NAPM 92nd Annual Dinner

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The National Association of Paper Merchants (NAPM) 92nd Annual Dinner took place on Thursday 19 April in the Thames Suite at Park Plaza, Riverbank, London.

Over 250 people attended the annual black-tie event and the guest list included UK & Ireland paper merchant staff and their suppliers.

It was, as always, a very enjoyable evening and the guests were entertained by three witty and eloquent speakers. The incoming President of the NAPM, Tim Elliott of Elliott Baxter welcomed the guests and delivered a speech on the state of the industry. He issued a rallying call to the industry to rise to the challenges currently faced.

During his speech Tim said, “Big is not always beautiful. In my first 20 years in paper, many merchants sold up for 2 reasons:

  1. Understandable personal gain for the owners

  2. A belief that size in the paper industry would eventually conquer all, with the relevant economies of scale, clout with suppliers, market presence etc.

And where are we today?

The most successful companies in the UK are the Independents who tend to be smaller and are all sticking to their core business of paper merchanting.  Large size has become very difficult to manage, leaving problems for its current day leaders.  But bigger organisations can and still should succeed, if they remember the basics.

Smaller, more localised management, whether in big or small companies does still work.  Smaller teams, even as part of large corporations, can be beautiful in the paper industry, as they respond quicker, find it easier to build a team ethos and relate more directly with their customers. Localised control versus central control, specialist merchants versus generalist merchants, big versus small, in our fascinating industry all can work as long as the number one focus remains on satisfying the customer, whilst making a return for the shareholder.”

Tim also commented on the role of the paper manufacturers. He said, “Further rationalisation is probably still needed, if strong levels of financial performance are to return. But please, when considering your production plans, link your planned manufacture of paper with expected demand for your product. The law of simple economics dictates that, if too much of a product is produced, prices will fall.  I understand that for many mills it is very difficult to reduce fixed costs, many of which are historical, whilst maintaining efficiency of production.  The paper merchant respects that it is far easier for the merchant to adjust stock levels to demand, than it is for the paper mill but a ‘Fight to the Finish’ amongst paper producers helps no-one.”

Tim concluded the main part of his speech by addressing the paper merchants. He said, “In the UK, we’ve done the rationalisation but if we are to continue succeeding, and I personally believe the future looks good, let’s remind ourselves of where we justify our existence.

We ‘add’ value in the supply chain and in merchanting that comes in 3 forms:

  1. We have an unrivalled knowledge and skill-set about paper to maintain.  Our customers rely on this.

  2. We have hugely developed logistics operations, in the warehousing and distribution of our product, far more advanced than in many comparable industries.

  3. We provide the financial resource to allow the capital-intensive customers that is UK print to survive.  In many cases, we lend them more money on unsecured credit than do Banks on a secured basis.  Our financial investment in UK print is massive and yes as our customer base has shrunk we have taken a lot of pain in Bad Debt.

But, we have to adapt, to changing times.  Unnecessary costs have to be identified and then quickly removed, multiple layers of management have to be stripped away to enable faster decision making and we have to keep close to our customers so that we keep adding value to their businesses. For our printer and paper-using customers, we financially back them, we probably over-service them but we must always ‘add value’.  Then our future is assured.

I look around this room and see a lot of faces that I have known for a many years.  The knowledge and skills present encapsulate the best in our industry and is the reason why the UK’s standing throughout Europe is without equal.  And because of the people in this room we can still achieve a profitable trading scenario for paper that goes on for a long, long time.  As the NAPM President I will do all I can in my 2 year term to ensure our reputation remains at the highest level.”

Tim ended his speech by paying a heartfelt tribute to Ian George, CEO of Antalis McNaughton who retires this year after a long and highly successful career in the industry.

Pascal Lebard, Chief Executive Officer of Sequana, owners of Antalis McNaughton, responded on behalf of the guests. Pascal gave an interesting perspective from the position of a multi-national merchant. His main emphasis concentrated on:

  • The need to continue to sell the right products, the value added ones, at the right price.

  • The requirement to deliver levels of service to customers which meet their expectations.

  • His belief that, if merchants do it right then all will be successful and profits will be made.

The final speaker was Ian Robertson, the BBC voice of Rugby Union and a former Scotland international. He delivered a very entertaining speech, filled with anecdotes from his long career at BBC Sport.

Next year’s Dinner will again be held at the Park Plaza Riverbank on Thursday 18 April 2013.