The office supplies sector remains essential to the day-to-day running of thousands of enterprises, offering the basic resources businesses need to function. But that’s not to say the industry is free from uncertainty, with changing customer demands and growing competition making it more challenging for office suppliers to turn a profit.
Over the past decade, the market in which office supply businesses operate has changed dramatically, brought on by increased digitalisation and changing working practices. That’s meant suppliers have had to adapt to new trends and customer demands, or face the threat of diminishing returns.
So, what is the secret to success in the office supplies arena? And how can businesses ensure they remain financially buoyant both now and in the future? Here, we’re taking an in-depth look at the sector to find out how businesses can adapt and grow in changing times.
- How has the office supplies industry changed over the last 15 years?
- What internal processes are key for a successful office supplies business?
- Who are the key personnel for ensuring an office supplies business succeeds?
- What technology can help your office supplies business in the immediate term and secure its future prosperity
Over the past five years, the office supplies industry has witnessed seismic change, with evolving trends and rapid digitalisation shaking up the industry landscape. The emergence of smart digital devices and solutions geared towards enabling paperless organisations has had an adverse effect on customer demand and requirements, resulting in a steep decline in the need for traditional office supplies like paper, stationery and copying equipment.
That said, progressive, forward-thinking office supply companies have done well to adapt to changing customer requirements and evolving work practices. Many have altered their service and delivery models to ensure profitability and customer satisfaction, offering competitive long-term contracts to customers looking for a reliable, on-demand office supply solution.
Elsewhere, the rise to prominence of online office supply retailers has spurred traditional suppliers to improve their delivery and fulfilment services. In a hugely competitive market space, time and convenience are key to businesses who need supplies without delay, so the past five years have seen a greater focus on same-day or next-day delivery scheduling within the office supplies sector.
In order to manage increasingly complex supply chains, office suppliers have turned to advanced business management tools to ensure access to real-time inventory management and valuable customer insights. Now, it’s no longer advisable for office supply businesses to rely on an off-the-shelf business management solution; bespoke software, like a custom ERP system, offers far greater scope, control, and transparency when it comes to meeting the industry’s evolving customer service demands.
Of course, we can’t take a retrospective look at the past five years within the office supplies sector without touching on the coronavirus pandemic. With vast swathes of the in-office workforce carrying out their duties remotely, the impact of this was felt acutely by office suppliers, though there was an unexpected uplift in sales in the early stages of the lockdown period.
With staff working from home, businesses were forced to invest in hardware, furniture and supplies for remote employees – whether that’s new monitors and keyboards or chairs and desks. This presented an unforeseen opportunity for office suppliers, with demand up for basic office supplies and equipment.
Given the ever-evolving landscape of office supply, businesses need to adopt future-fit technologies and processes if they’re to maintain profitability in a rapidly changing and highly competitive industry. To ensure future prosperity and growth, office suppliers must sure up internal processes to align their business model with the changing office landscape and varying customer needs.
Here, we take a look at some of the internal processes that can support office supply businesses with future aspirations for growth.
Optimal management of multi-warehouse sites
Warehousing space remains an important physical asset for office supply businesses, and it’s vital these sites are operated in line with inventory management best practice. Errors and inaccuracies at a single site can easily impact the wider business, hindering logistics and causing delivery errors which may affect customer trust and experience.
Customers expect rapid, reliable transit of office supplies, so it’s critical that internal logistics processes are regularly audited to ensure timely and as-promised fulfilment. Investing in the appropriate business management tools can simplify multi-warehouse operations, allowing for an integrated, unified system across all sites.
And for those offering drop ship fulfilment methods it is vital that supplier stock levels and related guaranteed delivery times are seamlessly maintained in your ecommerce and ERP software solution to ensure customer promises are not compromised.
Real-time information for day-to-day improvements
Having ready access to customer and inventory information is crucial to delivering a reliable, efficient service. Office suppliers who are yet to invest in a next-gen business management solution risk missing out on the massive benefit real-time, multi-site, multi-user information access can bring to their organisation.
Regardless of the type of business or sector, having information and advanced process automation capabilities at your fingertips is the future of progressive, adaptive enterprise. With customer data, reports and logistics information available at the touch of a button, businesses can refine their day-to-day operations, improve, and automate internal processes to make sure they’re providing the best possible service to new and existing customers.
Accurate, timely and unified delivery and logistics management
Office supply businesses rely on a fleet of delivery vehicles and a well-oiled logistics process to deliver products and resources to their customers in a timely, consistent manner. With a huge choice of online retailers offering same or next-day delivery, it’s critical that office suppliers nail down this area of their operation – demonstrating to customers that they can match or outstrip competitors.
Given the complex nature of a logistics delivery chain, it’s important that internal processes are regularly reviewed to reduce inefficiency and time wastage. They should also be reviewed to spot potential service delivery opportunities e.g., early morning deliveries, multi-drop deliveries etc. Any technology investments should be carried throughout the delivery workflow, from warehouse hubs to couriers, with all personnel given the appropriate tools to ensure timely and efficient order fulfilment.
As the industry changes, there are greater skillsets and disciplines required. No longer is the heart of the business the people manning the phones and hammering through orders, it’s the people who ensure the systems work, the stock and product offering is healthy, added value services are established and relationships are managed.
Here, we’ll introduce these people, their roles, and their importance within the wider office supplies infrastructure.
Delivery and warehousing personnel
Businesses purchasing from office supply specialists generally have one key requirement: timeliness. No enterprise wants to be left waiting by their office resources supplier, the result of which could hinder their day-to-day operations.
As such, delivery and warehousing personnel are among the biggest human assets to any office supplies company. Responsible for accurate and efficient order fulfilment, it’s crucial that they’re able to communicate with ease, simplifying the inventory management process.
The world of in-office work is changing. Businesses require a whole range of day-to-day products and resources that would have been unheard of a decade ago – and it’s the job of procurement specialists to ensure that office supplies businesses continue to deliver for changing demands.
Product procurement and buying relies on a firm grasp of changing market trends and innovation. At even the most traditional office supply firms, in-house personnel will need to keep a close eye on what’s popular and unpopular in terms of office essentials; only then can businesses continue to offer a future-proof service for their customers.
Marketing and sales teams
For long-established office supply brands with a loyal customer base and a handful of long-term client contracts, marketing may not be a priority. But as needs change and competition grows, businesses mustn’t neglect this area of their operation – future profitability depends on a sound marketing and sales strategy.
Marketing and sales personnel are among the key drivers of internal business growth. A talented marketing team can boost brand exposure and leads, while sales representatives are essential for converting one-time customers into long-term clients. The success of marketing and sales activity relies on up-to-date customer information and insights, delivered by an integrated business management solution with a centralised database.
The move to online, along with the expansion of added value services in the office supplies sector, has put added pressure on IT teams to deliver fully integrated business software solutions that can seamlessly manage the end-to-end customer journey. Outdated and inefficient systems are letting this team down as they seek to support other departments to create a competitive edge by supporting accurate real-time data, slick automated processes, and the proactive delivery of insights.
What technology can help your office supplies business in the immediate term and secure its future prosperity?
Technology has emerged as a prerequisite for business profitability and growth, and is essential for success within the highly competitive office supplies arena. Here, we take a look at some of the innovations which can support business growth both now and in the future.
A modern ERP system goes beyond any off-the-shelf business management solution an office supplies business can use to manage its day-to-day operations. With advanced automation, personalisation, mobile and ecommerce functionality as standard, such technology can be of massive benefit to businesses that continue to rely on outdated systems supporting outdated processes.
The beauty of ERP software is the unified functionality it affords personnel throughout the business. Everyone, from sales reps to delivery drivers, stands to benefit from this kind of business management solution – with individual apps, modules and features to support all key business areas.
The majority of office supply businesses rely on repeat custom from long-term clients to retain profitability. Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a powerful tool in helping to manage customer relations, delivering insights and functionality which make it easier to drive sales and convert new leads.
Sales and marketing teams, in particular, can benefit from the granular data and insights delivered by CRM technology. What’s more, the technology can easily be used in conjunction with a modern ERP system where it is generally provided as a fully integrated part of the application– strengthening the entire supply chain infrastructure.
eCommerce and Mobile
Integrating an eCommerce solution with PIM catalogues ensures access to a vast range of products with accurate stock data. Additionally, the eCommerce functionality can be integrated to the ERP solution to ensure a single source of truth. This streamlines a more accurate stock control and customer service function.
Complementing this, mobile access to data is more important than ever, whether that’s delivery drivers capturing electronic PODs on their mobiles or sales teams having mobile access to CRM data or log new interactions. Effective mobile access can remove roadblocks and ensure that every member of the team has the access to the data they need, when they need it.
Do you own or work for an office supplies business? Perhaps you’re looking to invest in technology to future-proof your enterprise? At Intact, our business management solutions can be tailored to the needs of your operation, with bespoke software to meet your requirements in the long and short term. For more information or a consultation, visit the homepage or get in touch.