(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the office goods supply sector
The office goods retail sector in the UK is made up of dedicated office products superstores, specialist online retailers, independent office products retailers and general retailers, such as WH Smith, that stock some of the lines carried by dedicated office goods suppliers.
One of the most significant developments in the sector in recent years was the introduction of the office products superstores. Large chains, such as Staples, introduced the concept of the one-stop shop into the sector, where customers could make all of their purchases in one visit and often at heavily discounted prices. The model was not successful for Staples and at the end of 2016 Hilco Capital acquired the retail arm of Staples UK for a nominal sum and rebranded the stores Office Outlet. In 2018 Office Outlet was struggling to survive and planned to close some of its worst performing stores. Staples retained its online presence to take advantage of the huge increase in popularity of online shopping, where it competes with several other dedicated online office goods suppliers like Euroffice and Viking Direct.
Since the start of the 2000s there has been a dramatic increase in the use of computer systems and other electronic devices by many UK businesses. It was once thought that this would ultimately lead to the paperless office but so far the opposite has happened. There is now considerable demand for printer paper, photocopying paper, printer cartridges and so on.
In a competitive market, an independent supplier needs to be able to differentiate itself from competitors. This may be achieved by offering outstanding customer service, generous account facilities, discounted prices, different services or same day delivery. Many independents have joined buying groups and co-operatives such as Nemo Group to compete with the purchasing power of the large chains.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your industry.
The British Office Supplies and Services (BOSS) Federation is the main trade association for the sector and represents all businesses along the supply chain. They provide a great deal of helpful advice and information to members. To find out more, visit the BOSS Federation website.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show for the office supplies and/or stationery sector. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. The Exhibitions UK website has information on forthcoming events in a range of trade sectors.