By Andy Braithwaite for OPI.net

France-based Groupe Hamelin has re-entered the Australian school and office supplies market by taking a controlling interest in the Bantex Group.

Bantex went into voluntary administration at the end of 2017 and has been operating under a deed of company arrangement (DOCA) since February after reaching an agreement with its creditors. Hamelin CEO Eric Joan confirmed to OPI that Bantex is no longer under DOCA as the deed fund has now been paid in full following the takeover by Hamelin.

“The company was restructured during the voluntary administration and is now healthy,” said Joan. “The business was run for years with a lack of working capital and too high a cost structure. These problems have now been solved and we are very excited by the opportunity.”

Bantex Australia has been rebranded as Hamelin Brands Pty and will continue to market the well-known Bantex and Quill products in the country. The business is being run by Managing Director Franck Troquay. He was formerly running Hamelin’s operations in Malaysia, but has now relocated to Australia.

Former Bantex Managing Director Michael Stathakis is remaining with the company as Business Development Officer. Commenting on this appointment, Joan disagreed with OPI’s suggestion that Stathakis’ move into this role might be viewed as a temporary one.

“Even independent, Michael has always been part of the Hamelin family and we have known each other for almost 18 years,” said the Hamelin CEO. “The bailout of Bantex by Hamelin is for him the opportunity of a new start. He will bring his energy and market knowledge to a venture where we will bring management, structure and product
innovation. We believe it is a recipe for great success for all of us and Michael is just as excited as we are.”

The acquisition marks a return to the Hamelin fold of Bantex Australia. It sold the company to Australian Office Wholesalers in 2001 as it focused on integrating the Elba and Bantex brands in Europe following their acquisition by Hamelin in 1999.

Hamelin returned to the Australian market when it acquired the Canson brand in 2007, but it sold this business to FILA in 2016. Joan said the group was now “back for good” in Australia as it focused on its core school and office products categories.

Terms of the Bantex Australia deal were not disclosed.

With rapid development being the norm, the school and office supplies sector is today growing into one of Africa’s most high in demand, requiring a steady flow of materials into its ever-evolving educational and enterprise landscape.

The School & Office Expo will see South Africa make a significant impact in defining the business dynamics of Africa’s expanding stationery market. Four companies from the country will set in motion the process of breaking the monopoly of Dubai-based traders and seizing a significant chunk of the African market share with a range of colourful and aesthetically designed stationery products.

The companies, namely Bantex, Freedom Stationery, Accent Manufacturing and Empire Toys & Stationery will lend vibgyor from their rainbow nation, making the event more a festival of stationery to celebrate a proud continent’s ascent into a self-reliant future.

Bantex
Johannesburg-based Bantex is a market-driven stationery manufacturing and distribution company that supplies South Africa and Africa an extensive range of educational and home stationery items. It lends to the African market its parent Bantex A/S Denmark’s trademark for top-of-the-line quality products. Perfection is the norm, nothing less. Bantex uses advanced manufacturing technologies and environment-friendly materials to create products that are a combination of utility and aesthetics.

Freedom Stationery
Freedom stationery, true to its name, is about empowerment of the youth through affordable Scholastic books. Based in Isithebe, KwaZulu-Natal, the three-decade old company has evolved from an aspiring competitor to an iconic torchbearer for a Nation raring to take its rightful place amongst the world’s leading economies. No wonder its slogan “Education for the Nation” rings a bell through its track record of providing over 100 million books every year from its five full-fledged branches in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and East London.

Accent Manufacturing
This almost two-decade old reputed manufacturer, based 50 kms south of Durban, has been consistently producing high-quality adhesive putty for a rapidly evolving world market. Accent’s current position as South Africa’s leading player in the field stands testimony to its competitive spirit and passion for innovation in successfully addressing the needs of a demanding customer base.

Empire Toys and Stationery Co (Pty) Ltd
The Butterfly brand, true to its name, is about brightening your world by surrounding yourself with vibrant and colourful stationery. Whether it is colouring books, reading books, pencil bags, school bags, drinking bottle, luggage, office stationery and even toys, Butterfly has something interesting for every target age group. Add to it, Disney-themed products – a delight for every child the world over.

Come May 18th , the colourful and quality-centric visual treat from all four lion-hearted South African companies will be on display for all to see at the first-of-its-kind School & Office Expo in Nairobi.
Save the date!

According to a recent article by Business Day, the United States has rejected South Africa’s application for exemption from President Donald Trump’s import duties on steel and aluminium.

This puts approximately 7 500 jobs under threat.

Earlier this week, Trump “signed proclamations granting permanent exemptions to a select number of countries and extended by one month the steel and aluminium tariff duty exemptions for some”, according to Business Day. Unfortunatley, South Africa was not among them.

Exempted countries will be less competitive, forcing South African steel and aluminium products out of the US market.

However, these duties are being implemented in a way that contravenes some fundamental World Trade Organisation principles.
The Department of Trade and Industry has urged domestic exporters to ask their US buyers to consider applying for product exemption under a process conducted by the US commerce department and said that it would continue to consult the industry.

Sidwell Medupe, a DTI spokesperson, says that the “measures were unfair because SA’s exports of aluminium and steel products to the US were not that significant”.

Collateral damage
“South Africa is not a cause of any national security concerns in the US nor a threat to US industry interests and is not the cause of the global steel glut. Instead, South Africa finds itself as collateral damage in the trade war of key global economies,” Medupe said.

On March 8, Trump signed a proclamation imposing a 10% ad valorem tariff on imports of aluminium articles and a 25% ad valorem tariff on imports of steel articles. The proclamation followed reports from the US secretary of commerce that imports of these products threatened to impair US national security.

Countries excluded from the duties include Canada, Mexico, the EU, South Korea, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

SA unsuccessfully argued its case for an exemption, saying that the duties would affect both jobs and productive capacity in a sector already suffering from global steel overcapacity.

It offered to restrict exports to a quota based on the level of exports in 2017.

SA assured the US that it had stringent customs-control measures so there was no risk of circumvention or transhipment of steel from third countries to the US. It also emphasised that its exports of aluminium products represented about 1.6% of total annual US aluminium imports.

According to the US Census Bureau data, in 2017 the US imported a total of 33.4-million tonnes of steel, of which imports from SA were about 330,000 tonnes, or 0.98% of total US imports and 0.3% of total US steel demand of 107-million tonnes. The 330,000 tonnes exported from SA represents 5% of South African production, equating to about 7,500 jobs in the steel supply chain.

Medupe said that some of the exempted countries were the biggest exporters of steel and aluminium to the US. For steel imports, the exempted countries collectively accounted for 58% of total steel imports into the US in 2017 and 49% of total aluminium imports.

Trade expert Peter Draper, the MD of Tutwa Consulting, has previously indicated to Business Day that he believes the US would use the hikes as leverage to pry open the local market for US firms.
It could do this by triggering a review of SA’s trade preferences under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

By Sarah Butler for The Guardian 

Sainsbury’s planned £7.3bn takeover of Asda comes as the London-based supermarket continues to be outgunned by its three major rivals, according to the latest sales figures.

Sainsbury’s sales rose by just 0.2% in the 12 weeks to 22 April, its slowest pace of growth for more than a year.

Asda’s sales rose by 1.4% in the period, but the Leeds-based chain and Sainsbury’s both lost market share, according to the latest data from Kantar Worldpanel, while Tesco and Morrisons held steady thanks to their turnaround plans.

“It is very competitive out there for Sainsbury’s,” said Fraser McKevitt, the head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel. “Having had a difficult couple of years, Morrisons is now doing the basics of retail very well and Tesco is not seeing hugely rapid growth but it is consistent. In the light of a zero-sum game for food retail that has put pressure on everybody else.”

Sales at Tesco rose by more than 2% for the first time since 2011, helping the UK’s biggest supermarket chain retain a 27.6% share of the market compared with 15.9% at Sainsbury’s and 15.5% at Asda.

Supermarket sales growth
Morrisons also achieved sales growth in excess of 2% in line with the overall market. Discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to take market share as they increased sales by 7.7% and 9.1% respectively, helped by new stores openings.

But analysts at Bernstein noted that the discounters’ growth had slowed to the weakest pace since 2010, excluding a brief period in late 2016. Analyst Bruno Monteyne suggested the chains were finding it harder to secure new property.

McKevitt said sales growth would now be harder to find for all supermarkets as grocery inflation is slowing. Prices rose by 2.1% in the 12-week period, the slowest pace since March last year, driven by increases in the cost of butter, bottled colas and bread, while the price of fresh poultry and laundry detergent fell.

At the end of 2017, BIC’s stationery category showed a much-need improvement – but the upward trend seems to have been short-lived.

For the three months ended 31 March 2018 (Q1), sales in the stationery segment of the business declined 8.3% to €151.8-million ($18.5-million).

Overall, BIC Stationery saw adjusted profit increase 60% to €9,6-million – largely due to ofsetting raw material costs and dealing with currency fluctuations.

Key take-aways from the figures are:

  • Sales in Europe were flat – the UK and France showed a decline, which was offset by growth in other European areas
  • Sales in North America increased in low single digits
  • Strong trade in Mexico ofset a weaker Brazil, giving Latin America low-single-digit improvement
  • EMEA (the Middle East and Africa) sales were boosted to double digits, thanks to a robust back-to-school season in South Africa
  • BIC’s Indian subsidiary, Cello Pens, reported flat domestic sales as it continues to streamline its portfolio and increase brand awareness

By Joseph Berger for The New York Times 

About six years ago, Jacob Gutman, an owner of Court Street Office Supplies, noticed that the lawyers and the judges in the nearby courthouses were no longer buying large leather-bound appointment books to anchor their desks.

January was usually the busiest month, a time for restocking stationery, but bookkeepers and accountants in the nearby municipal offices were no longer ordering as many ledger books and the charts containing the latest tax rates. He saw that younger people — students and teachers at the neighborhood’s five colleges and graduate schools, workers and residents of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill — were no longer buying refills for their pocket calendars.

Plainly, the ubiquity of computers, smartphones and other electronic gadgets were the culprits. So Mr. Gutman reinvigorated personal service, stocked a wide range of digitized products, even beefed up a line of toys to lure nearby residents. He was able to keep his store afloat. He even weathered the arrival of big-box stores like Staples and Office Depot.

But only for so long. The greater ease of shopping online and its increasing adoption by Americans has meant that once-likely customers are no longer buying anything from him, even if they come in to browse.

“I sell this for $4.89,” said Mr. Gutman, snatching a decorative electric candle from a shelf as an example. “Someone comes in and with his cellphone takes a picture. It takes him less than three seconds and he can get it online for $4.29.”

The wounds have been so bone-deep that the store found it difficult to cover its overhead and turn much of a profit. And so on Feb. 16, just before the eve of the Sabbath, Mr. Gutman, a Hasidic Jew with a long white beard and a gentle voice and manner, closed the store.

It had been a fixture of Brooklyn’s clamorous heart for 35 years, selling pens, paper, rubber bands and manila files, as well as such specialized items as Blumberg legal forms for divorce petitions, apartment leases and all manners of litigation.

The store sold pens, paper, rubber bands and manila files, as well as specialized items like Blumberg legal forms for divorce petitions, apartment leases and all manners of litigation. Credit Mark Abramson for The New York Times
He spent the last day manning a cash register for a line of bargain hunters as well as sad-eyed regulars who were picking up the remaining shards of merchandise strewn on the higgledy-piggledy shelves at 50% off.

Mr. Gutman, it turns out, is transforming Court Street Office Supplies into an online retailer as well, delivering and mailing stationery out of his 7,000-square-foot warehouse two miles away in a scruffy industrial slice of Gowanus, but dropping some of the services he once offered, like photocopying, faxing and that mainstay of many a stationery store, a notary. Those were services essential to poorer litigants who maneuvered the courts on their own.

It’s not news that what is happening to mom-and-pop stationery stores is also happening to small stores that sell books, clothing, toys, gifts, hardware. The trend partly explains the changeover into chain-store thoroughfares of once idiosyncratic shopping streets like Broadway on the Upper West Side.

Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State, which represents 2 000 merchants, identifies the problem as “the store in the palm of our hand — your cellphone”.

“People don’t want to spend their time downtown looking for a place to park — they’d rather do it online,” he said. He added that rising rents in popular downtowns have also been a factor in the shuttering of small and even big stores. With stationery, online shopping and digitization are such powerful trends that Staples closed almost 300 of its roughly 2,150 stores in North America between 2014 and 2016.

Still, for those who work and live around Court Street, the shift is causing heartache.

“It’s a tragedy, a sad day because there are lots of items you don’t find in places like Staples — rubber stamps and ribbons for adding machines,” said one shopper, John McGill, 70, who operates Two for the Pot, a whole-bean coffee and imported teas shop on Clinton Street. “Besides, I like these guys. I will miss them. They’re knowledgeable. They’re friendly and some of them are pretty funny when we banter over the counter.”

George Jacobs, 71, a computer programmer who came over from Bushwick, said Court Street stocked hard-to-get 11-by-17-inch engineering paper that he uses to make flow charts and drawings on his HP Plotter, a type of machine that has essentially been replaced by large-format inkjet printers.

Court Street Office Supplies will become an online retailer, delivering and mailing stationery out of a 7,000-square-foot warehouse two miles away in Gowanus. Credit Mark Abramson for The New York Times
Megan Schoenberg, 26, who works in her family’s real estate business, was in the store on its last day buying a small footstool and a transparent plastic file box.

“It’s sad because this is a monument in the neighborhood,” she said.

She recalled a similar feeling she had with the closing of a Brooklyn Heights pharmacy and a video store. Others mentioned the loss of BookCourt, a literary landmark that had been in Cobble Hill since 1981 and offered periodic talks by such writers as Don DeLillo and Junot Díaz. Some customers predicted they would have to round up a car to get to Brooklyn malls where they can find a Staples-type store. Ronald Goldbrenner, a longtime attorney in Downtown Brooklyn, compared the loss of the Court Street stationery store to losing a “foundational” business like a Zabar’s.

“These are classic institutions,” he said, “and what makes the difference is the excellence. What ordinary merchants do they do better and more, and this place is an example of better and more.”

Rhea Lieber, a senior at the nearby Packer School, wrote a letter, in both Hebrew and English, lamenting the loss. “The Packer community is devastated to say goodbye to such a neighborhood staple (no pun intended),” she wrote.

In some ways, Court Street was a throwback to an earlier time. It had a glass counter that was stocked with numerous brands of fountain pens, including a $500 Pelikan, and it sold ink for those pens. It carried carbon paper.

“There are still some lawyers who use it,” Mr. Gutman said

And who uses fountain pens anymore?

“Real traditional lawyers or judges from the old school, and they usually use it to make an impression when they’re with people,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy, a sad day because there are lots of items you don’t find in places like Staples — rubber stamps and ribbons for adding machines,” said one shopper. “Besides, I like these guys. I will miss them.”

But many younger customers don’t even bother with ballpoints. “Some don’t have a pen in their in their pocket,” said Mr. Gutman. “The ones that do, their image is the iPhone that they have in their hands. It’s almost embarrassing for them to have a pen.”

Mr. Gutman got into the stationery business in 1982 when his own trade — cutting and selling diamonds — suffered in an industrywide slump. A grocer friend, Lazar Abramowitz, persuaded him to team up and buy an available stationery store on Court Street called Card Cabin.

“At that time, there was no Staples,” Mr. Gutman said. “There were real people and real merchandise.”

When Mr. Abramowitz died three years ago, his widow, Miriam, became Mr. Gutman’s partner.

His motivation for finally closing was not because of a rent increase, he said. His lease had more than two years left, and his landlord had offered to lower the rent — which, given neighborhood prices can be estimated at roughly $30,000 a month, though Mr. Gutman did not want to reveal the number. And his 12 employees were not asking for raises.

A visit in the last days of March to the Court Street warehouse, its eight aisles piled to the 24-foot tall ceilings with cartons of Bic pens, Sharpie markers, Post-it Notes and Brother ink cartridges, suggested that many customers have found other options. Some of the larger accounts call in orders, but not many individuals are trooping from Downtown Brooklyn for a pen or roll of Scotch tape.

Indeed, Mr. Gutman and his partner Ms. Abramowitz say that with stationery becoming a diminishing need in the age of computers, they are gradually concentrating on becoming an office furniture purveyor. They have hired a designer, Brian Glickman, who arranged Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue offices and are hoping to design and furnish work stations for small businesses.

“Kids today don’t want to work behind desks,” Mr. Glickman said. “They want time to decompress and want things like pool tables.”

Mr. Gutman is not yet supplying pool tables, but as habits continue to change, who knows?

Image credit: New York Times

By Jonathan Easton for PCR

Back in January, it was announced that Fujifilm is set to acquire Xerox to create an $18 billion printing monolith but cracks are starting to show.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, a new lawsuit is claiming that Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson pursued a deal, even though the company’s board advised him against it.

That board ‘advice’ actually came all the way back in November 2017 because the CEO’s position was under review. The paper appears to have learned this information from an amended suit filed in a New York state court on Sunday by Darwin Deason, a Xerox holder who opposes the deal. Deason claims that the deal ‘undervalues the copier and printer company’.

On Sunday, the company denied the claim, with Xerox Chairman Robert Keegan making a statement that: “Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson was fully authorized to engage in discussions with Fujifilm and Fuji Xerox on the proposed combination.”

He added that the lawsuit “distorts many of the facts regarding the proposed combination with Fuji Xerox.”

Deason, combined with activist shareholder Carl Icahn, holds a not insignificant 15 per cent of Xerox shares. They are arguing that, from their perspective as shareholders, the deal “disproportionately” favours Fuji.

The lawsuit could also be read as something of a power play from the outspoken Deason who wants to shake up the board.

As Reuters points out: “Deason wants to nominate directors to the Xerox board, despite missing a deadline, arguing in his suit that the current board had made a series of significant decisions and disclosures to stockholders after the nomination deadline.”

The news may come as a shock, with all parties previously appearing delighted at the deal.

Steve Hoover, senior VP and CTO at Xerox, wrote for PCR:

“What is it about the combination that will help our customers? Is it because Xerox and Fuji Xerox perfectly complement each other with our technology? Customers will have access to a broader combined product portfolio and feel confident that they are getting the best product available for them, regardless of where in the world they are—whether it is Boise or Burma, Japan or Jakarta. Additionally, the new Fuji Xerox will have a fully unified supply chain, which will bring the products to our customers seamlessly across the globe faster than ever before.

“The new Fuji Xerox will combine two leaders with world-class technological capabilities and cultures of innovation. Together, we invest nearly one billion dollars in research and product development and will lead the evolution of our industry. We will go beyond print as we know it today and drive change in important areas like inkjet, printed electronics, and printing on three-dimensional objects. In addition, our customers can expect advancements in artificial intelligence and analysis of text, image and video, device security and intelligent workplace assistants.”

By Mario Valdivieso for PSFK 

The gender pay gap, which sees women making less than men for the same work, is a problem all over the world.

New Zealand design company 485 design wanted to bring attention to it by inserting it into a line of Office Stationery for Women.

The stationary designs were made with the intention of conveying basic facts that surround gender inequality in the workplace.

The set includes a 13-hour clock to signify the uneven amount money a woman will make in the same amount of time compared to a man. The set also has stationery cards with facts on the issue, and a diary containing 13 months instead of 12. The design was even done in a “soft pink” to represent stereotypical female gender roles and ignorance of this particular problem.

By suggesting women work longer hours to receive equal pay, Office Stationery for Women hopes the absurdity of its solution will point out how little sense it makes for women to be paid less than men in the first place.

By Kristen Stephenson for Guinness World Records 

Julian Martinez was told by his own art class that crafting a mural using just pencils was impossible – but he’s proved them wrong by creating the largest pencil drawn mural.

While no one seemed to have confidence in his abilities, the 24-year-old never failed to believe in himself.

It was this doubt that motivated the Colombian artist to spread his talent across 84.86 m² (913 ft² 61 in²) of wall to earni his Guinness World Records title.

Julian wasn’t always interested in art, so this ambition was quite the mission to take on.

The teacher had previously been studying agriculture production, but realised after several years he had a passion for the arts and sought out to become a tattoo artist.

Thus, he began a 48-day project titled La Realidad Absoluta, which translates to Absolute Reality.

The idea behind his image is show that although others may be different from one another, we can adjust the human perspective to see eye to eye.

Although Julian began the illustration alone, his students and others in the community of Roldanillo came out to help him finish the massive piece upon seeing his intense commitment.

After going through 1 200 pencils, and sketching despite blisters and intense heat, the team of artists now have a detailed canvas exemplifying their hard work.

By Deena M. Amato-McCoy for ChainStoreAge 

The online giant had sales just shy of $3-billion across the office supplies segment, and these sales are growing at over 30% year-over-year.

Printers performed very well for Amazon in 2017, generating over $300-million in estimated sales last year. These sales also boosted high growth in ink, toner and paper (74%, 51%, and 56%, respectively). When researching the performance of ink and toner, the two largest office products categories, there was higher growth in sales of inkjet as compared to laser printers (26% and 15%, respectively), which correlated to higher growth in ink compared to toner, the study reported.

Office organisation is a broad category which includes file folders, binders, labellers and labelling tape, among other things. It is also the next largest category after ink and toner (both valued at an estimated $390 million in 2017 sales), with an estimated $330 million in sales, and a steady growth of 24%.

Bulk buying of consumables is also driving growth for a couple of Amazon’s office categories. Exceeding the high growth rates of ink and toner were casepack cut sheet paper (90% year-over-year growth) and glue and adhesives (76% growth annually), led by the brands Georgia-Pacific and Elmer’s, respectively.

Amazon also has a high-performing private label offering in the office supplies category. AmazonBasics is the category leader for shredders, with eight out of 10 bestsellers — and two of them rank in the top 20 office products of 2017. The top competitor, Fellowes, markets high-end shredders and holds the remaining two top 10 items, both of which sell for over $450 each.

By marketing a low-cost alternative (the top model sells for $30), AmazonBasics has become the largest shredder brand on its namesake platform, and earned more than 40% of the total category sales in 2017, the study explained.

“While leading retail chains struggle to stay afloat, Amazon is seeing strong growth across the board in sales of office appliances, like printers, scanners and shredders, as well as consumables and office accessories,” says Nathan Rigby, VP sales and marketing, One Click Retail.

“Amazon’s latest efforts in this area, including their upcoming credit card for small business owners, reveals the company’s commitment to finding the same success as a B2B marketplace as they have as a B2C retailer,” he added. “With more and more of the Office Product market moving away from brick-and- mortar in favor of Amazon, there’s no better time for brands to embrace it as their primary sales channel.”

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