A journey to the multi-faceted world of Office Depot Europe
BY NADINE PELZER
Digitalisation is turning some product worlds upside down. The trend leaning away from classic consumer goods and towards new developments is unstoppable. That’s why many companies need to rethink matters and strike out in new directions. Mr Vigener, Director Media Production Centre at Office Depot Europe, outlines the things enterprises can do to successfully face the challenges ahead, as well as the future shape of the market for office products.
Mr Vigener, please describe the product world of Office Depot Europe.
Regardless of the nature of the workspace involved, we offer our customers business needs and services in the broader sector of office products. In addition to the classic range of paper, office products and stationery, we also offer the latest technologies, core office supplies, printing and document services, corporate services, equipment, furniture and school supplies. Office Depot Europe is represented in 13 countries with the Office Depot core brand, with the key account trade, and in ten countries with Viking, the mail order entity. It is also represented with retail stores in France and Sweden.
What do customers appreciate in particular about you?
Everything from product variety, quick service and security of supply in the field of mail order to web, print, call centres and tele-account management. For key account business, we also have additional services that range from managed print services to provision of storage space. For key accounts, our large European presence is also a reason to choose us.
What changes have there been in recent years in the market for office products?
In addition to growing digitalisation and the increasing importance of internet retailing, it is well-known that the retail trade in the area of paper, office products and stationery is having more difficulty than in the past. Market volume is shrinking, and the influence of digitalisation and the web is making itself felt, particularly in the field of office technology and envelopes. A typical example of this is the trend in overhead projectors, away from projectors and towards screens. On the other hand, the influence of the ‘paperless office’ is not yet as strong as originally assumed. The trend in the area of standard paper and ink & toner is going downward, but not as steeply as frequently forecast. This is often country and company-specific, at least for us. At the moment, in some cases the market is even stabilising at a low level. There are some areas in which slight growth can be seen – such as stationery, special paper, etc. – but this can’t cushion the general trend. This calls for countermeasures: innovative ideas and fresh offers. In the competitive market for office products, a high level of flexibility is becoming more important all the time.
How do you deal with the digitalisation, and where do you see the greatest challenges?
We have made every effort to improve our positioning for the future in the past few years, with a new platform and a new design. We have already set out on this path for the mail order business, and the first countries have already switched over. Expertise in the field of user experience and optimised opportunities in ordering options are extremely important for the future of the major players; I believe these factors will constitute an exclusion criterion in the medium term. Another major challenge is to rapidly adapt internal processes to evolving conditions. In this area, many enterprises are called upon to rethink things.
apollon, the Meyle+Müller IT subsidiary that was hived off in 2015, is accompanying Office Depot on the path towards the digital transformation. Together, you are developing initial ideas for an automated standard solution. How did this partnership come about?
In 2005, when Office Depot acquired Viking Direct, the Viking headquarters in Los Angeles were closed. In the wake of this change, it was clear that the PrePress Department would be transferred to Europe. Office Depot was therefore in search of a service provider that could quickly turn an innovative idea into a practical solution. At the time, I was familiar with Meyle+Müller and apollon through the mail order congress in Wiesbaden, and after weighing up various scenarios, we worked with them to find a concept that combined their expertise with our needs. The result was what at the time was a highly automated workflow, and this posed a major challenge for apollon as well.
What led you to decide on a central portal so early on?
In our view, this is the best way to offer a uniform work approach for departments that span different locations. A portal also ensures that processes can be supported by different offices. It is very transparent and can be centrally controlled quite effectively. With the aid of the platform that had been developed for our purposes, we were in a position to use our local advertising departments as part of a uniform process to supply data to apollon from all of the affiliated countries in Europe. At the same time, we were able to offer an in-house portal that gave all departments access to all assets, the print products and pages. This is actively used by our call centres, and by merchandising and marketing as well. We can report approx. 500 users distributed throughout Europe at the moment.
What prompted you to use Online Media Net at the time?
As part of the usual selection process with various vendors, we decided upon Meyle+Müller at the time, because we felt they had the most experience in mass production of catalogues. At that point in time, OMN was already successfully in use by two leading German mail order companies. It was the right decision even in retrospect, because we are now in our 12th year of a successful partnership on an equal footing.
Despite your company’s reorganisation, the solution is still in use. Why is that?
OMN (Online Media Net) is a tool that has optimally adapted to changes and needs with time and has constantly evolved. The software suite as such is flexible enough to permit continuous improvements and updates; and after-sales support is a key component for keeping systems successfully operating and evolving after they are introduced, in ways that benefit the customer.
Why is managing asset data centrally so important to you?
As a company with a European orientation, data and images are identical in many cases. So it wouldn’t make sense to manage separate databases locally. This approach ensures that the asset data and products that need to be quickly incorporated into a portfolio in a different country will be directly available. Central management of all assets also helps reduce handling costs; it is error-intolerant and avoids redundancies.
You have enormous quantities of image data. What special requirements do you have in terms of image-data management?
The image data and pages need to be trouble-free and securely available in all of our European locations. That is absolutely important to us. The system also had to be equipped with automatic interfaces and processes for image-editing processes such as masking, for example. An automatic image comparison function also helps avoid duplicate images. If there are duplicates, OMN lets Office Depot decide which image to accept or discard. In our view, this is why OMN is one of the most stable, high-performing systems in the area of data control and data management. As far as connections to providers of media services are concerned, apollon is superbly positioned in the market, as it is a subsidiary of one of the leading media-service providers. In our day-to-day work, we notice that the task of managing vast quantities of image data is apollon’s ‘bread and butter’.
What are the challenges involved in the production of print catalogues today? What does the future look like?
If you look at the trends of the past ten years in the field of print publications, it is clear that volume levels have fallen drastically. In classic mail order, the volume has been cut in half, and in some cases even cut by two-thirds, as customers order more through the internet. We also see a clear trend towards more personalisation. Generally speaking, and in the mail order area in particular, the catalogue is assuming a new function, because it also has to play the role of bringing customers online directly.
What other joint projects are currently in planning?
We are now discussing our cloud-based OMN extension plan, which will further automate a portion of our processes with the aid of new plug-ins and additional functionalities. Among other things, this spans our entire project workflow, from the first market plan through to the print shop.
What will the market for office products look like in future?
The traditional categories will weaken, and manufacturers will attempt to counteract this trend by increasing product quality in order to achieve higher prices. In the mail order area, it is known that package shipments are increasing, whereas envelopes are dropping steeply. All of this will lead to further consolidation of the industry. Firms will only grow if they are well-positioned within the existing market.
Gert Vigener is Director of the Office Depot Media Production Centre, located in the European Headquarters in Venlo, The Netherlands. In 1995, he was part of the team that established Viking Direkt Deutschland GmbH as a mail order business for office products. Mr Vigener was in charge of setting up an in-house production agency for catalogue and website support. Between 1996 and 2004, he participated in the further mail order expansion in countries such as Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain. In the same period, he worked to help set up the key account business of Office Depot US in several countries.
apollon GmbH + Co. KG offers integrated and holistic solutions that meet requirements in the fields of product-data management, cross-media publishing and omnichannel commerce.
apollon GmbH + Co. KG
Office Depot Europe B.V.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q4 2017. Picture by Joanna Kosinka on Unsplash