eCommerce Pup

Maximizing your Amazon Strategy

From 1P to 3P: What’s Best for Small & Medium Sized Manufacturers?


In March, Amazon gave us a preview of their corporate initiative to consolidate vendors and to enrich the consumer experience. Unfortunately, they shut off orders for many “1P” (Direct) suppliers without as much as a goodbye letter. Since then, Amazon has walked back this decision for many suppliers, however rumors are rife that Phase II is coming.  The old saying “the best defense is a good offense” could not be more appropriate in your relationship with Amazon. Building a strong eCommerce strategy within your entire multi-channel business is vitally important in order to support sustainable growth for years to come. Allowing Amazon to direct your business is not wise or sustainable and probably does not support your corporate goals.

If you are a small to mid-size customer currently selling on Amazon, chances are you will be forced to create a “3P” account (third party account) and start selling as a direct seller within the foreseeable future. This is NOT A BAD thing, in fact just the opposite. Taking control of the supply chain, limiting the customers allowed to sell your products, and protecting your coveted margin is a sound strategy!

Developing a long-term eCommerce strategy takes commitment and ongoing planning, especially if you have been active in the channel for a couple of years. The ability to limit the number of customers within the channel and support channel rules can be difficult when we have been accustomed to “the more customers the better” paradigm. I urge you to stand strong and your patience will be rewarded.  

Highlands eCommerce is a channel advisor that focuses on building a strong multi-channel strategy and understands how to build a profitable and sustainable Amazon marketplace presence.  Sound agreements and channel rules will be the key to your long-term success - not only with Amazon but throughout your entire eCommerce platform.

If you are interested in discussing your eCommerce needs, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

Read how Highlands eCommerce helped one mid-sized manufacturer increase exposure, impressions and sales here


Kristin Stevens 

Vice President, eCommerce

TonL Blog 1

Change is the Consistent

A metaphysical sit down with VP of Sales for Canada, Tony Laprocina


 “The only constant in life is change.” You’ve probably heard this saying before. Did you know it originated with the philosopher, Heraclitus? In our industry, it’s just as true today as it was in 500 BC.

Vice President of Sales, Tony Laprocina, knows this at his core. He’s worked in the office products industry in Canada for over 20 years. For Highlands, he oversees the field sales team across all of Canada.

What is the major landscape of the Canadian market? “Things are changing,” says Tony. That includes: where product is available in the marketplace, how customers make purchasing decisions, and everything in between. There is a lot of dynamic change.

Staying on top of these changes is critical to his team’s success. “If we do the same things we’ve done in the past and hope that we generate new business, it won’t happen. If we keep evolving, then we succeed.”

Back to Heraclitus. The philosopher, in so many words, hypothesizes: 


Tony encourages his team to be fearless in their approach by staying away from “traditional” sales tactics. He is a lead-by-example kind of guy. He shares best practices with his team from his perspective and insights from his vast experience. He’s a good listener and he subscribes to an open door policy.

Tony brings his listening skills to his accounts. Building relationships with them and engaging in conversations regularly means that he hears where they’re struggling and actively listens for opportunities to be a solution provider.

 “We don’t just set up trainings with free doughnuts and coffee and then forget the follow up. We generate actual business results.” 

Highlands helps clients crack the Canadian marketplace by pioneering for them.

They act as a true partner by providing national coverage and communication across Canada, through one voice, with the right assets, at the right time.

One more philosophic reference: 


Tony says accounts can have 30K+ SKUs and can’t possibly understand the intricacies of each product. The Highlands field sales team are subject matter experts and offer solutions for specific verticals or customer bases. This means the accounts can easily see how the products apply in each environment for their customers.

While Canada is not immune to the changing markets, with people like Tony leading the Canadian sales team, Highlands helps clients by successfully navigating through this dynamic environment.


Read more about our thinking on vertical market positioning here.

Bill Beard Blog plane 1

A Day in the Life of Strategic Account Manager: Bill Beard

Bill Beard likens his job to that of an air traffic controller.

He can’t lose sight of the prop planes or the Boeing 747's, and they both require his sharpest focus so they don’t come crashing down.

The Highlands Strategic Account Manager, based in Florida, works exclusively with a Mega-Reseller (or Mega, for short) in the US.

Bill Beard Plane v4

On a typical day, Bill starts his morning like most of us do



up early, enjoying that first cup of coffee and clearing out the bulk of his email before leaving for the office.

He tackles, what he calls, his daily business: pricing changes, UPC discrepancies, answering questions about products and connecting a client to the Mega before moving on to logistical, legal, content and supply chain issues.

After another cup of coffee or two, Bill then reviews more strategic initiatives like: laying out and complying with promotional calendars, aligning goals and strategies and taking advantage of all the tools available in the four channels (digital, commercial, contract and retail)


the change from morning to afternoon

also comes yet another shift in focus
. Bill calls these larger picture things: meetings with Highlands marketing team, or clients themselves, or merchants, or the client’s replenishment team, or launching a new opportunity or closing a new opportunity. This is the time that he delineates for greater follow up pieces.

For Example: New client onboarding has a particular process. Bill is continually aligning himself with the Mega’s strategies and finds the niche that each client will fill in order to be approved.

Each client’s product line he works with is strategically built. He doesn’t just load in new products, he solves customer pain points and provides real solutions in the current offering. This builds incremental sales and doesn’t steal sales from another supplier.

Bill Beard Plane v4

What he says further differentiates his work are the other offerings that come with a Highlands partnership: back-end support, a qualified, seasoned and national field source and a marketing team that is the best out there. It’s a lot of collaboration and team effort. He doesn’t work in a silo

Bill Beard Plane v4

However, what really makes Bill special is his relationship with the Mega. He doesn’t just get meetings, he absolutely engages in the business. Bill’s deep understanding of the account’s landscape and goals allows him to provide assets that are easily executable and give them solution-based proposals.

After heading home, Bill rounds out his day

by spending time working on the Client’s intranet system. This includes anything from: updating pricing, to working on forecasting, to uploading new items and content, to pulling documents for EDI compliance guidelines.

Clients depend on me to manage the portal for them. The Mega trusts me because they know I have the experience.” 

And with more than 30 years in the industry, Bill has unmatched experienced working with this account. Add that in with the rest of his team at Highlands and he’s providing a total business solution - bringing value to the clients, as well as the Mega, by successfully launching new, innovative products and technologies that will enhance the customers shopping experience resulting in greater sales growth and a stronger partnership for both organizations.

Bill Beard Plane v4

Bill Beard

Strategic Account Manager


The (not so) Scary Truth about CX

You don't have to trick your customer, just treat them like humans.

Customer Experience (CX) is dead. That’s right, you heard me. Placed in a coffin, buried 6 feet deep and topped with a gravestone. Dead. 

In the mausoleum next to CX lies its famed predecessor: User Experience (UX).

So what does your brand need to focus on now? It’s actually quite simple: humans. We propose that in order to build a successful relationship between your brand and your consumer, you need to speak humanly and directly to them. Everything in between (whether it’s bad or it’s good) is just noise.

It sounds so simple. But sometimes we forget that our company is built and run by humans and our customers are, at the end of the day, people too. Why not speak to them that way?

Is it really that easy?

Actually, no. I’ll explain:

Nowadays, customers expect the UX standard and are even used to the CX standard. Because of this, they have higher expectations of the companies from whom they choose to purchase products and services. Today, people value corporate conscience. Meaning: companies need to have AND portray their values in a real and authentic way. We believe, this is increasingly as important to consumers as: cost, quality and customer service.

BOMBAS case Study1

How do companies start thinking like a human?

In order to portray our humanity to our customers, companies must first organize around purpose. It’s all about the emotional connections. Your purpose should give your customers a reason to believe in your brand. This is followed closely by authenticity. If you don’t convey your purpose authentically, then consumers will see right through the facade. 

Is it time to ghost on CX?

We certainly aren’t saying that you should say boo to your current UX and CX strategies completely. But you should definitely consider this more holistic, human-centric perspective. Never forget there is a human being at the end of your supply chain. And, we’re here to help you get started.

Digital Disruptions plain

Thoughts on Two Disruptions in the Market Today

First, digital disruption is altering how goods are acquired across the business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) landscape. It is also changing how goods and services are marketed. No matter what we do, understanding and acting on this is critical to success.

Changing demographics and the accelerating consolidation of resellers in the B2B space is a function of this digital disruption. The adage, ‘Get Big, Get Niche or Get Out’ is still true today. We’ve said it before: broadline resellers today require scale to compete. Scale creates the resources required to keep up technologically and creates the efficiencies needed to compete. No company exemplifies this more than Amazon: Unmatched scale + huge investments in technology = super-efficient, and clearly winning. 

For manufacturers and brand owners, this disruption can be a blessing. There is no excuse for any company to have anything less than a good website, in fact we would suggest a great website. It is your face to the reseller and more importantly, the end user. Today, a website should be considered table stakes for all suppliers; especially as it doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. Top off a good website with a commitment to digital marketing and suddenly suppliers are talking to and building relationships with the people that are buying and using your products. The benefits to you are enormous: 1. reliance on the reseller as the gatekeeper to the consumer is diminished, 2. user feedback can spur product innovation, and 3. loyalty programs can be executed, among many other positives. If this is an area you are struggling with, let us know. Highlands is helping more and more brands develop and execute digital marketing strategies.

Secondly, traditional distribution models are morphing rapidly. This is especially acute with anyone in the middle - wholesalers. Many wonder about the future of the wholesaler when Amazon has greater product breadth, super delivery and, at times, pretty good pricing.

If you consider the office channel, the financial pressures that have spurred the proposed merger between S.P. Richards and Essendant point to the challenges faced by two notable wholesalers. The idea that they combine and then go direct has been a widely discussed theory. Now that Staples private equity owner, Sycamore Partners, has entered the fray, it is clear that no matter what happens, the wholesaler, as we have known them, will soon disappear.

As always, change brings opportunity. Everyone in the supply chain, from brand owners, to resellers, to manufacturer rep groups, can thrive in this new world. Learning how to navigate new, parallel channels will present growth opportunities. And, the survivors are likely to have scale and coverage, plus offer a wider range of services relevant to this new market dynamic.


Bob O'Gara 


jon-tyson-518143-unsplash (cropped)

It’s not WHAT, but WHERE and HOW

Re-imagining The Way You Present Your Products 

B2B distribution channels are merging - we like to call it ‘channel blurring’. Wholesalers, distributors and resellers are all looking for ways to grow, so they seek new product categories, new services and new channels. Some examples: Staples is the second largest Jan-San distributor in the USA, Grainger sells business machines, HD Supply offers stationery products (through strategic alliances), and Amazon Business has a stated intention of tackling industrial and healthcare markets.


What does this mean for the B2B sales person? Increasingly they’re being asked to sell a wider portfolio of products to a wider set of customers. Their ability to be experts in every category is difficult, if not nearly impossible.


What does it mean for manufacturers? Simply put: your salesforce is being stretched, often stretched to a point where they will find it difficult to provide genuine insights to their customer base about your products. Quite a conundrum.


What can a manufacturer do about it? Next time you produce a catalog, sell sheets or training material, think about updating how you present your offering this way:


Start with the WHERE, by positioning your range (or at least the relevant parts of your range) into vertical markets, so both your salesperson and their customers can see HOW your products apply in their environment. And highlight benefits, not features - ultimately, that is what people buy anyway!


Then, when the customer is interested they can dive into the product detail, or the WHAT.


So, give your sales team the tools to show their customers the WHERE and HOW first, and they’ll get to the WHAT.

If you would like more information on creating great product stories for your customers, contact us.  

social media content

Social Media Content

March 27, 2018 

Are you struggling with getting on the social media train in 2018? Did you know there were 3.03 billion ACTIVE social media users as of November 2017? If you aren’t currently utilizing social media, or are doing so with very minimal efforts, you might be breaking a sweat as you continue to read this. 

What is Social Media Content? 
Social media content is any form of content shared via social media. Sounds simple, but there are various ways of attracting consumers via content. What type of content should you use? Which platform is acceptable for your brand? How do you know when to post these items? This blog aims to help you understand social media content and which trends you should consider executing to increase your brand’s reach.

Social Media Content Strategy 
Successful social media starts with a social media strategy. Research needs to be done in order to effectively execute your social media strategy.
Before spending copious amounts of time creating and posting content, follow these steps to improve your chance of success with social media content:

1. Think of your intended audience first. Who are these people? How can you relate to them? Where are they? 
2. Establish your "brand voice" and REMAIN CONSISTENT. If you missed our last blog - "Content that Supports Brand Messaging", you can find it here
3. Develop content surrounding your findings. We will get into social media content “trends” next, which may help you discover your preferred style of content. 
4. Post on the relevant social media platforms. There are many social media management platforms that can post for you. Start by setting up a calendar, adding content, and let the management platform do the hard work - maintaining a schedule. 
5. Set goals for your strategy. What is your desired outcome? Increase ROI, website traffic, etc. 
6. Lastly, analyze your results and adjust your goals and content accordingly. A great way of monitoring your success is to use Google Analytics

Trends to Watch for in 2018 
  • Increased engagement between brands and customers - Jay Baer, President of Convince and Convert, found that 42% of users complaining about a brand via social media, expect a response in less than one hour. Gone are the days when consumers had the patience for 1-800 numbers and their automated systems. 
  • Videos as top priority - With predictions that video will account for 80% of global internet traffic by 2019, you should ask yourself, “is your current content strategy poised to embrace this trend?” Keep in mind, consumers are 73% more likely to purchase product(s) after watching a video.
  • Chatbots - Oracle conducted a survey, which suggested that 80% of marketing executives are currently using chatbots for business, or plan to by 2020. 

If you would like more information on providing great content for your customers, contact us.  

branded content

Content that Supports Brand Messaging

March 12, 2018 

With the ever-increasing use of falsified beauty, such as: false eyelashes, Spanx (to keep it all together), and Botox, - particularly in television and entertainment - it’s less and less likely that the average woman feels beautiful on a daily basis. ‘Dove’ introduced a new outlook on ‘beauty’ when they introduced the ‘You’re more beautiful than you think’ video.  This was a statement about what the Dove brand stood for: You don’t need to be a super-model to be beautiful with Dove.

Consumers grew connected to the stories that ‘Dove’ told and that’s how many people remember this brand; it made them feel good. This is a fine display of content that supported the brand message - content which strays from the more traditional advertising methods. This type of content brings relevant value to the consumer through emotional storytelling, will entertain consumers, or even teach them something and offers clear differentiation amongst competitor brands. This results in increased brand engagement, ultimately (hopefully) increasing sales growth for that brand.

Key Aspects of Content that supports brand messaging:

• Clarity and Consistency: Be clear on what your brand stands for, if you aren’t, then your target audience won’t be. And, be consistent. Being consistent will reinforce your message.
• Know your audience: Content can be created in different ways; it changes according to the target audience. For example, kids understand pictorial representation; the same cannot be used for an official purpose. 
• Differentiation: Be different and be prepared to be different. Have a distinct message for your brand that resonates with your audience and establishes ‘clear, blue water’ between you and your competitors.
• Remember Company Culture: Never compromise on these, whatever you create. Company output should reflect the vision, mission, culture or any of those qualities which represent your business.
• Stay Updated: Check out your competitors; know what the audience wants and provide what they are looking for.

All of these points play a key role in connecting your audience with your brand message. Deliver what is apt for your product and audience, or we could help you. In Highlands’ next blog, we will look at how content can be created specifically for social media.

transactional content

Transactional Content that Drives Sales

February 26, 2018 

Are you experiencing flat or decreased sales, even with the implementation of what seems a great marketing strategy? Maybe you’re misusing your marketing budget, or it needs a few tweaks. As discussed in our previous blog, there are different types of content that have different business applications, and as a business owner, you must be sure you’re not wasting dollars for your brand.

The term “transactional content” refers to content which helps meet a desired business goal at the point of purchase. Because traffic and revenue tend to go hand in hand, most brands are building content marketing platforms to work toward these goals. The level of utility in transactional content is what sets certain companies apart from the rest - you have the traffic but now you need to maximize conversion.

The basics, but essentials, of transactional content include: great video, quality imagery, 360-degree shots, and strong copy. Below, you can find a few great examples of video.

1. Saddleback LeatherTypically, before customers buy a product that is new to them, they prefer to know how the product will benefit them, and how they will use it. Saddleback Leather created a video which gives simple instructions on how to use one of their satchel purses. Allowing consumers to understand all the functions of the purse will lead to a better customer experience. You can find the video here.

2. Mancrates: Mancrates is a subscription company (similar to Birch Box, Dollar Shave Club, etc.) which sends out assembled wooden boxes filled with man gifts. These boxes are difficult to open and come with a small pry bar, because what guy doesn’t love tools? This video used by Mancrates gets consumers excited and provokes interest about the product, by showing the dismantling of a Mancrate. They do this all in only 21 seconds. 

The main takeaway here is that transactional content has one purpose: to transact. Creating good content around this goal will provide sales growth. In our next blog, we’ll get into branded content and how companies can benefit from its use. 


Content Marketing Types

Content Marketing and It's Types

February 6, 2018

“Just do it!” - And we know, it is NIKE!

“You’re more beautiful than you think” -

This Dove commercial is a fantastic example of content marketing and has been one of Dove’s more popular videos to date. It was released in 2013, but consumers are still coming across it, and are loving it. 

As the name suggests, content marketing is about creating content around a product and attracting customers with it. It’s not direct marketing, as we don’t sell anything directly, rather we provide information about products and services. Customers that are engaged in this type of content will, typically, feel good. This is because the content is coming from a brand which makes the customer feel involved in the experience.

Content marketing starts with analyzing customer wants, creating a content strategy around the customer preferences, creating the content and, finally, publishing it. Content will vary depending on the platform used. Content marketing takes place online through blogs, videos, emails, info-graphics, web pages, eBooks, etc.

Like any marketing, it must have a purpose. Let us dig deeper and look at the various types of content marketing. 

1. Transaction Content: There may have been many instances where you read or saw something regarding a brand/product, and suddenly, you’re interested. That content which nudges you to make a purchase decision is called transaction content. The customer is attracted to take a leap from researching about the product to purchasing it.

For Example, consumers who come across content with embedded promos, such as: “50% off if you answer this simple question about XYZ Brand”, are likely to make that purchase. They answer, get a discount on product, and the brand wins a customer!

2. Branded Content: This is an entertaining way to approach the customers. Registering your brand without saying anything about it directly is known as branded content. The brand tells a story, entertains, and engages the customers. The customers easily remember and recall the name of your brand. Lego® has a film which has entertained millions of people and is a perfect example of branded content.

3. Social Content: Spreading information and educating your customer via social media is the way of marketing through social content. A video goes viral, a post is shared, a blog is read by many - all of these are ways of reaching your customers. Content will vary across various social media platforms. 

Now, you may wonder which is the best approach for your business. Well, it depends! It depends on your brand, product and the target customers. Sometimes, it may also depend on the platform being used. So, developing a content strategy is the first step. We will dive deeper into each aspect of content in our later blogs. Stay tuned!

inbound marketing

Inbound Marketing

January 24, 2018

You’re browsing the internet or checking your emails and end up reading something interesting.  Perhaps interesting enough to find out more.  You click the link, watch a video or read a blog and perhaps even research it some more. Attracting strangers to your brand through interesting content and making them want your product is called inbound marketing. The best part is these strangers may never have wanted to buy your product but they end up being your loyal customers. They also become part of “word of mouth” marketing, bringing in more sales because they love your product. This type of marketing is usually inexpensive compared to more traditional marketing, or outbound marketing.


Email marketing, Blogs, Vlogs, video and SEO are major components of Inbound Marketing. Simply, we use great content as a magnet to attract visitors and drive the sales.

Depending on the kind of platform, there may be variation in the content. Facebook needs catchy lines whereas an eBook will need pages! Inbound Marketing is considered Permission Marketing, as we clearly get the attention of the customer rather than invade their privacy. Why is Inbound Marketing popular?

1.    Understands the Emotions: Customers aren’t forced to buy anything; their freedom is respected and valued. Customers take their own time to choose, research and decide. The customer really is King!
2.    Information is Wealth: Yes, instead of promoting a product with flashy adjectives, we simply provide enough information for the audience to make an informed decision. This provides deep explanation, therefore, pulling the customer in closer.
3.    Trust: Ah, the most highly sought out quality. When you aren’t directly asking the customer to purchase, but are instead providing ample information for them to make an informed choice, they will trust your brand. 
4.    Less Expensive: As it’s about providing content and information, there is no traditional promotion. This reduces a considerable amount of expenditure.
5.    2-Way: When the communication is 2-way, who will not love it? Customers provide their feedback, which will bring you more customers. These days, the “reviews” section is where the consumers’ eyes are! This also allows you a chance to understand if/why consumers don’t like your product.
6.    Long-term Relationship: Once you’ve hit the bull’s eye of gaining the trust of the customer, they will, most likely, come back to you. Once you have established a relationship, they will be more apt to look at your emails and blogs.
7.    They Share: The content you’re producing could go viral-  but remember you can’t produce a ‘viral’. We see our friends sharing so many posts and blogs, which sometimes catch our eyes, and result in us reading (possibly even sharing) this material. This is the best example to know how many impressions the use of inbound marketing can create.
8.    New Audience: Yes, a visitor reading a blog can end up reading another blog. This is how you can end up getting a new audience for your product or brand.

Inbound Marketing is not the answer to everything.  To really succeed you need some patience, and it should be part of a balanced marketing mix.  But, the advantages are always greater than the disadvantages. Keep in mind, the customer has greater control nowadays. Commissioning content professionals is the best way to start your journey. Not just yet. though. In our next blog, we’ll give insight into the various types of content, which can help the growth of your business.



moving forward

Highlands in 2018

January 9, 2018 

It was Paul Tudor Jones who said. “You adapt, evolve, compete or die.”  And, he’s a man worth listening to (120 / 400 on Forbes).

It’s no secret that the office supplies category is in decline and has been for some time. Like any successful company with its heartland in office supplies Highlands has been evolving its business for some years.  We try to stay ahead of trends and help our clients evolve and win with us.  

Office supplies will always be a cornerstone for our business however today it constitutes less than 25% of our sales income.  2009 was a turning point year for Highlands; we could offer true US-wide field sales representation and we entered the cleaning and break room categories.  Since then we’ve invested in e-Commerce capabilities, opened international offices in Canada and the UK, enhanced our furniture and facilities offering and added marketing to our portfolio of services.   

Over the last year we’ve clarified our vision and the principles that guide us, both internally and externally.  This has helped us and our clients to prioritize the direction we take from now, from 2018 and beyond.  One principle is ‘Channel Agnostic’.  That means we’re not fixed to any channel or marketplace but rather focused on advising our clients on the best place for them to be, and then help them get there.

That’s why marketing is such a vital component of our service offering.  Creating and executing strategies to exploit new markets is critical.  Helping clients with their proposition and positioning is not only exciting work but also helps drive effective sales advocacy.  Also, as more and more business is transacted online, the need for digital marketing strategies and assets becomes paramount. As a result, Highlands made the investments in people and capabilities to help those that require this service to increase their sales.

Highlands will continue to expand our facilities and furniture offerings, as our customers are looking for more support with these categories, and we have demonstrated the ability to help connect suppliers to these customers. We also expect to do more with safety, which is a natural next step for many of the partners we collaborate with.  

Beyond expanding product interest, Highlands is focusing on two distinct but well-defined end-user segments this upcoming year: hospitality and multi-family. These segments will take us firmly into the MRO space with clear focus. Further, this focus on specific verticals brings value to our traditional customers as we will be working with suppliers that can help traditional customers broaden what they sell and who they sell to.

An increasingly wide reach across multiple channels, integrated sales and marketing capabilities and access to the entire US market, as well as Canada and European markets, are a few examples of what sets Highlands apart in the sales and marketing space. In 2018, we look forward to helping our clients grow into new channels, markets, and geographies.

google banner

Optimizing SEO using Google

December 18, 2017 

As 2018 approaches, it’s no secret that even your Grandfather knows how to Google search, be it bunco rules or Velcro strapped Reeboks. When it comes to buying a product or service, most of us perform a Google search. Often, I perform a Google search to check product reviews and compare prices between different online selling portals (Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.).

Consumers may not be familiar with the channel they end up buying the product from, but they know they’re on the hunt for the best product at the most competitive price. With the amount of results a Google search can provide, it’s important that your website appears when a consumer searches for whatever product or service they need.

Many studies show that customers start the online search on a particular website but they end up buying from an alternative. This alternative website may not have been available or known to them when they started their hunt. This relays the fact that it is very important to increase your product visibility on multiple websites. 

Trend of Online shopping (source: bigcommerce)
51% of Americans prefer online shopping
96% of Americans who have internet access have shopped online
67% of Millennials prefer online shopping
95% of Americans shop online yearly
80% of Americans shop online monthly
30% of Americans shop online weekly
5% of Americans shop online daily

Statistics show that 54.5% online marketing is done through Google. 

Optimum ways to make Google work for you:

- Product Feed: Keep it updated. The products should be ready for pick up or shipping.
- Product Details: Maintain accuracy with respect to the product specifications. If Google finds these to be inaccurate, the product may not be listed long enough to catch anyone’s attention.
- Keywords: When seeking to purchase a product, the general population searches using few words, such as: name of the product, description of the product, weight, size, color, etc. These are the keywords. Be sure to use them in the product listing. This will increase the likelihood of your item showing up in the search.
- Images: The image within a listing plays a key role. It should be catchy and the customer should be attracted to click on it. Hire a professional photographer. Save your images using key words relevant to your product or service.
- Mobile Friendly: Make your website mobile friendly and get the customer to the desired page with minimal clicks. Little to no time lapse increases the chance of customer return. 

Today, there are many tools which will provide the information about an audience and what exactly they are looking for. Keep an eye on this data as it will provide you the impressions, click rates and information about the competitors. We suggest enhancing your product and website according to the trends. Google shopping is also offering local market inventory. You can sell to customers closer to your vicinity and also provide home delivery. 

In addition, Google is constantly updating itself to reach more customers. Think less, trust us, and get your products a space within Google shopping. Don’t forget, “the best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google search results.”


integrated model

Integrated Digital Marketing & eCommerce

December 4, 2017 

You’ve spent thorough time sorting out your Amazon strategy.  Great, well done.  That means your eComm strategy is set, right?  Well, maybe not.  Amazon, whilst being important, is only part of the journey.  In this blog, we’ll scope this out a bit further and give you food for thought about a more holistic approach. 

In a recent review, (source: Business Insider) 56% of US, German, UK and French shoppers prefer Amazon as a point to search for the product. Customers go to Google to search for a product but still, Amazon enjoys loyalty from customers. In the US, 36% check Facebook reviews or Facebook advertisements for buying a product. Blogs, Bing, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and blogs are the other sources for a product search but not a big number.

first stop- amazon

The survey says:
  • 22% say that “if they find a product suitable on Amazon, consumers do not look at other sources.” 
  • 51% say that “though there is information on other websites, they prefer Amazon to explore alternative ideas, compare product features, prices and get more information.” 

Below is another survey conducted in Q1 of 2017 (source: Business Insider). This survey reveals that Amazon is the first stop in the marketplaces where customers stop to purchase.  
first stop- amazon

The chart clearly explains Amazon as the first choice to search for buying a product. Amazon not only enjoys loyalty from the customers, but it’s also the place where customers can get enough information about the product that they’re able to make an informed purchase decision. 

So, this confirms the importance of Amazon today: highly important but certainly not the whole story.

Let’s look at the ecosphere available to you.  Amazon, E-Bay, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, reseller sites, retailer sites, your own site - they can all reach the customer. Some will sell your product, some will generate interest or even leads.  But how do you choose the correct platform for your business and how do you maximize sales?  It’s not an easy decision to make, however, it is easy to invest incorrectly.

Take a very common scenario: you’ve built a great website and now all you need is to gain traffic.  You’ll invest in SEO.  You’ll invest in PPC campaigns.  However, the channel strategy doesn’t allow you to sell direct so you’re gaining interest but don’t know if you’re generating sales.  One idea might be to partner with a tech-savvy organization called Commerce Connector, which creatively connects your brand with loyal and committed retailers and e-tailers. Commerce Connector can also be imbedded into your social media feeds. 

Social media can be a minefield. Which works best? What does success look like? Do re-Tweets help sell more product?  Do ‘Likes’ improve your bottom-line?  Well, maybe.  Having brands that consumers genuinely engage with on social media platforms is more than half the battle.  Do you have that kind of brand?  If you do, then Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat may really help.  They have a multitude of success stories. 

B2B brands struggle with the kind of emotional attachment to really make social media pay dividends.  That said, there are plenty of success stories on LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.  

If you’re a retailer, the metrics are straight forward; footfall, conversion and average transaction value.  It’s no different online.  What is different is how you get people into your “store” (wherever that may be) and the techniques you’ll need to maximize conversion and value.

The first step to a successful online strategy is to truly understand who your customer is and how they will find you.  Then, work out ways to get their attention and move them toward a sales funnel.  My guess is that one solution will not be enough.  Choose wisely!


Amazon- Blended Model

November 29, 2017 

As we have seen in the previous article, pricing varies between competitors on the same platform of Amazon. Selling on Amazon can seem easy at first however it is becoming increasingly complex all offering different benefits to the seller.  Once upon a time it would be considered best practice to adopt a single method.  Increasingly, it may be worth considering having a blended model that takes advantage of the different services available from Amazon.

There are different ways of working with Amazon. First, there is a fulfillment - Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA), Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM). Secondly, you can choose from different ways of marketing - Seller Central, Vendor Central and Vendor Express.

Fulfillment Requirements:

Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA): Yes, Amazon fulfills needs of both the seller and the customer. Amazon takes responsibility of sending your product to the customer in time.

Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM): As a Merchant, you do everything. You place your product on Amazon product listing and you ship the product to the customer after receiving an order. You’re responsible for every delay or damage in the package.

Marketing Ways:

Vendor Central: You are the first-party vendor. This is generally for big brands, where Amazon becomes your first customer. Amazon orders from you, keeps your products in their inventory and sells it to individual orders from different customers.  (Can you do FBM with Vendor Central too?  E.g. FireKing?)

Vendor Express: This is for young brands who want to make a mark in the market. Amazon supports your budding business becoming your partner. You can sell in bulk to Amazon and it markets your product in its own style and you grow your business.

Seller Central: You will be a third-party vendor. Here, you can choose either FBA where Amazon processes packs and ships your orders or ship the product on your own. Seller Central is beneficial when you launch a new product.

More than 50% of the sales happen through a third-party vendor. This is because the seller has full control over product pricing. Also, it could be a way of developing traction for your products before moving to a closer direct working relationship with Amazon. Importantly, you can use a Seller Central account to help drive more competitive pricing for products listed under Vendor Central:  Remember, Amazon is a price follower.

A few important points which effect Pricing- 

1. Competitive pricing: Every customer will look a the price and also the shipping cost. So, manage either the product price or the shipping cost.

2. Offers: Discounts, offers, cash on delivery, free products, etc. will attract more customers.

3. Reviews: This is crucial. Consumers will look at the reviews and feedback on a product before placing an order. It's important to have great seller reviews too. This leads to further positive brand exposure. All of this will help make a positive impression in Amazon's market place.

4. Less-popular product: List a product which has less competition. So, buyers will buy only from you leading to better credibility. That's an easy trick, isn't it?

5. Highly popular product: As you gain the credibility, offer a very good competitive price for your product to gain more attention.

Where possible, become a Prime seller. It’s a great way to raise customer demand, gain confidence and trust of the consumer, increase loyalty and ensure your product is delivered nice and quickly.

Lastly, a Seller Central account is a great place to launch new products quickly and within your control, or perhaps liquidate those products that didn’t quite work out.

Amazon is turning in to be a leader in the retail segment both online and offline, becoming a single stop solution for both vendor and the customer. In the chart below (source: MKM Partners) we clearly see how Amazon is taking a major chunk of the retail industry.



Simply put, go ahead, invest in taking a space in Amazon and see your brand grow with more sales and reach!  But remember, there is not cookie cutter solution.  Think ‘broad’ when considering your Amazon strategy.

And, when you’re considering your whole eComm strategy you should think even broader.  We’ll tackle that in our next blog.


Gordon Christiansen

C.O.O, Senior VP, Marketing

Partner at Highlands

Amazon price leader blog image

Is Amazon a price leader?

October 27, 2017 

If you shop on line you’ve probably noticed that the price on Amazon for the same item can be different across many marketplace participants.  You may have noticed too that prices will change over the course of a day and, at times, over an hour.  Pricing is dynamic.  There are many factors driving dynamic pricing but the most critical is that the key sellers have algorithms that responds to competitors’ pricing.  For this reason, a price leader in the e-tail market is far more disruptive than in traditional brick and mortar retail.

Walmart is a globally recognized retail leader. It became the biggest retailer on the planet by being a price leader. With Amazon’s market entrance, Walmart saw its sales impacted and their stock value going down. As the leader they are, Walmart started their ‘fight back’ strategy.

Walmart has been selling online for some time however they knew they needed to improve their strategy to re-take share.  They acquired, with a great eCommerce leadership team then, leveraging on their existing stores, Walmart started to be much more aggressive online. They offer free shipping for orders above $35 and many items are exclusively available only online with attractive discounts.

Interestingly Amazon has done a great job convincing consumers that they are the cheapest, or at least offer fantastic value for money. Attractive promotions and superb public relations has been their key to attract more customers. They slashed the prices by 43% on the very first day after acquiring Wholefoods. Prices at Wholefoods have always been at the “top-end”. But now, after the “perception management” around pricing that Amazon has engineered, customers will start to change their view on pricing available from these stores.

Amazon+ Wholefoods = Amazon retail stores (looking more like Walmart)

Because of Amazon’s great perception management, it has been very successful in managing the interests of all its stakeholders - consumers, marketplace sellers and most of all, stock holders.


We think this is a super smart strategy.


However, in reality Amazon is a price follower rather than a price leader.  Amazon is constantly monitoring their own site, across all their platforms, and scraping the entire web to find competitive pricing and adjusting their price accordingly.  One frustration from Amazon is when a ‘rogue’ trader offers highly discounted pricing on a product and negatively impacts margins.  Enter a price leader.  As Amazon follows pricing down two things often happen.  Amazon asks the supplier of that product to pay Amazon for lost margin or they suppress the item meaning it won’t turn up most searches.  In both cases this can be challenging for suppliers doing significant business with Amazon.  Through these policies Amazon is making it clear that they hold suppliers responsible for managing pricing across the internet.


Will this ‘price follower’ strategy change? In the United States, there are MAP agreements to contend with, but in Europe, competition laws and the approach to resale price maintenance means that MAP is not allowed. Amazon is at an advantage with its existing online presence and now its expansion into bricks and mortar. We think it unlikely they will change their fundamental pricing policy.


As a manufacturer, you need to carefully consider and control your product placement and pricing across all channels and platforms.  Good management will contribute to the health of your eCommerce channel as well as your more traditional routes to market. It can seem daunting but can be done effectively and profitably.  Look out for future blogs that will help with tips and tactics that ensure your pricing is in-line with your objectives as well as that of Amazon’s.



Gordon Christiansen


Gordon is a 54 year old Australian who was born in Denmark, lived in the UK for 27 years and now wants to live in Atlanta.  After breaking his father’s heart by leaving the family ships’ chandlering business in Fremantle, Australia Gordon embarked on a career in sales and marketing with Pitney Bowes and Canon before investing in and running an office products and graphic arts dealership in London called London Graphic Centre.  Gordon is passionate about getting corporate messaging 100% clear and how alignment between marketing strategy, execution and sales effort will enhance and accelerate market penetration for Highlands’ clients.


Outside family, the things Gordon enjoys the most are cricket, Australian Rules football, music and socializing with good friends, good wine and good food.  So, for anyone interested in learning the intricacies of cricket or Aussie Rules I’m sure Gordon can be bribed with a charcuteries plate and a decent red.


Gordon is a partner at Highlands.

Product video 2 blog image

10 tips on how to produce the perfect product video

October 14, 2017 

Welcome back to part 2 of our series on Video Blogs. In our earlier post, we understood why product videos were important. To recap 73% more visitors end up purchasing products after watching a video.”

In that blog post, we also understood the factors that need to be considered before we start shooting the video itself.   Now, let us take a look at how to create the best possible video that can help you sell your product. 

Why should the customer watch your video?   Simply put, to understand all the aspects of your product, so that he or she can arrive at a purchasing decision. 

What does a customer expect from your video? Product videos should resonate with the viewer. If your message resonates, not only have you communicated your message, you have also captured mindshare (and a share of the wallet too, hopefully). Viewers decide quickly whether to watch the entire video or not you have less than 30 seconds to capture their interest.   

Keeping these points in mind, let us see how we can create the ultimate killer product video! 

1.       Script is important.  Don’t think that you can wing it without a script. A script is not just the words that are spoken, its about what you see as well. A weak script can risk hobbling the otherwise great work from the other components like the camera work, or the product itself.         

2.       Context is king! Show how your product fits into the bigger picture. A good product video will start by showing this context around the need of their product for the target audiences. 

3.       Talk about your product (not your company). Use appropriate video shots and camera angles to capture your product. Use a good voiceover to introduce the product with a bang!  

4.       Remember though, that 50% of videos are watched without sound, so make sure you have subtitles.  And, if your audience is listening the subtitles won’t distract them.  In fact, evidence shows that people are more likely to remember your message if they can hear and see it. 

5.       Demo!  All that the customer wants. Keep it simple and clear. No extra information is required. The demo should tell the customer that it is easy to use and better than other competitors. 

6.       Testimonials from the existing clientele.  It should be to the point and exciting. If the existing client is excited about the product, the vibe gets carried across easily. 

7.       No scare tactics! You don't want to be identified as the cheap infomercial that uses FOMO tactics to get you to buy their product. Good product videos can be carried on their USPs, and scare tactics are not needed. 

8.       Make it look good. Although beauty is not skin deep, a good-looking product video does not do your business any harm. Product videos are an advertisement for your brand, and a good first impression counts. Let the video have some personality so that your brand can shine through the competition. 

9.       Logo. Have your logo included throughout in the video. This is a better option than having a pre-roll. Nobody wants to see an ad within an ad.  

10.   Call to action. How do viewers buy your product after watching your video? Include next steps. If the viewer makes it to the end, there is a purchase interest. A call to action can help seal the deal.   

Bonus tips: 

Ø  Make various versions of the video. This is very important as we can use the same video on different platforms. Make 5-second, 15-second, 30-second cuts, depending on where you want to promote this video. 

Ø  Thumbnail. Thumbnails should have product close-ups. This attracts the customer’s attention and there will be an immediate click on it. 

Ø  Zoom-in: Give an experience to the customer that they are examining the product closely.  Show all the parts your product has.     

Use all these points and inspire great sales through your video. Remember, video attracts more eye-balls resulting in more conversions. Seed your video on YouTube and social networks like Twitter and Reddit, in addition to your website, to spark additional engagement.       


Gordon Christiansen    
Partner & SVP Marketing

Gordon is a 54 year old Australian who was born in Denmark, lived in the UK for 27 years and now wants to live in Atlanta.  After breaking his father’s heart by leaving the family ships’ chandlering business in Fremantle, Australia Gordon embarked on a career in sales and marketing with Pitney Bowes and Canon before investing in and running an office products and graphic arts dealership in London called London Graphic Centre. 

Gordon is passionate about getting corporate messaging 100% clear and how alignment between marketing strategy, execution and sales effort will enhance and accelerate market penetration for Highlands’ clients.     Outside family, the things Gordon enjoys the most are cricket, Australian Rules football, music and socializing with good friends, good wine and good food.  So, for anyone interested in learning the intricacies of cricket or Aussie Rules I’m sure Gordon can be bribed with a charcuteries plate and a decent red. 

Building bridges across the pond

September 6, 2017


People are different.  Countries are different.  European business practices are different, as are the products they use.  To me, different is good.  Why?  While some products can face domestic decline, many find renewed life crossing the ocean - either going there or coming here!  And it’s not as hard as you might think because digital transformation and logistics improvements have brought foreign markets much closer.  Getting them into effective distribution channels and purchased by end-users is another story, and why local knowledge of that last mile is so important. 


So how can companies prepare for a successful trip across the pond?


1.      Correctly engage the category.  Not all products have the same value to a new target.  Make sure you launch with the right product assortment, proper pricing, and promotional incentive plan.  As your products and brand grows, then expand your offering to other products.

2.      Develop a strong distribution platform.  Some have never marketed to EU before, while others have a logistics partner but may not be utilizing it well.  Cross-border tax ramifications, product regulations, packaging requirements are difficult to manage in familiar regions.  Try doing it in multiple languages under different legal regimes!

3.      Proper salesforce engagement and support.  Appropriate CRM, campaign management, and program execution make all the difference in the US.  The same holds for Europe, but how they do it can be very different.


These complexities cause many to avoid the trip.  Others seek our help.    We need to understand your business and growth agenda to effectively launch the right products, in the right sequence, with the right partners.  We need to understand your flexibility to adjust to EU’s nuances, some of which may appear frustrating to you but are familiar to us.  We need to understand your willingness to focus.  Most importantly, are you willing to trust our expertise and guidance.  If so, international opportunity abounds. 


While newer versions of the old products often face tepid responses here, these can be wildly exciting in Europe.  There is a hunger for what’s truly new and opportunity exists because common and unsexy in one market can be a game-changer in another.  Unless you know the difference, and how to manage the complexity of a foreign market, containers of unwanted inventory may be the end result.





Jade Wilson is Managing Director, Europe for Highlands.  He is a 44-year-old Scotsman who has resisted the temptation to leave God’s country and its beauty.  Having embarked on his sales career with Granada Television he progressed to selling cars for Ford and logistics services for TNT. The office channel came calling with 9 years at Corporate Express.  Starting as a business development manager, leading to sales management and European account management.  This was followed by a switch to OfficeTeam and then Integra as Head of Business Development.  In 2011 Jade joined The Business Performance Group as Sales Director which has led to leading the U.K and European business for Highlands.



Here’s what I see

August 28, 2017

Like everyone, my professional life is surrounded by emails, texts, meeting requests, tweets, blogs, newsletters, not to mention phone calls from robots, making travel plans, political solicitations, fundraisers, marketing flyers, market research, and Mom.  It’s truly hard to know what’s an important message or what’s not.  Even your refrigerator can send you information, so it’s easy to understand how important opportunities can get overlooked.  

The dealers I support go through the same challenges every day.  Compounding matters, they exist in a highly competitive marketplace from local and global players, online retailers, and others expanding into their space.   This is the backdrop, and why my dealers are looking to manufacturers and rep groups to bring an edge, something new and exciting that can generate growth.  

This means meetings - lots of meetings.  Unfortunately, rather than present new growth opportunities, most only offer newer versions of what they already have.  Dealers kindly sit through their 20th lunch and learn of the month, eat yet another turkey sandwich, and fully intend to “get back with them soon.”  Even presentations can taste like spam.

I take a different approach.

To me, relevant category insight and high-quality, innovative products are vital to selling a solution.  Add-in deep experience and an ability to relate to their challenges and the requirements of the end-user customer, and you now have their trust.  When I bring my satchel of information and solutions to a meeting, dealers know we’ll create many viable options that will move the needle.  As I see it, the solution had been there the whole time -- it’s just the formula had not yet been revealed.  By working collaboratively, we always find something the dealers’ salespeople can present that appears truly customized to them. 

Best yet, this approach makes people look forward to our meetings. Whether it’s purchasing, the sales manager, field reps, or the owner, all pay attention as they know I won’t waste their time with unimportant topics or opportunities.  That’s half the battle.  Part marketer, part salesperson, part scientist.  Consultative expertise coupled with great brands, an expansive product line, and marketing savvy can unearth fantastic opportunity.  And let’s face it, if my dealers are selling more and I helped them do that, I am proud, satisfied, and rewarded.

Laughter and lifelong friendships help too.  

Angie Tuerck
Account Manager

Suggestions for the Future

August 7, 2017

My last blog addressed the “At Work” elephant in the room - that much has changed and managing through this is brutally difficult.  Whether things calm down is unknown.  To me, these are Darwinian times where strength is not determined by size, but the ability to leverage deep expertise with extraordinary agility.  The following suggestions should help set the stage for evolutionary fitness.

  • Provide a well-thought consumer journey.  First, you must understand what, where, why, and how customers buy products.  Thankfully, it’s not hard to collect and analyze data to determine these drivers.  Then, leverage this insight into powerful programs that boost sales and margin.  The more you can help distributors succeed, the more you become invaluable to their broader success - and your volume.
  • Think Mobile First.  We all understand that catalog, in-store and online must be aligned so offerings are priced accurately, branded accurately, and easily purchased.  Many forget to customize their online presence to be smartphone and tablet-optimized.  According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 26% of online purchases in 2017 will be done on a mobile device.  While online sales have grown by 95% over the last five years, sales from mobile devices have grown by a massive 362%!  If your site isn’t optimized for smartphones or tablets, you’re probably losing sales!
  • New products and new markets.  Smart companies make their products obsolete before their competitors do it for them.  Continue to innovate and expand on what sells, and ration what does not.  And look beyond your borders and traditional routes to market.  Changing buying patterns and technology gives you the opportunity to compete and address new audiences.   
  • Be Social.  Today’s younger workforce spends untold hours posting on snapchat, Instagram, you name it.  If your content is worthy and well-placed, it will be found and shared - all of which drives traffic to your site!
  • Consider in-store technologies.  NFC (Near Field Communications) and in-store digital helps drive online sales while shopping in-store.  Augmented Reality is the next big leap in human interaction with technology.  Explore how this might work for your business.

Those that have incorporated some or all of these recommendations are seeing positive results.  That said, integrating these new processes was not without fear.  Departing from the tried and true is uncomfortable.  It’s also required.  The key is a willingness to try, and to fail fast should they not deliver.  

To us, staying the course and waiting for positive results imperils your future as slow and lumbering only makes you a target for extinction.  

Bob O'Gara

Sales and Marketing

Sales vs. Marketing

July 18, 2017

We’re asked the difference between the two all the time. Ask a salesperson and they’ll say, “it’s everything that goes into convincing a customer to buy. Great product, competitive pricing, compelling story, support materials, online portal, customer service - everything. Ask a marketer and they’ll likely say the same thing.

So, what’s the difference?  

To me, marketing is about converting mindsets while sales converts wallets. Effective marketing deploys programs to convince a prospect that there “just might be something to this product worth a second look.” Once that altered mindset enters the store, it’s up to sales to close the deal. How the tasks get divvied up doesn’t really matter - just that they’re deployed in a unified, compelling manner.

To answer that question more thoroughly, marketing leverages research to create a brand story, conceives programs to create awareness and induce trial, and then executes supporting materials. Sales leverages relationships, deploys support materials, and actively presents product benefits and pricing programs to the prospect to secure the deal. This process is very effective within growing, robust markets like technology, wine and spirits, commercial construction, etc. where customers are willing to pay full price. Unfortunately for categories suffering decline or major transformation - like Office Products - this process is not working any more. 

Why? Because product benefits within mature categories are often similar, which makes price a key differentiator. When price wars erupt, someone else is always cheaper and the consumer has become trained to shop for a better deal. This kills margins, encourages consolidation, and eliminates innovation.  The only way out of this dysfunctional whirlpool is to change how you sell, not what you sell.

To us, a successful program can never be about price. Ever. It’s about value. At


, we apply a rigorous process we call IPEO.
  • Insight
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Optimize
While I won’t give away our proprietary steps within each process, the output provides a clearer picture of the audience, how to best reach them, aligns with objectives, invests in the right programs, and measures results so we can optimize for even more success.  

In time, all programs eventually lose efficacy as competitors are not lazy. They’ll adjust to our efforts to stem our successes. That’s when we must start anew - develop a better product, consider new distribution channels, discover new audiences, deploy better programs, leverage technology more effectively.  

The truth is that sales and marketing are best viewed as tactics that emerge from a strong, insightful, strategic plan. Without a plan, and highly coordinated sales and marketing tasks that emerge from it, it doesn’t really matter if you define either one. Because in immature categories, those standing apart or unwilling to adjust will have far more to worry about than titles or job descriptions.

Gordon Christiansen
Partner. SVP Marketing


This is why you need to create videos for your e-commerce store!

July 12, 2017

Do you think creating videos for your e-commerce store is too much trouble or not worth the investment? What if I told you that using such a “cinematic” experience is an ideal way to engross your customers and boost your conversion rates? Read on, and let me know what you think! 

Product videos not only create brand awareness, but also instill top of mind recall to your target audience. People only remember 20% what they hear, 30% what they see and 70% of what they hear and see. Videos form part of a highly impactful variety of content, which is consumed by invested visitors to your site. In fact, 73% more visitors end up purchasing products after watching a video. Viewer impact is not the only benefit that you gain. More than half of American shoppers polled by Animoto, say they trust companies that have product videos. 

Still not convinced about the utility of video?  From an SEO perspective, both Google and Bing are building towards including video in search results. In fact, a Search Engine Land study reveals that we can see close to 14% of the search result real estate devoted to video! Think of the opportunities lost if your products do not feature in that 14% of space.

What goes into the making of a video? You may wish to consider the following before you begin your shoot:
  • Leverage, interactive, and collaborative features that invite viewers to participate in your story.
  • Simplify complex processes with a detailed step by step explainer video
  • Use a conversational tone and script that your audience can relate to.
  • Use concise messages that emphasize your point quickly that your audience can easily grasp
  • Considering the attention span of an individual is just ‘9 secs’, the screenplay should be tight.
  • Plan carefully; pick your location, know your schedule and have the right people available.

Now that you’ve invested the time, effort and money into creating this great content, what should you do next to maximize the impact?
  • Seed it in any content platform, such as your website, blog or other third party audiovisual platforms like YouTube or Vimeo
  • Make sure your video can be easily viewed on all devices
  • Include a transcript; search engines aren’t as proficient at indexing video content as they are with text
  • Make it shareable on social media platforms
  • And, of course, ensure its loaded onto the e-commerce platforms you’re selling the products

The power of video for e-commerce is simply too great to ignore. They increase the stickiness of visitors, increase conversions and help boost consumer confidence. Leveraging this strategy for your e-commerce website will help your sales revenue as well as branding. Feel free to sound off in the comments - how has video helped your business? What challenges have you faced in producing videos?
 In our next post, we will focus on specific things you should keep in mind while producing video content designed to promote your products.

Gordon Christiansen
SVP Marketing


What Can We Learn from our Past?

July 5, 2017

“The one constant in life is change”
Versions of this quote go all the way back to Heraclitus (ancient Greek philosopher), and that truth shines vibrantly today.  Those unwilling or unable to embrace change will be passed by those who do.  Interestingly, this truth is at odds another familiar adage:
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”
This implies we should replicate past successes -- and avoid past failures -- to assure a secure and profitable tomorrow.  But if the only constant is change, how do we smartly leverage the past when tomorrow’s rules are different and constantly changing?
It’s potentially a paralyzing conundrum.  “Old school” leaders rely heavily on experience and past success to guide their path forward, which works great when category fundamentals have not dramatically changed (e.g., construction, trucking, hospitality).  Granted, each of these categories has added new products and technologies into their business models, but you still go to hospitality - it does not come to you.  Distribution and delivery of construction materials has not changed, though online ordering is common.  Since end-user purchase patterns are not significantly different, these business evolutions simply add speed and convenience to an existing model. 
That’s not the case with the ‘At Work’ space.  This has suffered through seismic change because end-users have dramatically changed how, what, and where they purchase.  No longer do they all show up at the same location, at the same time, to fulfill a day’s work.  At Work is now a melting pot of the gig-economy, outsourcing, work-from-homers, computers/laptops/smartphones, which has led to massive consolidation.  Add-in high-speed Internet, e-commerce and social media, and it’s an entirely new paradigm that mandates a new business model.
So, what can we learn from our past?
First and foremost, make sure you’re going forward from a sound base.  Just like your predecessors, you must fully understand the basics - clarity of purpose, customer first, what are the drivers, where do margins exist, etc.  
Going forward, which technological advances and business models best serve today’s new workforce realities?  I firmly believe the future is an extension of what we used to do - but with dramatically different strategies and tactics.  If we imagine it more complex than that, moving forward becomes paralyzing.  We simply leverage valuable expertise and experience AND embrace the discomfort of new.
My next blog will discuss some future-forward suggestions we’ve found helpful in today’s dramatically evolved market.  It’s not as daunting as you might think.

Bob O'Gara
Incentives icon

My dream of the perfect incentive scheme

June 27, 2017


Over the years, I have seen many and varied commission plans, incentive schemes and bonus structures.  All of them have had merit, some have failed, many have worked but none have been perfect.  The reality is that the perfect scheme probably doesn’t exist, although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make it as near perfect as we can.  I dream of that perfect scheme....


Here are a few things you may want to think about.


Clarity  - Be clear on exactly what it is you wish to achieve.  Is it to grow sales?  Improve margin? Remember, your initiative is meant to change behavior, so make sure it does.


Alignment - Ensure the objectives of the organization are aligned to the objectives set out in your scheme.  This may seem straightforward however there are often conflicting objectives between management, sales or channel partners which you need to consider.


Achievable - Whilst you want your targets to be stretching, you need to ensure they are attainable.  If a sales person doesn’t believe they can hit a target, then there’s a good chance they won’t.


Make it Matter - The reward must match the achievement.  Small target, small reward.  Big target, big reward.  If the reward isn’t seen as being sizable enough, then the achievement of the target won’t be motivating.


Avoid Internal Conflicts - If there is a need for two people or groups to work together to achieve something and they carry different targets that may deter them from cooperating, then try to remove the conflict.  If not, inertia may reign.  You may even have to consider paying double commission if it’s the right thing to do for the business.


Avoid Channel Apathy  - Ensure your partners are fully engaged and that they feel suitably rewarded for their efforts.  They’re likely to have choices about which promotions or incentive schemes to run with so make it worthwhile, and if you can, fun.


Go Public - Good salespeople are competitive by nature.  Post targets and results publicly.  The desire to be ‘top dog’ will drive extra effort.  Make sure to keep the board up to date.  People lose interest quickly if it’s always wrong.


Be Flexible - The scheme you start with may not be the scheme you finish with.  Don’t chop and change too frequently but be prepared to make changes as your business needs change.  Also, consider short, sharp incentive schemes to boost activity, increase particular focus or product initiatives.


Keep it Simple - Try to make sure that everyone understands how the targets are set and how achievement is calculated.  If the salesperson can make a direct correlation between an activity they’ve undertaken and the reward, they will receive you’re on to a winner.


So, good luck with your scheme.  If you think you’ve created the perfect one, please let me know - I’d love to hear about it!            



Gordon Christiansen

[email protected]     


Aligning for Growth

June 12, 2017

Sometimes market conditions change, sometimes you have to change the market conditions.  Regardless of which form of market transformation you face, successful navigation through choppy waters requires alignment.  That’s a broad term, so what do I mean by ‘alignment.’

In one sense, alignment is a go-to-market term.  Alignment of tactics and message across all touch points.  Making sure your point-of-sale programs are aligned with your online efforts.  Making sure your email campaign syncs up with your Groupon programs.  Making sure price points and product assortments are optimized across all platforms.  Tactical alignment is critical, but that can fall apart if there is not alignment of mindset.

Mindset alignment means those developing the strategy and isolating the opportunity fully grasp the reality.  It also means those on the front line (sales) can accurately explain the needs of the market.  The more you align mindset, the better the chances for success.  Those that are truly aligned and share the same vision can adjust to unforeseen situations with near flawless clairvoyance.

In business, going against a large player with a traditional approach is a recipe for disaster.  You’re walking right into their trap as they are massive and built their success on size and scale.  That doesn’t mean they cannot be beat!  To win, you must commit to a changed approach and align to it.  

In our experience, smaller players have a real opportunity as their business model is not predicated on massive in-store traffic.  Buyers have not stopped buying.  On the contrary, they’re buying more than ever.  It’s just that they’ve changed their buying patterns to include a healthy dose of online.  The mega retailers are too committed to their historic approach to adjust.  Much like an aircraft carrier; it takes a long time to turn.

Speaking of naval history, the Battle of Trafalgar is a great example of aligning to a new strategy against a much larger opponent.  That battle pitted an outnumbered British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson against the combined French and Spanish armada.  Rather than line up and blast away at each other (where success always went to the larger fleet during this battle of attrition), Lord Nelson saw an opportunity to change market conditions.  He explained his plan to his supporting captains, who then implemented the tactics that forever changed naval warfare.  

Lord Nelson split his battle ships into two parallel lines and T-boned their opponents in two spots, breaking their ranks and leaving them open to their soft spots.  In the end, Lord Nelson sunk or captured 19 enemy ships and lost none and over 13,000 enemy sailors were killed or injured compared to 1,500 for the Royal Navy.  This battle forever sealed Britain’s naval superiority and protected the homeland from imminent invasion from Napoleon.

Sometimes conditions change.  Sometimes you have to change the conditions.  To win in either scenario, alignment of mindset is the first condition that must change.

Bob O"Gara

Running icon

Setting ourselves up to fail

May 30, 2017

This week… Run to the Stop Sign.

Setting ourselves up to fail?

I went jogging with my daughter this weekend.  I use the term “jogging” lightly as it’s mostly walking with a few jogs in between.

Keep in mind, she is a very fit 21-year old, and I am a semi-fit fifty-something (we don’t need to get more specific on either front).  In my mind, I had already determined, I would lag behind and she would win.

Close to a mile in, she challenges me, “let’s run to the stop sign.”  Instinctively, I say, “I don’t like to make goals… it just sets me up to fail.”  Did that really come out of my mouth?  It was exactly what I was thinking.  If I don’t actually set the goal, then I won’t fail. 

How often do we do that in business - avoid making forecasts or setting milestone goals - out of fear of not being able to achieve it?  We won’t feel as bad in our failure if we didn’t set out to do it in the first place.  Yet, will we ever achieve greatness without goals?

She asks me, “why do you stop yourself?”  It’s not that I’m so tired I can’t keep going.  It’s probably because I normally only go this far in one jog, or maybe because I’m bored and just stop?  Is that parallel to my comfort zone?  Maybe I can go a little longer.  Just because she’s 30 years younger doesn’t mean I can’t keep up.

I decided to change my mindset.  “Let’s run to the big yellow sign ahead.”  Keep running… you don’t have to stop… just a few feet more… I can do it!  And, guess what, I did. 

It’s the same in your business and professional life.  What are your limiting beliefs that hold you back?  What more can we accomplish when we set lofty goals, and confidently push through our comfort zone? 

Other than 10,000 steps on my Fitbit, this morning’s jog taught me to:

1.       Set milestone goals

2.       Change to a winning mindset

3.       Push yourself

4.       Surround yourself with people better than you - smarter, faster, fitter

And, then as we neared the end of our jog, she admits her legs hurt.  Yay!  I win!

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 [email protected] or visit www.linkedin/in/collinsjanet.


Do what is right image

The time is always right to do what is right

May 8, 2017

I think it was Tom Hopkins who said sales is “the easiest, lowest paid job in the world, or the hardest, highest paid job”. I’ve probably misquoted the great man but the essence of it is, in my opinion, completely true.

The reference, I believe, was towards hard work and having to deal with rejection.  We all know that high activity rates tend to generate more sales.  We also know that until you ask “the question” you’ll never get a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.  Many people are so scared of getting a ‘no’ they never ask “the question”.  Great salespeople will ask “the question” knowing full well they risk a ‘no’. And, rejection hurts…deep.

Because sales people are, of course, always looking for a ‘yes’ they tend to steer the sales process down the path that is most likely to get them an affirmative answer.  Even if it’s not necessarily the best thing for their customer.  I know; shock, horror!

This approach may, or may not, get you the sale. And, in the short term, everyone might be happy -  especially the salesperson.

However, we know that in the mid to long term this is not necessarily going to be right for either the salesperson’s company or their client.  Eventually something will go wrong, and then everyone dives into the contract detail and relationships fall apart.

I write this blog in the final stages of preparing for a big client pitch. The client wants to enter a new (to them), and highly competitive market with their existing brand proposition.  We’ve done extensive research on the client’s behalf and we think they need to make some fundamental changes.  One of those is to adopt a new brand for this market.  And, to complicate matters, they love their brand - of course they do.  We love their brand too, just not for this new market.

So, we have a dilemma.  Do we pitch for what we think is right, or do we pitch what we think they will say ‘yes’ to?

We really like the client and the people we work with, and would like to work with them for many years to come.

Easy then.  Pitch what we think is right.

Watch this space….


The Promise of Upselling

April 19, 2017

For some time, the traditional OP industry has been bifurcating.  Non-traditional suppliers are enjoying incremental volume, reasonable profitability, and a new market with new customers.  Traditional main line OP suppliers, on the other hand, are finding it treacherous.  Too many competitors, customer RFQ’s, and apathy among dealers add up to an increasingly challenging channel. 
As Highlands was conceived in the traditional OP space, it’s painful to witness so much dysfunction.  While there are some shining examples of growth and success, the entire channel is under duress.  The most frustrating part is that everyone resorts to the same bag of tricks - dropping price and further lowering cost of goods.  That just takes everyone down. 

How did we get here?  Generally, large resellers have had the most influence on category health, and many have changed their SOPs with merchandising wielding a larger influence.  Couple that with a lack of product/brand differentiation and oversupply in many categories, and we find ourselves awash in mediocrity.  Unless we can sell more volume to offset the lower cost, this is a zero-sum gain.  Consolidation may create opportunity for the strongest to sell more into a declining market, but let’s be clear it’s a declining market especially if your product is dependent on paper.  To regain footing, we must dramatically change how we do business.  We have no choice.  

As I see it, the only way out is a focus on upselling.  If we can’t sell more units, we must make units sold more valuable.  To do that, we need to alter our story and how we target the consumer.  Identifying consumer needs, building a compelling value proposition against that need and then properly targeting that consumer must be at the heart of any program. 

At Highlands, we work across the leadership of our largest partners to push this message - and it’s working.  It’s requires us to be extremely proficient in back-end program structure because that’s where the value lies.  We also help refocus product lines to illustrate the benefit of bundled solutions and efficient product assortment.  We help them leverage data - theirs and the reseller’s - to show both what they’re missing.  We help them to embrace online solutions, not shy away.  We help grant access to field sales to create cross-selling and upselling opportunities.

It’s time to re-build profitability and influence.  The programs we’re implementing are doing just that.  Working the traditional market with new approaches, while encouraging the players to do things differently, will work.  We’re seeing it work.


Bob O'Gara


Nothing Sells Itself

March 28, 2017

Low-involvement categories are best defined as “needed purchases” that rarely evoke passion.  Unlike iPhones, buyers are not waiting overnight to buy soap, salt, staples, or paper.  These products only get purchased when existing supplies run out, and a trip to the store (or online) is needed to replenish.  If no one explains the value of branded products in a compelling manner, it’s easy to understand how buyers can migrate to private labels.  

Compounding matters, resellers make money on either option - branded or private label.  Their objective is increased traffic. If buyers perceive value is the same, they will typically purchase the less-expensive option.  

This is the dynamic private labels hope for.

How do branded players in low-involvement categories combat this?  The key is NOT to rely on traditional product benefit sales techniques and personal relationships to push, but showing resellers business opportunities they’re missing.  Our proprietary process has been very effective in driving sales of higher-margin branded products.  Key to success is data, segmentation, customized marketing, and measurement.

While there are many aspects to our market test program, the key is customer engagement &mdash on all sides!

Resellers know the value of increased sales activity whether that’s driving traffic to their website or store, or creating interest amongst their business customers.  More shoppers mean more sales.  Selling more high-margin products increases profits.  Reseller confusion crops up when deciding which products to sell, at what price point, and what marketing programs to deploy that drive traffic to higher-margin SKUs.

Manufacturers need to look beyond their own product line(s) and be more reseller-centric.  Not all products matter, especially today as traditional business models (and supporting supplies) have forever changed. 

Understanding and analyzing data - from the reseller, manufacturer, categories, and from partners - is where value is created for both.  When done well, it isolates opportunity gaps.  In some cases, you reduce SKUs to sell more volume.  In others, audience segmentation reveals buying patterns that can be leveraged.

This approach helped one of our manufacturers better understand what sells to whom (end-users) and why (which promotion works best), and increased total sales by 143% during the test period.  Two-thirds of the incremental sales came from customers that previously were private label buyers!  Once new buyers are in your system, strong loyalty programs can keep them forever.  Best yet, the cost of this program was dwarfed by the value it provided and is now deployed throughout its geographical footprint.

This is where outside marketing partnerships can make all the difference.  These experts can help resellers make data-driven decisions, and then execute multi-faceted campaigns that deliver results.  Most manufacturers don’t have the capability or relationships to help resellers commit to such analysis.  

Nothing sells itself especially in low-involvement categories like office products.  Spit-balling promotions in a “one-size-fits-all” manner does not maximize ROI.  Smart market analysis enables dramatically improved sales and profit margins.  While this approach may not require Big Data Analytics or IBM’s Watsontm™, it does require sharing data and committing to do better.  



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 [email protected] 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.

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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.

Gordon Christiansen

Influenster infographic header v2

Why reviews are critical for e-commerce success

February 28, 2017

A poll of over 11,000 women in the US conducted by Influenster shows how women use social media and reviews to make their purchasing decisions.  A staggering 67% of reviews were sort using mobile devices, clearly demonstrating the need for a 'mobile first' strategy when creating your e-commerce platform.

We shouldn't be surprised by these results.  We've always trusted our friends to provide a tip for the latest trendy restaurant.  Now, we have millions of 'friends' all over the world who can provide us with insight into restaurants, hotels, airlines, taxis... everything.   Social media and specialist apps like Trip Advisor and Yelp make these reviews easily accessible.  And who doesn't look at the star ratings on Amazon or eBay to help with your decision process?  

The lesson for retailers and etailers is simple.  Earn great reviews, get those star ratings up and you will sell more.

Influenster women-use-reviews-shopping-infographic

Flight Kit 2

Who cares about the English language?

February 26, 2017

Language is important.  My business partners Bob O’Gara and Shannon Blake must get bored when I keep harping on about this.  But, it is, and they agree…really.

As an example, we recently rebranded from The Highlands Group to Highlands.  OK, not a radical name change however there were various reasons for this, one of which was that Bob really disliked the company being referred to as THG.

Easy, kill the “The” and kill the “Group”.  THG becomes Highlands.  Boom!  Well it’s not that simple because despite Bob’s dislike of “THG” it had become endemic both inside and outside the business.  Sure we could tolerate (with a pinched smile) clients calling us THG but we must be able to get it right internally.  Slowly but surely we are weeding out and changing all those documents lurking in the deepest recesses of SharePoint and we’re truly becoming Highlands.

Once again my daughter inspired me to write about this topic.  For my recent flight from London to Chicago my Flight Kit included a book called F****** Apostrophes by Simon Griffin, a copywriter from Leeds in England.  It’s a witty and informative rant about the correct use of apostrophes.

Those who know me well will fondly remember those fun and invigorating conversations about the correct use of grammar and punctuation.  Particularly rich from a Danish born Australian who went to a middling comprehensive school in the suburbs of Perth.

Simon says, “The single most important rule of any punctuation is to help the reader understand what it is you’re going to say.”  Too bloody right.  As Lynn Truss says in her 2003 book there is a big difference between “Eats shoots and leaves” and “Eats, shoots and leaves”.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not linguistic expert, perhaps just a bit of a smart-arse pedant, however if you want people to understand your message is it not unreasonable to spend the time to try and articulate it properly? You never know, if you take that time people might actually understand what it is you’re trying to say.

That’s why all the best organizations take care to get their communications right.  Governments, charities, businesses, media companies all employ highly qualified people to help get it right.  Sure, nothing works all the time and sometimes so much care is taken not to offend that a message can become too bland and lose its meaning.  That’s not a reason to shortcut the process.

Well-articulated messaging is only part of the journey.  What we say has to be backed up.  A friend called any brand “A promise, delivered”. I really like. As an example, with the Highlands’ brand refresh we stated that our number one determinant in the recruitment and retention of staff would be cultural fit.  We have articulated this well into the business, now we have to deliver against that promise.

Reading Simon’s book and thinking about this topic has reminded me that we need to continually reassure clients that as we create their brand’s communication strategy we will take every care to ensure their “voice” is communicated clearly.   Whether it’s a website, a corporate brochure, a product flyer, advert or a promotional piece we will ensure their voice has clarity, is effective and resonates with the target audience.

And we’ll do that by putting the apostrophes, commas, parentheses, semicolons and colons in the right place.

If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing right.


Gordon Christiansen



Taming the Beast

February 15, 2017

Ecommerce has dramatically effected retailing forever and, in time, may overtake brick and mortar. It’s easy to imagine such a shift as ecommerce continues to grow at double-digits while traditional retailers do their best to hold on. Even categories not normally associated with etailing show promise. Carvana lets you buy a car online! They deliver on a flatbed, you test drive, you buy or return it for a different car. Mattresses can be bought online. Couches, refrigerators, frozen foods - you name it. Even groceries are moving toward ecommerce with 29% of U.K. grocery sales coming online!  In the U.S., online grocery sales is expected to exceed $18 Billion by 2020.

These behaviors have transformed the office category as well. Staples relies heavily on ecommerce with over 50% of its revenue coming online (source: emarketer). Amazon just reported 2016 revenues of $136 Billion, of which Amazon Business contributed heartily. As more B2B players market online, Amazon will continue to take share from etailers and retailers with its powerful brand presence, support, and pricing model. Like it or not, Amazon is a hungry lion that can eat at your margins, prices, and customers.  

But there are ways to tame the beast.


. Understand what Amazon does well and clearly define where and how it can help you. Same for the other etailers (Wayfair, Hayneedle, Staples, Tesco, John Lewis, etc.).  Many of our partners find value in Amazon’s fast-turn, free delivery capabilities. Others leverage its easy-to-use storefront option on the world’s best-known etailer. That said, Amazon is not a cure-all. Make sure you understand why you need Amazon -- and why you don’t.


. Consider white-labeling products you feature on Amazon, and other ecommerce sites, with different pricing strategies. Amazon charges upward of 20%, which undermines the investment made in your brand. White-labeling allows you to leverage multiple etailers while maintaining strong branding and higher margins on your own site. Remember, Amazon is a price follower, not a leader. Margin erosion can be avoided with effective pricing strategies for each online reseller.


. Social media can make all the difference. Depending on your brand and product line, platforms such as Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter are fantastic ways to extend online marketing efforts.  


. Amazon is no longer the only mega-player. WalMart’s acquisition of Jet creates an interesting opportunity as it charges lighter fees (stronger margins for you) and does not require an annual fee (ala ‘Prime’) to get free two-day shipping. Plus, you can usually get same-day pick-up at your nearest WalMart.  FedEx is also taking on Amazon, recently announcing plans to warehouse and distribute online purchases for small to medium-sized manufacturers. More and more, strong alternatives to Amazon are appearing across the globe.

These are very disruptive times, exciting times. Those willing to take a smart, strategic, clear-eyed jump online will be rewarded. But jump in with an informed, committed strategy or risk getting eaten alive.


Cheryl Whyers

SVP New Business Development


Think Backwards

February 10, 2017

Think Backwards: Sounds counter intuitive, but many business owners forget about the most important part of their business the customer.

How do you present yourself to your customer?  Think about your website.  Is it all about what you offer?  What you do?  Who you are?  We love what we do and our products and services.  Problem is… our customers don’t care unless it’s overtly clear how you can solve their problem one that is particular to them and one that you can solve better than anyone else.  

Journalists call that burying the lead.

The opportunity here is not about website design. It’s about the relationship between you, your products and services and your customers.  We typically lead with our stuff and hope our customers like what we offer. Our sales message often has the same logic.

And then we wonder why it always comes down to price.

Instead of starting with your offering, begin with the progress your customer needs to make when they interact with you the essence of "thinking backwards." Here is how it works:

1.  Focus on your most attractive market segment, the one where you get 80% of your profits.  

2.  Ask a few customers in that segment what progress they were trying to make when they chose you for       this category. (This is not a customer service interview where you ask 'how is our company doing?')  

3.  Then ask them what frustrates or annoys them when they try to make that progress.

Use what you learn to edit - and TEST - a new message and selling approach or a fresh idea to improve your service.
Think backwards. Lead with a promise that your customer really cares about. Then show them how you can deliver on that promise better than anyone else. In this market, we all know we need to differentiate every day, but rarely do we take the time to understand the problems and the value from the customer’s perspective.

This Week:

Call two customers.  Ask, "In your role as ________ what gives you the biggest headache when you try to do your job better?" Be sure to keep asking, "What else?"
I bet you’ll be surprised by the insight and nuance you’ll discover.  

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 [email protected] or visit www.linkedin/in/collinsjanet.

Janet Collins
TurningPoint Strategy

For the love of a notebook

February 7, 2017

Inspired by a fascinating article by Alison Birrane from BBC Worldwide I thought I would share my own OCD about notebooks and the need to write, write and write some more .  

Alison explains that even in this high-tech world the need to write things down on paper to help articulate thoughts and plan your schedule still prevails.  She interviews some really interesting, young professionals who have a need to use notebooks, sticky notes, whiteboards, coloured pencils and marker pens. 

Everyone is different but I still love my notebooks.  We all know the tremendous success of Moleskine but other quality notebook manufacturers such as Leuchtturm1917 and Il Papiro to name a few are doing really well too.  The notebook, alongside your mobile phone is becoming a way of showing who you are, just like the pen you use.  It's a statement.

I have to confess that's not where my obsession started.  Quite simply if I didn't write it down there's a very good chance I would forget.  I believe this is true for a lot of people and am always cautious when people turn up to meetings without a way of taking notes.  Will they remember what we discussed?  More importantly, will they remember the action points they agreed to (and there's a good chance they'll have a few)?

I was kind of pleased when I read in the BBC article that research proves that written notes are better than those taken electronically.  #JustSaying

As well, when I'm trying to work through a complex problem or put together a program for clients (and even when I'm preparing a Blog post) I will invariably find a quiet space, get out my pen and notebook and start writing.  I find writing down my stream of consciousness just helps me to get where I need to go.  It's easy to refer back to, to scribble on, to cross out and to add to.  Like Word and a keyboard just much, much better.

My budget allows me to use a nice notebook, even to convince my company to invest in nice notebooks for us to use and give away to clients.  And, with every new notebook I write my name, contact details, reward information and start date at the very front.  As my notebook comes to the end I ensure every outstanding action point is transferred from my old notebook to my new one, and I write the end date in the old one.  Very OCD, I know.  Even worse is that I keep them all.  I have boxes full in the shed.  My wife wants me to throw them out from time to time but I just can't.  I just can't.

So, thanks Alison :-) , and you can read Alison's article here.

Gordon Christiansen
Partner & SVP Marketing, Highlands

Online Challenges

February 1, 2017

By all accounts, 2016 was a good year.  U.S. unemployment fell to its lowest rate in 10 years, wages rose, and consumer spending was up.  Fixed nonresidential investment, a measure of business spending, rose at a 1.4% pace in Q3 and spending on structures rose at a 12% pace (source: Wall Street Journal, 12/22/16).  

And yet, Sears is closing 150 more stores.  Macy’s is closing 100 stores.  Limited is closing all 250 stores and filing for bankruptcy.  Even Walmart laid off 2,000 employees last Fall and hundreds more face pink slips in 2017.  Sadly, U.S.-based retailers are not alone. British Home Stores (BHS) is going through the U.K. equivalent of Chapter 11, and must determine what to do with their 164 stores and 11,000+ employees.  All over we see exurban malls turning into ghost towns and in-town malls struggling to keep tenants.

If the economy is doing better, why are retailers suffering?  

We all know why and are complicit in contributing to the problem.  Amazon posted revenues exceeding $30 Billion last quarter and expected to top $120B for the year!,,, all had record years.  German online reseller Buromarkt Bottcher saw 54% growth and Alibaba continues to extend its reach.  And it’s not just virtual retailers.  15 of the Top 25 U.S. eCommerce retailers are brick and mortar brands.  To wit, over 50% of Staples’ annual sales comes from ecommerce (source: eMarketer).

Staples is just one example of how the office products marketplace has transformed.  As buyers shift their purchasing patterns, we must meet them there.  Unfortunately, we now bump into new competitors.  In April 2015, Amazon launched its business channel in the U.S. and achieved over $1 Billion in less than one year!  Amazon leverages extreme brand awareness, the #1 shopping platform, free two-day shipping, and very low pricing.  For manufacturers, Amazon makes a very compelling offer.  The problem is that Amazon is very predatory particularly if unprepared or uninformed.  

Daunting as it all sounds, this should NOT keep manufacturers and resellers from entering the online waters.  On the contrary, embrace the opportunity.  But embrace it with a clear, informed strategy.  

The online channel is certainly a growing tidal wave of change, getting bigger and bigger every day.  And Amazonian sharks exist.  These concerns should not keep sellers out of the digital water.  Rather, grab a surfboard and hop in.  With some deeper understanding and careful planning, online marketing can effectively extend your reach beyond the shores of brick and mortar!

My next blog will showcase some examples and strategies on how to win with online marketing.

Cheryl Whyers
SVP New Business Development


What I learned from 1944

January 27, 2017

Like many I have been consumed by articles attempting to predict how 2017 will turn out.  I have to admit that I’ve not normally been so slavish to these articles but with Brexit and the election of Trump it has seemed more pressing.

In January 2016 I accepted a full-time role with Highlands as Managing Director for Europe and Senior Vice President of Marketing for the group.  This has resulted in quite a few trans-Atlantic trips. 

My beautiful daughter (26 years old and a Senior Account Manager at J. Walter Thompson in London) dreamt up a Christmas present for me.  She created “Flight Kits”, each containing a book, a puzzle, some sweets (candy) and a gin and tonic additive.

The first Flight Kit contained The Royal Navy Officers’ Pocket Book, first published in 1944 to help train new officers.  Given the timing I presume there was a definite need to provide quick and accessible guidance to young men being thrust into challenging and unforgiving environments.

I wasn’t sure what I would get out of the book at first but thought it would be quite fun to have a read.  As I worked through the pages my interest levels grew.

Many business people are obsessed with learning and adopting new leadership and management techniques form the latest business guru that will transform their careers and the fortunes of their companies.

Well this book from 1944, which contained learnings from hundreds of years of what was the most powerful navy of its time was truly insightful.  Here are some of the quotes that really struck a chord with me.

- Never forget that the Ratings have few rights but they have the right to a good Officer.

- Do not despise advice tendered to you by your subordinates.

- Never be afraid to ask questions.  Bluff is a trait of the bad Officer.

- Do not harshly deal with a man solely for the sake of making an example of him.

- Loyalty can start only from the top and grow downwards.

- Do not risk giving…a hint of criticism of higher authority.

- How well you did things in your last ship is of no consequence.

- Should a man come to you for advice do not let the matter drop or be forgotten.

- There is a quality called tact, a very misused word in many ways, without which no Officer can          succeed.

- Look ahead; do not wait until something goes wrong.

- is not possible to write a handbook on how to be an Officer and a leader.  We have each to find out for ourselves the best use we can make of those particular qualities possessed by each of us in varying degrees.

35,000 feet over the Atlantic, gin and tonic at the ready and I was enthralled by this book.  OK the language is a bit outdated and women didn’t seem to exist however I was intrigued by the relevance in today’s world.

So, I will keep an eye on those predictions for 2017 but equally I take on the learnings from this handbook from 1944 and try and become a better and more effective leader; for me, for the people I work with and the clients I serve .


Gordon Christiansen

Partner. MD Europe. SVP Marketing


The Challenges of New Opportunity

January 18, 2017

We all see what’s happening.  The merger that wasn’t (Staples and Office Depot), Newell grows larger, Safco buys Mayline, WalMart acquires Jet (to take on Amazon), Amazon surpasses $1B in B2B sales - in under ONE YEAR!  Add in Brexit and Donald Trump and we see a category in full transformation.  Some will survive and thrive.  Others will not.  

Looking forward in 2017, we see large suppliers aggressively looking to acquire (more consolidation), buyer groups merging, large accounts looking to acquire (fewer resellers), product diversification, and further migration to Amazon.  These are tough times and it will not be easy for any of us.

That said, let’s consider the broader market.  The collective opinions of CBRE, JLL and NREI (National Real Estate Investor) show tight commercial vacancy rates within the US office sector through 2017.  Leasing rates continue to rise, albeit at a slower pace, and new inventory is expected to come online.  This dynamic likely exists in Canada and Europe as well.  The office sector is poised to grow, and will need our goods and services!

It’s just that traditional sectors no longer drive the economy.  According to JLL (, tech remains the largest contributor to office leasing activity (24% of the market) -- larger than the next three sectors combined (finance, government, law)!  This dependency on technology, both personally and professionally, exists for all western economies.  It’s incumbent upon us (suppliers) to accurately meet their needs, and to abide by the new methods by which they shop and buy.

It’s also important to understand the issues driving or impeding their success.  There is no shortage of new, breakthrough technologies across every sector.  One big problem is a limited supply of qualified employees to bring these technologies to life.  Qualified employee acquisition and retention is a tech firm’s #1 priority (just visit any tech job board).  Couple that with dwindling employee supply (boomers retiring faster than new employees replace them) and you get a tight labor market and rising wages.  

My point is that old approaches and structures are less and less effective. New technologies offer better and more cost-effective solutions, but traditionalists create obstacles that block our ability to move in this direction.  As a supplier to this sector, we must adjust to the market and help end-users succeed.  Those that lead will reap the rewards.  Those that wait will experience tough sledding.

Seismic change always brings challenges.  Change is hard.  But opportunity remains.

Bob O'Gara
Highlands CEO


Do What You Do Best

September 9, 2016

In today’s world, every company has a core competency: the primary focus of the business and the thing that they do best. The majority of company resources are concentrated in this space, and rightfully so. But other necessary components for success exist and cannot be ignored-things like brand development, identity management, and of course sales and marketing of products and services.

In today’s dynamic business environment, knowing who you are as a company and developing a strategy to let the public in on that information is essential to success. Experts in the fields of Sales and Marketing provide unique insights and a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms and levers involved in making a company stand out and become the recognizable and reliable choice for an audience with a multitude of choices.

Consumers today are expecting an experience… 
... a journey that will take them through the process of simply understanding a company’s goods and products to desiring their use in everyday business and life. Successful companies use compelling stories to encourage customers to dive in and engage in a digital conversation that is interactive and shareable. Developing the narrative requires a master storyteller- an expert who understands marketing insights, consumer behavior, and the pieces necessary to cultivate, captivate, and keep loyal customers.

In the past, agencies took on the role of service providers
In today’s dynamic, tech-focused, and increasingly online business environment, the relationship between a manufacturer and an agency needs to be a partnership. It’s about working together to develop a strategy and create an experience that will not just inform an audience, but captivate them with compelling content and keep them engaged. Manufacturers and suppliers need help navigating the ever-evolving digital landscape that makes up the marketplace of today. The agency becomes an extension of the supplier, and there’s a trust that allows for a seamless collaboration between the two.

Finding the proper channels is just the beginning
Getting products through the proper channels and into the marketplace is just the beginning. The most successful companies know that managing their portals, producing the right content, and promoting and controlling the promotion of products is essential to long-term success.

The traditional office market is no longer easily definable
Manufacturers need to focus on innovating, updating and creating their goods and products, while letting the sales and marketing experts develop strategies that will propel the company brand, image, and identity to the next level. At Highlands, it’s our job to give manufacturers and suppliers the freedom to spend their time and energy doing what they do best, while we take care of the rest.
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