Is the Traditional Office Supplies Industry in Decline?

Talk has surrounded the current state of traditional office supplies for several years now, but are we beginning to see a dramatic drop in their popularity and even more alarmingly, their appeal in workplaces? It turns out, it might not be as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer if recent research is anything to go by.

When gaining an overview of a recent survey conducted by Epson UK, the results would suggest that the traditional office supplies industry is still marketable. One of the more popular audiences for traditional office products consists of the ‘millennial’ market (18-24 year olds); with 73% stating that they still enjoy using traditional stationery such as pencils and paper in day-to-day creative situations. But what do business owners and experts in the office products industry think?

Conflicting Views on the Traditional Office Supplies Category

An important statistic to be considered as a result of the survey is that 82% of British start up businesses are continuing to use traditional office products and accessories on a regular basis, compared to the minority that comprise of just 1% who say that their business is entirely digital.

Commenting on these findings and the overall picture seemingly painted on the traditional office products industry at present was Simon McLoughlin, Traditional Category Director at the UK wholesaler VOW, stating that “The traditional office products category is in good shape and the pace of change is quickening. We are seeing simplification and consolidation in some declining sub-categories, but this is coupled with an increasing commitment to supporting and pushing innovation through.”

Providing a very different take on this however, was Melanie Martins, Digital Marketing Manager of CEP Office Solutions in France. “As in previous years, this market is still declining – down a further 5.4% again over the past year. We expect a similar decline in 2017, but thankfully the decrease is slow which gives us time to prepare for the transition.”

Appealing to New Audiences

With two very contrasting opinions amongst others on where the traditional office supplies industry stands in the business world currently, it remains difficult to establish as to if traditional office supplies are on the incline or in the decline.

Two key factors which could be considered to heavily influence the perception of traditional office supplies in a modern world are consumer engagement and the overall image that the industry creates. Rapesco, a common name to come across in the office supplies category, have recently found success in marketing their products towards a younger and technologically aware audience. Their recent Social Media campaigns using platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have increased their overall marketability to a much wider target base, with Group Trading Director, Ken Trenberth, citing that their initiative has been “hugely successful at targeting customers of all types”. Trenberth adds that “The younger generation consumer is particularly keen to participate in our digital media competitions, with many sharing our messaging around the world”

Improving the Category Image

An overall assumption that has surrounded the traditional office products category in more recent times is its lack of appeal and inability to promote inspiration and creativity. But it’s clear that popular events taking place such as The Stationery Show in Manchester and London are striving to disprove this stigma with a great level of success.

Drawing focus to the plethora of stationery and office products available to the public, VOW’s Simon McLoughlin summarizes that “The terms we use such as ‘traditional’ or ‘core’ and even ‘office products’ are pretty uninspiring way to describe things. Personally, I think the whole channel needs a greater level of support, with activities that give better backing to brands and trade-up programmes.”

With all things considered, the traditional office products category is one that looks set to remain an integral sector in the business world. Whilst the market will provide some fresh and even more difficult challenges in the future, it will be up to innovative branding and an understanding of what continues to make consumers ‘tick’ that will prove to be key in its survival.

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Sam Rose