Office Products Resellers - an Analog Vs Digital Outlook

If there's any consensus among office product resellers, it would probably be that the business outlook is challenging. Most are experiencing loss of base revenue and profits in a mature market that, while still over $200 billion in annual retail dollars, has started a slow, and now inevitable, decline. There have been many consolidations in the industry that continue to impact the competitive environment and alter the conditions for conducting business. These changes have created severe challenges for the vast majority of resellers.

Many old-school, analog business practices are becoming increasingly obsolete as the new digital order rapidly matures, and learning how to implement digital strategies has evolved as necessary to survive.

There are three key factors impacting the base business of an office products reseller:

1. Market shrink

Resellers cannot control the size of the office products market. It's shrinking and will continue to do so.

2. Customer Churn

Customer churn in the office products industry is becoming more of an issue as previously loyal customers research alternatives online and buy elsewhere frequently before the current supplier is even aware of a threat to the business.

3. Average Sell Prices

As competitive threats emerge, prices are lowered to retain business, reducing the top line and compressing margins. Often, in the ink and toner business, mix may also come into play as pricing pressure leads to conversions from OEM to aftermarket brands at significantly lower prices.

What does this mean?

A dealership with $1M in revenues faces a loss of 15% of its top line to market shrink and price compression over the next four years. Then, to compound this, it's likely to face an additional 20% loss over the same four-year time frame due to customer churn. These factors combine for a potential revenue loss of 35%. For a $5M dealer, then, that's a loss of $1.75M; for a $10M dealer, that's a loss of $3.5M.

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What is the structural impact?

As the smaller and weaker dealers encounter these conditions, they are forced to exit the business. The fortunate sell, and the less fortunate (most vulnerable) must give up and close down. The strongest buy the lowest, perhaps temporarily protecting their top line but, in so doing, disguising the fundamental market trends of shrink, churn, mix, and price. Unless these factors are dealt with, then, ultimately, they also will be forced to confront a sale or close down.

What are the options?

Although resellers do not influence the market size, they do have the potential to influence churn, mix, and average sell prices. However, it becomes increasingly difficult to prevent these elements from spiraling out of control without deploying digital strategies.

What is a Digital Business Transformation?

Today, the typical independent office products reseller has a weak digital presence. This means they have no website traffic and no coordinated social media strategy for traffic development and conversion of that traffic to leads, using forms and gated content. 

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In deploying a content-rich educational website alongside a comprehensive inbound digital strategy, including email marketing, social audience development, and blogging, it becomes possible to attract relevant traffic and convert a portion of that traffic to leads. Eventually, a part of these leads may be converted to customers.


It's not an overnight process and certainly not a silver-bullet solution. It takes hard work and a level of digital sophistication not often found in the office products reseller community. However, for those that start down this path and can stay the course, it becomes feasible to overcome organic decline, capture market share, and profitably grow a business as the digital assets (social and email audience) are leveraged over time.

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