• ASA chairman Ben Kresner.
    ASA chairman Ben Kresner.
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Ben Kresner is a director of Sydney-based Stationery Wholesalers, one of the best-known office products dealers in Australia. A long-time member of ASA, Stationery Wholesalers has won numerous Stationery News Reseller of the Year Awards.

STATIONERY NEWS: Stationery Wholesalers has been a member of ASA-Australia for many years, what prompted you to take on the role of chairman?

BEN KRESNER: Tougher market condition over recent years has forced me to consider the future of our industry (as I’m sure it has for many others too) – and not just what demand will exist for our products, but what our industry will look like in a few years’ time.

I believe that the landscape will be very different – I imagine that they’ll be far fewer dealers and I can’t believe that the industry will continue to sustain all the current buying groups.

I decided to stand for the role of chairman of ASA-Australia as I wanted a role that gave me a chance to help shape this future in some small way.

STN:  How has the group - in terms of overall sales - performed over the past year?

BK: As a group, we’ve been ahead of the market average. Naturally, we’ve had some members outperform others but overall we’ve recorded moderate growth (which is a pretty spectacular feat in this market) and suppliers consistently give us the feedback that we are exceeding most others in our industry.

STN:  The group has always indicated that it is structured around a 'select' group of  dealers - is the group actively seeking new members and, if so, are there any specific criteria that dictates the type of business that fits the ASA model.

BK: Our plan is definitely to grow the membership. We still want to remain a “select” group of members as you put it, but if we wish to continue to thrive in the current and coming business environments, we should be a larger group of “select” members. In the past, we’d been reluctant to have more than one member in the same city but that is no longer the case - I’m keen grow our turnover and purchasing power and I’m more concerned with “by how much” than “where” we do it.

We are seeking members with the following criteria (although being a small group does afford us some flexibility):

· Ideally, an annual turnover of $5m +

· High levels of compliance to the products that appear in our catalogue and to the suppliers that pay for those products to appear there

·  Low-maintenance members who won’t place undue strain on the fantastic but very small team we have at ASA-Australia’s head office

· A fairly self-sufficient member when it comes to business plans, marketing and systems. We run a very lean and cost-effective head office that mainly negotiates trading terms with suppliers, produces an outstanding catalogue and a little bit of extra marketing – our members look after everything else themselves.

I think the other groups do a terrific job in providing for their members, but that model doesn’t suit everyone.

If I belonged to another group and didn’t see benefit in the group’s investment in projects such as training academies, marketing campaigns and support for systems I didn’t personally use, I would probably resent having to subsidise the costs of these programmes. Resellers in this situation are the ones we should be talking to about joining a group with lower costs of membership and greater freedom to run your business the way you see fit.

There are some dealers out there who approached ASA in the past about joining and were knocked back. If they’re still interested, I encourage them to make contact with either ASA's general manager Siobhan Tagell  or myself to discuss their application again.

Others reading this article might be interested but unsure if ASA can offer them everything they need in their business. Again, I encourage them to contact us and we can discuss what they need, what ASA can offer, and how any gaps between those two might be bridged.

And we always appreciate suppliers suggesting to us prospective members whom they believe would be a good fit for our group.

Having said all of that, we’ll still give great consideration to any application before deciding whether or not we want them in our group.

STN: The group's Aspire own label has been steadily expanded - what new products and categories are in the pipeline?

BK: Aspire has been a wonderfully successful venture for us and we’re always careful not to overdo it. We do have a handful of new Aspire products planned for 2015 and we will continue to use local suppliers to source and supply our Aspire products.

STN: Does the group have any plans to change the format of its bi-annual conferences and annual catalogue launches?

BK: From what I’ve heard from our suppliers, our biannual trade meet differs somewhat from the other groups’ annual conferences. I believe the focus of theirs is more on the AGM and that most attendees are dealer principals.

At our last trade meet, we had 160 delegates representing only 10 ASA members – that meant 145 were the sales and purchasing teams of our members who were greatly up-skilled by a full day’s interaction with our suppliers and their products – that’s what our trade meet is all about.

We have no plans to change the frequency of these trade meets – we’re really happy holding it every second year. The products offered by our industry don’t change so drastically to necessitate it be held annually and we recognise that any funds our suppliers have to commit to supporting events such as trade meet result in less money being available for other marketing ventures.

Our members (dealer principals) still meet twice a year (one of which coincides with either our trade meet or catalogue launch) to discuss various matters but the trade meet is the pinnacle and we’re very excited for our next event to be held in Melbourne in February, 2015.

STN:. What other plans does the group have in store for the year ahead and beyond.

BK: I want to focus on growing our size and sharpening the competitiveness of our purchasing. Obviously most of the products we all sell are manufactured overseas and most dealers only have the space, cash flow and turnover to justify landing containers of a handful of SKUs, such as copy paper and toilet paper and other basic products.

I’d like our group to work with our existing suppliers and fellow members to work towards bringing in more containers direct from the manufacturers with mixed product and/or shared between members.

Naturally, this would be more easily achieved with a few extra members too. I am confident that plans such as these will help our members increase their competitiveness in this tough marketplace and see our group continue to flourish.