Paper Round office stands a mannequin, its clothing made from recycled bottles. The business cards on the coffee table are made from recycled coffee cups. These things, for Gary, are a key selling point – for Paper Round and its customers alike.
“If you’re handing out a business card to a prospect, and you tell them it’s made of coffee cups, they think, ‘Well we already recycle coffee cups with you – we could get our cards made from the cups’,” he says. “There’s a novelty factor to that which people like and, hopefully, that will last a long time. I was concerned that, after six months, the ‘Blue Planet effect’ might lose its impact, but it’s been two years now and it’s stronger than ever.”
Because Paper Round handles the recycling it has the added benefit of full traceability – something most companies offering recycled products don’t have. “We have our own recycling facility, whereas a lot of them will outsource,” says Jamie. “Because of this, we can also provide things like environmental reporting, wherein we’re able to show how many trees have been saved and emissions avoided.”
Maintaining relevance
While the stationery market may be declining, the products Paper Round creates continue to do well due to the nature of their genesis. Environmentally-friendly, biodegradable products or things which eliminate the need for single-use plastics are so popular that promotional merchandise has become one of Paper Round’s fastest-growing product groups. Customers want their business names on the recycled products Paper Round provides – and Paper Round is happy to oblige.
While stationery and EOS are, in general, shrinking markets, Gary tries to focus on winning market share because the truth is, while some sectors shrink, others grow to fill the gap – ‘others’, in this case, being recycled products. “People don’t want to have conversations about stationery – there are far more interesting things to think about. For us, stationery just follows on from the interesting stuff,” he says.
“Of course, you do get people that are less engaged in terms of sustainability,” says Jamie, “and, for them, it’s all about price. However, they’re getting fewer, because that attitude is partly generational and most companies do want to make a difference.”
Recycled paper as a solution
Historically, some EU countries have been on board with recycled paper for some time. In Germany, for example, the use of the off-white sheets many of us associate with recycled paper has proven popular. For Paper Round, colour isn’t an issue – which changes the game for customers worried that recycled paper won’t sell. “We use Image Paper – which is as white as anything that isn’t recycled,” Gary explains. “20 years ago in the UK, recycled paper was always grey and nobody wanted it – our closed loop paper is 150 CIE, which is really bright.”
With the cost of wood pulp becoming almost prohibitively expensive – and showing no signs of slowing – many dealers specialising in paper may soon have no choice but to move towards recycled paper. “The price of recycled paper has only gone up fractionally since we started selling Image six years ago,” Gary says. This is a large part of why Paper Round is able to make such a large margin on a market that is, worldwide, suffering. Of course, paper use is also declining; in the UK, the use of paper drops by around three per cent a year, but that hasn’t been an issue for Paper Round.
“In the London area, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near that high, and we’re collecting more paper every year,” he says. The concept of a paperless office, therefore, remains far on the horizon. “Certain software companies seem to be the only ones I have experienced using significantly less paper these days,” Jamie adds.
Either way, the company is unconcerned. “I think that paper is still a comfort blanket,” says Gary. “You read something on a screen and then print it out to make notes. In London, at least, the paper industry isn’t shrouded in doom and gloom – in ten years’ time we’ll still be selling paper.”
Changing the story of paper
Gary believes that, for dealers wanting to improve, and capitalise on their green credentials, paper is the place to start. “It’s a product they’re probably selling a lot of,” he says. “For the average, £1-2m dealer, around 20% of their sales is likely to be paper. For traditional dealers, paper is a loss leader and they’re making no money on it – as such, they need to change the story and, if they sell recycled paper, do what we’ve done and move it away from price.”
Paper-Round’s grand plan is to reach £20m by 2020, which will mean it needs to double in size, team-wise. With a new infrastructure in place, Gary aims to develop his sales team and continue to enjoy the legacy of Blue Planet and the support and credibility of BPR.
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