In late May, industry executives from across Europe came together in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for the OPI European Forum. Two jam-packed days delivered thought-provoking and punchy presentations and panels as well as deep-dive roundtable discussions. All of this was framed by constructive and convivial networking during breaks, over meals and in the bar.
While the event covered wide-ranging topics concerning the state of the European business supplies industry, it also delved deep into specific areas, such as the promising opportunities in the hygiene product category and the consumerisation of B2B e-commerce.
The future workplace
Sessions presented delegates with a wealth of information, revealing a tapestry of facts, figures and even emotions. IDC’s Mick Heys provided an incisive analysis of the present and future relevance of the office. Despite a current sharp focus on work-from-home and hybrid working, pan-European research suggests that a sizeable 33% of employees are required in the office five days a week.
Furthermore, the topic of employee happiness deserves serious attention from business leaders. According to Heys, 46% are not satisfied with their workplace, while almost one in four employees (22.4%) are currently looking for a new job. Both statistics could be interpreted negatively as well as opportunistically.
Among the myriad takeaways, several recurring themes emerged. First and foremost, sustainability has become non-negotiable. While not everyone can match the passion of Simone Hindmarch, the joint Managing Director of Commercial chaired a very well-attended roundtable session alongside Exacompta’s CEO Charles Nusse. The bottom line is sustainability has become a commercial imperative – and offers an increasingly distinct competitive advantage.
Despite the indisputable fact business leaders, by and large, want their staff back in the office, even more certain is the realisation – aptly demonstrated by Heys – that flexible/hybrid working is here to stay. Consequently, the definition of the ‘office’ needs to be reimagined.
A significant topic of contention was pricing and its management in an inflationary market. This subject featured prominently in plenary sessions, roundtable talks and everywhere in between. Much of the discussion involved the conflict between price increases over the past few years and the impact of declining volumes. As one panellist astutely remarked: “The challenge is the ability to sustain margins by adding value, not by squeezing people”, while another added in a follow-up roundtable that “committed pricing is dead”.
The hot stuff
While the structured conference sessions received high praise from delegates, it was during networking breaks that certain themes were explored more deeply. Arguably, one of the hottest topics was artificial intelligence, particularly ChatGPT.
Reflecting on the forum, Jeanette Bresitz, Managing Director at Office Friendly, noted: “What a great event for giving you headspace and opening your mind to different aspects and opinions. Taking time out of the day-to-day operation to engage with leaders from across Europe has helped me form so many new ideas and think deeper about our future planning.”
The resounding message from the OPI European Forum 2023 was clear: our industry must adapt to the shifting landscape. With sustainability, flexible working and dynamic pricing at the forefront of discussions, attendees left Amsterdam armed with fresh perspectives and a renewed determination to navigate the challenges that lie ahead.