Healthy growth for US office and schools supplies industry

From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry.

The US office and school supplies industry grew 3% in 2015 to $12-billion, with $1,2-billion stemming from online sales, according to retail sales data from global information company The NPD Group.

The bulk of the industry’s revenue came from the Writing Instruments category, which represented 20% of total industry sales, and was the thrust behind its growth in 2015; the category experienced dollar and unit growth of 8%, and 7%, respectively.

“From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry. These trends continue to have a positive impact on sales,” says Leen Nsouli, office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group.

Amidst the digital migration being seen across industries, the traditional writing category has managed to grow and, at the same time, evolve with the times, as new products on the market show. Traditional pen sales grew 5% during the year, and specialty pens by 11%. In line with the adult colouring book trend, dollar sales of porous, gel, and multi-coloured pens were up by 28%, 9% and 8%, respectively.

Coloured pencils were also popular items, with sales up 40% for the full year. Consumers are also spending on fine writing instruments, and increased their spending by nearly $2,5-million on fountain, gel, and ballpoint pens compared to what they spent on these products in 2014.

While the pen category saw sales increase, 2015 marked a shift in the purchasing of pens versus pencils during the back-to-school season, with traditional pen sales losing unit share to encased and mechanical pencils. Looking at back-to-school shopping purchases, consumers traded 27,6-million individual units of pens for pencils in 2015.

“There is a lot of creativity and innovation in both pens and complementary products. Whether it’s taking notes in an office meeting, journal keeping, colouring, or finding that special lifestyle or luxury pen, many consumers are still handwriting,” says Nsouli.

“The comeback of the pencil could be due to a number of factors, including the increased mention of encased pencils on K-6 school lists, growth of large pack sizes in pencils, or the increased purchase rate of specialty pens like the stylus pen, which are an attractive option for consumers looking to blend traditional writing and technology.”

Looking at channel performance, the writing category experienced growth across all retail channels – brick-and-mortar, online, and food/drug stores – and outperformed the overall supplies industry in each.

“The keys to growth in supplies – whether for the office, school, or crafting – are all about innovation and price,” says Nsouli. “I’ve seen this done through new styles and design, new licensing agreements, a blending between glass and paper, and the creation of a new activity like adult colouring, which lead the way to increased sales across supplies categories.”

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