Bringing Out the Best in Brands

Want a world-class program that delivers results for you? Think Highlands.

Not only can we help you build a strategic sales and marketing plan but we can execute it for you too.  We are truly your partner from beginning to end, and the next beginning...

We offer a range of services that clients can utilize from field representation, e-Commerce management, strategic planning, digital and traditional marketing through to selling into some of the world's largest and best distributors and retailers.

Our obsession is getting your products into the hands of consumers 

ahead of your competitors.

Want to know more?  Then get in touch.   

Supporting your brand to maximize your sales.



Highlands covers content creation, and digital and print production and promotional campaigns to.  We ensure your work is 'on brand', 'on time' and 'on budget'.
Let us develop and manage your strategic blueprint alongside you.  Our PLAN - BUILD - RUN - OPTIMIZE model ensures you gain the right insights to successfully execute your strategy. 
Highlands has the skills and resource to maximize the presence of your brand with key resellers to help grow your sales volume.

Supporting your brand to maximize your sales.

Having trusted relationships with all the largest accounts means that Highlands can get your products listed quickly and build plans to accelerate sales.
Highlands brings you a trusted and personalized eCommerce strategy to complement your traditional routes to market, growing your brand and digital presence.
Our great engine room ensures we deliver on our promises.  Full content management, creation and re-purposing of collateral and driving promotional activity are just part of what our team helps with.


Great Questions

March 22, 2017

Great questions - especially the ones you ask yourself -" are hard to come by. But great questions help you think more clearly. They make you pause. They interrupt old ways of thinking that are getting in your way. They stimulate and provoke.

Great questions make you curious about yourself, your company and even the industry. It’s the kind of curiosity I remember when my daughter was five, and she kept asking, “why?”  While it annoyed me at the time, asking “why” is quite powerful.  
In manufacturing, it’s called root cause analysis or “five whys.”  By continually asking why we do it that way, why we care or why it matters, and then ask why to that answer we can peel away at what’s really going on.  In many cases, we just live with things because we haven’t dug deep enough to figure out what needs to change or how to change it.

And, it’s not just “why” questions, but also “what if” and “how” and “which” that could give us insight into key improvement areas.  The key is to ask open ended questions -" not just those with a yes or no answer.  Questions like “Are we…” or “Should we…” or “Does this …” don’t give you enough context to stimulate appropriate creativity.  You’ll get rich discussion by asking better questions.  

Examples include:
  • Why do some prospects not buy our products?
  • What is unique about our business? How does that uniqueness solve a customer problem better than anyone else?
  • In which markets or products should we stop investing? Why?
  • What could we outsource that we are not good at so we can focus on what we do best? How might we do that? (Examples might include: marketing, website/digital technologies, content development, strategy development, logistics)
  • What am I doing as a leader that is contributing to a particularly negative situation?  (Constantly asking yourself open ended questions will increase your own self-awareness and your personal ability to take accountability and influence change.)

How to get started

Write down one area in yourself or your company that is causing you worry or feels like a bottleneck. Then write down a few good questions. Work with your team to brainstorm and discuss the answers.  You’ll find richness in the dialogue and the discovery.  Good Luck.

Janet Collins, a strategic advisor in the office products industry and a long-time collaborator with Highlands.  She works with business leaders to develop growth strategies and mobilize teams to take action and achieve results. She's a coach who's been in your shoes, most recently as President of GMi Companies (Ghent, VividBoard and Waddell). 

Contact Janet at jcollins@tpstrategy.com or visit www.linkedin/in/collinsjanet.


Janet Collins

TurningPoint Strategy


Field Sales for the Future

March 9, 2017

25 years ago

Reseller: “Hey Bob, what do you have for me today?”
Manu.:“A fantastic new product.  Check it out!”

This process worked great when there were hundreds (if not thousands) of resellers, each possessing strong relationships with local office products buyers  large and small.  Back then, manufacturers had a strong upper hand as the economy was strong and resellers sought additional SKUs.  Big Box retailers had not yet infiltrated the office product segment and inventories were not complex.  Times were good.  To support this fragmented and highly local dynamic, manufacturers and rep firms would set up regions and assign individuals to call on specified accounts to drive sales.

Key to success was a strong, personal relationship between the sales rep and the buyer.  Diversification was not rampant, nor consolidation, technology, or home-offices.  Channels were clearly demarcated and the supply chain was firm.  

Increasingly however, we now see that personal relationships alone are not enough.  Channels have blurred, product offerings have exploded, workplaces have transformed.  The old way of doing business no longer works.  Today, resellers don’t need a broader product line.  They need better data to enable better decisions.  Those manufacturers not adapting to data-based decisions and analytics are falling by the wayside.

Fast-forward to Today

Reseller: “Hey Bob, what do you have for me today?”

Today, it’s less about reselling but applying retailing best practices.  Big difference.  Offices are smaller, denser, and far more dispersed as companies rely heavily on freelancers and home-offices.  To support this transformed the workplace, local players and big boxes alike must now sell to consumers and corporate customers, each with wildly diverse needs, access, and sophistication.  This means that the personal relationship paradigm won’t cut it.  Today’s buyers are no longer old friends, but sophisticated business experts who now answer to Wall Street.  “Trust me” is now “prove it.”

So how can you prove it?  Don’t take a product approach, but a reseller’s approach.  What do they need to succeed?  Are they over-stocked on high-priced products that don’t turn?  (Margins could be great, but dusty products create no cash flow and year-end inventory headaches).  Be honest about how your products can help them succeed, and where to best market them.  Share your data, overlay their data onto yours, isolate gaps, show opportunity.  Building a partnership predicated on analytical success creates a new kind of relationship, one that is just as powerful and profitable as the one enjoyed by our predecessors 25 years ago.
BO + GC for opi Blog_edited

opi article - Outsourcing Sales Xtra: The whole package

March 2, 2017


Heike Dieckmann from OPI speaks to sales and marketing agency Highlands CEO Bob O’Gara and Gordon Christiansen, Managing Director Europe and SVP of Marketing, about the challenges that exist and how the company is addressing them.


In line with the evolving nature of the business supplies sector, the role of manufacturer rep groups is changing. OPI has been following their progress over the years. But while outsourced sales reps continue to play an integral part in our sector and nowhere more so than in the US, the pressures facing both the manufacturing as well as reseller communities have taken their toll and highlighted some of the perceived cost/benefit challenges that exist.


US-based Highlands is arguably the best-known sales and marketing agency in the global business supplies market, with a strong nationwide presence in the US, an expanded regional presence in Canada and a solid footing in the UK, with developing plans for the rest of Europe.

OPI: The business supplies sector is changing massively and, by default, so are manufacturer rep groups I believe?


Bob O’Gara: Yes, absolutely. If you talk about manufacturer rep groups, or a sales and marketing agency as we at Highlands prefer to be viewed as, you need to consider the macro environment and what’s happening in the broader industry.

Consolidation is happening at both supplier and reseller level and that’s inevitably going to impact rep groups. We’re still in the early stages of this consolidation which is largely driven by the decline in traditional office products. The resulting margin pressure affects independent rep groups the most, as these manufacturers are struggling with overcapacity and need to assess how much money they can afford to spend and on what specific sales and marketing activities.

On the reseller side, scale matters now more than ever before. To be an effective B2B service provider you need to have scale, invest in websites and all manners of technology to drive your business. And you need to have a partner that is familiar with that technology and can help you with that.

It’s a challenging time to be in this space, but I think there’s still plenty of opportunity because many of our legacy suppliers are actually in greater need of these types of services. 

OPI: Can you give an example?


Bob: A great example would be assisting suppliers with the creation of digital marketing assets. We have a number of clients that use Highlands as a marketing resource as well as a sales resource. Everyone knows that to maximise sales you need great copy, great product images and great videos. It’s not one-size-fits-all.  For those suppliers that don’t have the internal resources to create great digital content, Highlands can step in.

Another example is diversification of markets. Manufacturers accept that if they’re only selling into companies like Office Depot, Staples, SP Richards, Essendant and the large OP independents of this world, it is becoming ever more difficult to achieve significant growth. The question is: How can we as a sales and marketing agency assist those suppliers in terms of penetrating mass market channels, the MRO sector or the education vertical? How can we spread their business out into other channels to help them find other paths to growth?

Gordon Christiansen: We are in the same boat. At Highlands, we’re diversifying in terms of the types of accounts that we service and how we service them. This diversification is happening in three specific areas. The first one is different distribution channels, as Bob mentioned.

Then there are new product categories that we represent, such as jan/san. This now puts us into the same boat as other resellers and wholesalers. Like them, we need to broaden our scope in terms of the brands we represent and into what channels we represent them.

Third - services. Yes, field representation is still a critical part of what we do, but we also need to provide a wider range of services including technology. This will greatly help brands increase their channel penetration and volume. 

OPI: Where do you see the greatest traction in your manufacturer relationships?


Bob: Again, its not one size fits all. Highlands is built to allow manufacturers to work with us in a variety of ways, based on their unique set of needs. That said, some of our most effective engagements are deeply strategic. We work with clients to help them to shape their strategy and product development, and then map out the best and most cost-effective paths to market right through to the end user. It’s a completely different type of engagement than we had in the past.


OPI: The channels you outline mass market, MRO sector, education…Are these within the realms of a manufacturer rep groups generally? I assume size matters here as well?


Bob: In the US and Canada there are reps working in all of these channels.  Generally, these groups focus exclusively on only one channel and are regionally focused. With respect to office, facilities and MRO, we are seeing increasing overlap that will present challenges for suppliers and agencies.

In a blurring marketplace, what is the distinction between a jan/san dealer and an office products dealer? Generally, the suppliers of janitorial products hire groups on a national basis to service the office channel. This should give those groups an advantage over the regional rivals in other janitorial and MRO markets.

OPI: Amazon, do you have a relationship with them through the brands you represent?


Bob: We do. We have a robust online business. But it’s not all about Amazon.   What’s unique about Highlands is that we serve the totality of the e-tail marketplace, rather than Amazon only or Overstock only. This is important as it involves managing the interplay between these accounts that lets you maximise online sales.

With respect to Amazon, this is not a relationship company but rather an analytics company that prefers to do things over email. Plus, it has a high staff rotation, so you never see vendor managers in the same seat for very long. 

We are effective with Amazon because we’re really good at the technical part. We have a team of people that really understands how to promote and maximise our suppliers’ product exposure, how to manage the e-tail marketplace, how to work with the complex pricing algorithms" and in the process drive considerable growth for our partners in that marketplace. 

OPI: You have a unique advantage in that you are very well known through your international presence?


Bob: We have derived great benefits from being in multiple markets. We have significant opportunities coming to the US business based on our Canadian and European presence and this has worked in the opposite direction too.

The best part is that we are discovering new suppliers to drive incremental business not just for Highlands, but for all of the customers we sell to across all of the markets served.

OPI: You now have a solid presence in the UK I believe, representing a variety of brands including RB very successfully. What about continental Europe" what’s your experience there?


Gordon: Europe is very much on our radar and we are well-positioned to make it a success. We have the expertise to help brands from the US, for example, that have no experience in the European markets to introduce them to the key resellers and wholesalers across the continent as well as help with product information and promotional activities.

That said, it’s not been easy. There are a couple of manufacturers, British and US-based, that would like to have some representation in Germany, for example. The challenge is pure economics. You can’t just do it for one or two manufacturers, you need ten to make it economically viable. We don’t quite have the traction we need yet and maybe the model in continental Europe will need to be adapted somewhat, away from a pure field sales model.

We currently represent a number of brands across the whole of Europe and helping them sell into German resellers, pan-European wholesalers and online marketplaces. The office channel for them is an exciting place to grow and we believe we’re the ideal partner to help them do that.

By the same token, having a European presence provided us with the opportunity to help manufacturers from that geography be more successful in the US. Having a footprint on both sides of the pond has really worked for us because of the interactivity between the US and Europe, and many manufacturers wanting to move both ways.

OPI: In our recent article in OPI we talked about commission-only agents that are still pretty prevalent in some parts of Europe and also the associated cost that comes with dealing with a company like Highlands. What’s your view?


Gordon: I think there’s always going to be a market for the commission-only concept. For some manufacturers that works well because it’s a relatively low-cost, low-investment model.

Our model is different. We tend to represent large brands that are well known in the marketplace. It’s about creating a point of differentiation for the reseller to incentivise them to focus on the brand we represent rather than a competitive one.

Dealer groups-SUMO-621x390

How will the love be shared?

March 3, 2017

The future of dealer groups is something I have contemplated for some time.  Recently I received the Office Power Dealer Group Survey and it made for insightful and interesting reading.

Office Power is a pretty cool tech company based in London, UK that helps small to medium office products dealers consolidate and leverage their purchasing under one umbrella as well as giving them an industry leading technology platform (amongst other things).

I mention this not as an advertisement for their business but rather to put some of their opinions into context.  Whilst they are not like-for-like competitors to dealer groups they do compete. That said, many of their conclusions resonated with me and are as relevant for markets outside the UK as they are within. 

Increasingly we are seeing margin pressure within the office channel especially in more traditional categories. This trend is unlikely to reverse. Manufacturers are forced into making choices about where they share their love. Even partners they have successfully worked with for years will be under scrutiny.  These choices may be easy to make where ROI is not apparent but more challenging when cuts are made where value is being delivered.

A key question is whether manufacturer rebates paid to dealer groups, whether directly or through wholesalers, are sustainable?  If so, the current dealer group model has longevity. If not, it is unlikely that wholesalers will financially support the activities of dealer groups themselves on an ongoing basis putting the current model under threat.

What happens to the dealer groups when this funding stops? Will dealer group members be prepared to pay the full cost for the services provided? I suspect many will not and the knock-on effect will be three-fold:

1.   There will be fewer dealer groups. 

2.   Dealers will need to invest directly in key business areas to stay relevant and survive.

3.   Opportunities open up for consolidators, be they acquirers or service / technology platforms.

This is the link to the Office Power report.  You do need to fill in your details in order to download but it’s worth a read.  http://www.officepower.net/dealergroupreport

Gordon Christiansen