Essendant Adapting to New Threats

Company refocuses brand positioning, expands product categories.

In order to fend off new competitors as well as longtime foes, Essendant is refocusing its brand positioning and expanding into foodservice, executives announced last week at the company's show for suppliers and customers in Las Vegas, NV.

It's no longer just Staples and Office Depot that stand in the way as Essendant aims to grab more share of what the company estimates as a $40 billion office supplies market and $25 billion jan-san market. Even industrial and MRO stalwarts are encroaching on its turf.

"Grainger has really invested in this space; they're spending a lot of time and effort grabbing jan-san market share," Harry Dochelli, president, office and facilities essentials, said during the show's opening keynote. "Home Depot bought Interline. Ferguson is out buying jan-san distributors. And everybody wants to sell more stuff, so it's not just the typical sales channels anymore. You've got new competitors selling things you've traditionally sold."

Amazon is another threat for the master distributor. It is the No. 3 supplier for office and No. 7 supplier for cleaning and sanitation – a category where it wasn't "even on the chart a few years ago," Dochelli said. These new threats underscore an evolving industry and increasingly competitive landscape with more millennials in the workforce and more B2B buyers demanding digital purchasing options.

Those were some of the drivers behind the company's transformation to Essendant from United Stationers, which it announced at the customer and supplier show two years ago. And in Vegas last week it took another step in the evolution of the company when it unveiled a new brand positioning statement of "powering possibilities," a tagline CEO Bob Aiken says is centered on helping resellers grow their business.

"We think creating a level of alignment from suppliers to wholesalers, buying groups and, ultimately, dealers and distributors – a level of alignment that the industry's never achieved before – is going to be critical to success," he said. "'Powering possibilities' is really built on that notion. This is the essence of who we are at Essendant. This is why we exist. It's about powering possibilities for your business."

Learn more about Essendant's growth plans in a Q&A with Aiken that will be featured in the Feb. 25 issue of MDM Premium.

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