After the OPI Global Forum, we sat down with Gordon Christiansen, Partner, Highlands, and Jennifer McMahan, VP, Strategic Accounts, Highlands, to hear their key takeaways. This year, Gordon Christiansen was featured in two sessions, including a roundtable focused on marketplaces, and a panel on sales diversification. Gordon and Jennifer distilled six themes from the event, shedding light on key industry trends and insights that are shaping the business landscape.
Underinvestment in Technology
Gordon highlighted a concerning trend – the industry’s underinvestment in technology. This shortfall could pose a barrier to future growth. Understanding and adopting new technologies is crucial for staying competitive in a rapidly evolving market.
Aging Sales Population
Jennifer brought attention to a critical issue – the aging sales population in North America, with the average age of sales professionals at 47.5. Attracting new talent to the industry is vital, but the underinvestment in technology, as noted by Gordon, poses a hindrance. Existing sales professionals must adapt to communicate effectively with diverse demographics with varying communication preferences.
Strategic Choices for Independent Dealers
Gordon emphasized that independent dealers need to move beyond relying solely on being ‘local.’ Instead, they must build a solutions-based business or focus on a digital approach – or both. Whichever way, success requires the right talent, showcasing the importance of skilled professionals in navigating the industry’s digital transformation.
Alternative Routes for Manufacturers
Traditional office product manufacturers must explore alternative routes to market, Gordon observed. Consumer buying behavior indicates that reliance on legacy channels may not sustain growth or market share. Adapting to changing market dynamics is essential for manufacturers to stay relevant and thrive.
Jennifer points out that freight continues to be a significant challenge, with inland freight driving up costs even as ocean freight rates stabilize. UPS and FedEx are increasing rates in 2024, prompting a call for the entire supply chain – wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers – to find ways to reduce costs. Reevaluating delivery methods, such as the suggestion of a “prime delivery day” by Amazon, is essential for addressing these challenges in the short term.
AI Challenges and Opportunities
While AI remains a hot topic, Gordon acknowledged the lack of a clear path for industry players to optimize this technology. The rapid pace of AI development poses challenges, and the cost of entry may act as a barrier for smaller enterprises in the short to medium term.
Overall, the OPI Global Forum provided valuable insights into the industry’s current landscape, urging stakeholders to embrace technological advancements, rethink business models, and tackle pressing challenges head-on.