Office Depot opens door to equipment sales

With a huge global brand behind it and a corporate customer base that it claims is now just as keen to buy catering products from it as stationery and computer supplies, Office Depot’s UK operation is actively looking to develop its catering equipment portfolio.

But can it really make a dent in a market already served by so many incumbents? Catering Insight spoke to the company’s business manager for catering, Robin Barnes, to find out.

On a personal level, how long have you been with Office Depot and what was your background prior to that?

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I have been with Office Depot for four months. Previous to this, I was with 3663 for 12 years, covering catering
sales and contract management for a variety of sectors.

For those that don’t know the Office Depot brand, what is its structure and make-up in the UK?

As a leading supplier of business solutions as well as general office supplies, Office Depot provides a number of core services under its Business Services Division (BSD), covering facilities management, furniture and interiors, print solutions and managed print services to customers across the public and private sectors. Office Depot operates under two brands: Office Depot and Viking. Office Depot works with mid to large organisations and the public sector on a contract basis and Viking, which is the direct mail and e-commerce channel, supplies SMEs and schools.

How does catering equipment fit into the portfolio?

Our catering equipment offering falls within the Facilities Supplies division. Although the company has been providing a smaller range of catering-related products for a number of years now, as a result of listening to Office Depot’s existing customer base, the offering has now been significantly expanded in order to meet these needs.

What kind of catering equipment do you currently offer? How heavy duty does it get?

The company provides a full range of catering equipment from basic utensils and tea and coffee to full-scale kitchen units such as refrigeration, cooking ranges and combination ovens. We stock up to 1,800 product lines under the catering equipment banner, but also have close relationships with a number of third party suppliers and installation experts to ensure we can meet the broadest range of customer requirements possible. Every customer has a different set of needs which requires a tailored approach and this framework allows us to provide this — one-size-fits-all simply isn’t an option.

What kind of companies purchase catering equipment from you?

Our customer base is very broad and reflects the variety of equipment Office Depot is able to source. We focus heavily on servicing a range of business sizes throughout multiple sectors, for example banking and finance, healthcare and retail. Furthermore, given that we service everything from large corporates to regional offices and businesses, I feel it’s important not to pigeon hole or stereotype the kind of needs customers have on account of their physical size.

The name ‘Office Depot’ isn’t exactly suggestive of a company that sells catering equipment. How much of a drawback is that?

Office Depot’s business offering, ‘Whatever your ‘office’, we’re your Office Depot’, squarely sums up that the market has evolved as a result of customers seeking cost efficiencies as well as excellent customer service. Customers increasingly look to one supplier to cater to all their needs and Office Depot is in an ideal position to do this, given the number and variation of strong supplier relationships we have.

Furthermore, our existing customer base is well aware that catering provisions have been part of the company’s offering for many years now, so now that the number and range of catering product lines have been increased it is very much seen as a natural extension of something that was already part of the Office Depot brand.

How many catering equipment manufacturers do you have direct purchasing arrangements with? Or is most of your stock bought through wholesale?

We have direct relationships with a number of manufacturers, which we review on a regular basis. However, we also work closely with wholesalers on consolidated bundles of certain product lines, in order to drive cost efficiencies for both the organisation and the customer.

Your operation in the UK is focused around web and catalogue sales. Does that mean it’s predominantly a ‘price and availability’ business model? Are there any services beyond that which you offer?

Absolutely — we marry up the web and catalogue format of our offering with closely managed stock management systems to ensure we always meet demand as well as incorporating various delivery options. However, the catering arm of Office Depot also incorporates a companywide approach to customer relationships by providing detailed consultation and guidance for customers and tailoring the service we offer to each individual set of requirements. This ensures we get it right first time and drives repeat business.

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In terms of positioning, are you looking to compete with companies such as Makro? Or companies more in the mould of Nisbets and Lockhart?

In regard to the competitive landscape, Office Depot sits alongside a number of other providers. However, given that Office Depot offers a broad set of business solutions, making direct comparisons to other catering-focused providers is difficult. The Business Services Division was launched in order to provide a close-knit portfolio of solutions and services for customers. So as well as being experts in helping identify and meet the catering-related needs of businesses, our team is adept at recognising related FM requirements and liaising with the relevant departments to helps service these too.

Catering equipment falls under your Facilities Supplies arm. Is this reflective of the role that catering purchasing has within the facilities management function?

Absolutely — and although this is a wider trend, Office Depot has reacted directly to the need for packaged services that cover a range of business- and building management-related needs. The FM Supplies arm of our Business Services Division also supplies related key products and services, for example workwear and cleaning and hygiene products.

What are your main plans and objectives for the catering equipment business this year?

Our main objectives for the coming year are to further raise awareness of the catering equipment offering within our existing customer base through cross-selling, cross-promotion and events, and to further consolidate and grow our range organically.

Company background

Office Depot is a leading global provider of office supplies and solutions. Within the UK and Ireland the company operates under two brands: Office Depot and Viking. Office Depot works with mid to large organisations and the public sector on a contract basis, while Viking is the direct mail and e-commerce channel supplying small and medium businesses and schools.

Office Depot is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and services customers through 1,677 worldwide retail stores, a dedicated sales force, catalogues and global e-commerce operations. The company has annual sales of approximately $11.5 billion (£7.6 billion), and employs around 39,000 associates in 60 countries.

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