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Industry leaders indicate importance of ecommerce and dropship for the future of office supplies

The Covid crisis has been a major driving force for change in our industry and beyond. Whilst fighting for survival, we have all been forced to become more agile than ever before, adapt quickly and embrace new ways of thinking. There is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the transformation that was already happening in dealer businesses by at least 5 – 10 years. In the latest Future Focus webinar hosted by BOSS Federation and moderated by Simon Drakeford, CEO, Office Power, the panel of industry executives discussed their views about the changes dealers need to make to adapt their business model, the irrefutable importance of a robust ecommerce platform and significant shift towards the dropship model.

‘Covid has been a catalyst for the things dealers didn’t do before, but should have’

Alex Tatham, Managing Director of Westcoast, stressed the stark reality dealers are now facing, ‘Having an online offering is now a must for your business. The ability to deliver that online offering is also a really important factor, particularly as from now on we’ll be delivering less to offices and more to homes.’

His view was supported by EVO CEO Steve Haworth, ‘The concept of online being the most efficient way to transact has been the case for a long time. But during this time we’ve also seen a robust presence from local dealerships, local value-added resellers and local purchasing, due to an emotional connection to peoples’ locality and community.’ Ecommerce will likely now be a critical channel which dealers will use to promote and build new business in this new climate, if they have the right infrastructure.

Only dealers who have up-to-date ecommerce capabilities and a robust direct delivery strategy will truly be able to benefit from this opportunity, as well as the other trends our industry is now seeing. More than ever, dealers need to ensure they build relationships with their customer base using intuitive sales tools, differentiate themselves from their competition and add real value for clients to ensure long-term high-value partnerships. Darren Lloyd, CEO of United Managed Office Services explained, ‘Think about which clients you’re going to target, the opportunity for value added, how you’re going to reach them, how you differentiate your offering and how you’ll add value – not just for one transaction, but for the next 10 to 20 years.’

Whatever the future holds, the panel agreed that we won’t be seeing a resurgence of success built on word-of-mouth, catalogues and cold calls. Dealers who haven’t already adjusted their sales and marketing strategies need to equip themselves with tools that will help them intelligently segment and target their customers. As Darren highlighted, ‘All the traditional in-built sales skills you may have are now lost in this environment, dealers now need to project what they have digitally.’

‘The explosion of working from home, remote working and rural living shows us we need to change our models to deliver straight to homes’

On-and-off regional lockdowns are still a reality and only around 50% of the workforce are back in the offices across the UK, so it’s still difficult to predict what exactly the post-Covid world will look like. Anna Chalmers, Sales Director of Supplies and Transactional Print Channel at HP, spoke about this based on HP’s recent experience, ‘We’ve seen a massive switch to online purchasing, in ink alone we’ve seen a 20% shift in buying patterns from those pre-Covid. The explosion of working from home, remote working and people moving to rural living shows us we need to change our models to deliver straight to homes.’ Dealers will have to re-engineer their business models to deliver to customer homes, and though order value will drop, as long as your operations are agile enough to facilitate both types of delivery, you will be less affected by it.

Covid has been a major diversification catalyst for independent dealers. Steve Haworth said, ‘The question now is how do we apply our platforms to whatever the future demand or business needs are [regardless of the products we’re selling]?’ It is increasingly important that the technology and infrastructure that dealer businesses rely on can move with the times and support those changing dealer needs in the months and years to come.

‘We all need to sharpen our digital tools and it’s vital we evolve at pace’

With Covid still a major concern for everyone, customers are understandably nervous about allowing salespeople into offices. Richard Coulson, CEO of Complete Business Solutions highlighted the challenges this is creating for his business and many others, ‘We’ve seen a big increase in health and safety risk assessments, and we need to stay agile to comply with these or find other ways to prospect and build relationships.’ Wholesalers are also facing changes in line with these new regulations. The focus now is on the strategic conversations they can have with dealers, and how these can be facilitated remotely.

So, across all facets of an industry which for so long thrived on the value of personal connection, we’re now witnessing a shift away from traditional person-to-person selling, perhaps for good. Covid has taught us that with the right tools and digital interface, strategic partnership building can be done without knocking on a door. But where does this leave dealers? Richard Coulson couldn’t have been more accurate when he explained, ‘We all need to sharpen our digital tools and it’s vital we evolve at pace.’

Efficiencies, data analysis and understanding your customer behaviours is key for dealers now. As Anna explained, ‘We have a wealth of information, and it’s about how we’re going to use this in the future, which will be critical.’ Dealers need to be proficient in understanding their data, pinpointing the areas of the business they need to focus on and identifying and investing in the areas where they could be doing better. Having a CRM system which slices and dices data, allowing dealers to prioritise high-value customers and offer products and services based on behaviours is invaluable to be able to create efficiencies and build those valuable relationships in this new age.

‘You’ve got to do more differently, and think outside the box you’re in’

Alongside the practical attributes dealer businesses must embody to survive, the right attitude is also a key cornerstone of post-Covid success. Steve Haworth noted how the winning businesses which came through this so far were those who ‘saw opportunity, pivoted based on their existing strengths and carried on’ rather than those who ‘shut the door, stuck their heads in the sand and hoped it would go away.’ Alex Tatham also emphasised the importance of innovation and change for success, ‘If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got, but less. You’ve got to do more differently, and think outside the box you’re in. Innovation is absolutely key. Agility may be the ability to change, but innovation is the strength to do something you haven’t done before. Embrace these qualities, and you’ll look forward to a successful future.’

It was evident that the webinar panelists agreed that to succeed in the new world, dealers need to have the right technological infrastructure and be innovative, practical and willing to adapt and change. We believe that there is real opportunity for dealers in this post-Covid climate with the right tools and support in place. To discuss how Office Power could support your business in leading the way to a prosperous future, please get in touch with Chris Armstrong on 07789 004 158 or email chris.armstrong@officepower.net.

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