Starting in 1998, Michael Stathakis worked his way through nearly every position and facet of the Bantex business – from manufacturing and operations to finance and ultimately into general management.
“Trials by fire over 17 years has pretty much taught me what I need to know to be in the driver seat of the Bantex Group, but of course, I am learning every day,” he told Stationery News.
“We acquired Bantex in 2001 and formed the Bantex Group in 2007, which continues to grow organically with company-owned brands and through successful acquisitions such as WC Penfold and Quill Stationery to name a few,” he said.
STATIONERY NEWS: What is the background to the acquisition of Quill Stationery and what does the deal mean in terms of the on-going operations of both enterprises.
MICHAEL STATHAKIS: The Bantex Group is always on the hunt for acquisitions, the current climate and market conditions in Australia and around the world pretty much dictate that companies need to consolidate in all sorts of ways to continue to grow and thrive, acquisitions is one of those ways.
The acquisition rationale behind the Quill deal was based on two things: aggregation and market share.
All parties knew there were economies and market share to be gained by merging the two businesses. That makes both businesses more competitive.
I see a number of synergies and economies from this acquisition. The biggest one for me is distribution as we can now provide the channel with a broader ranger of key lines delivered in one consignment, which will deliver logistics savings for the business.
Of course, there are strong synergies and economies in marketing, buying and administration.
STN: What plans do you have for Quill's Chinese manufacturing facility?
MS: Bantex has acquired the entire Quill business, including the Chinese manufacturing plant and several satellite offices in a number Asian countries.
At this stage we haven’t plans to change anything - “if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it”.
Naturally, we are looking at ways of leveraging other brands and product lines from that plant in the future, but for now, it’s the status quo.
STN: You are strong advocate of Australian-owned and operated businesses in the office products sector - do you think the industry fully appreciates the importance of local ownership and control?
MS: I am sorry to say I don’t believe our industry - or any industry in this country - really appreciates how important it is to maintain local ownership and control.
That’s just not our industry in Australia though, its across the board around the world.
I think the public idealistically wants to “buy Australian” but the reality is, choice and quality is pretty much on par world-wide, so it comes down to price, convenience and supporting locally-owned businesses.
We will hold onto our Australian ownership and values for as long as I am running the Bantex Group, that much I can say.
STN: What plans does the company have in terms of promoting its key brands and extending its range of private labels?
MS: Our primary objective at this stage is to leverage the mutually superb brands, product lines and customer service culture of both businesses.
I want to ensure customer service levels are not affected, if not improved in the short term. The integration is being planned and will be executed as seamless as possible to all our customers.
That is a big enough task for the moment, we are not even thinking about private label at this stage.
Barry Mellross, who is well-known in our industry, is handling the operations side of integration of the two companies. His experience in our industry and focus on customer service will ensure a seamless transition.
STN: How important is the independent dealer channel to the Bantex Group?
MS: Independents are and always have been important to Bantex, it is where we got our start in Australia.
Go back to question three, the dealer businesses are locally-owned and operated, very Australian.
They employ people, serve their communities and have a genuine love for the industry and their businesses.
Every customer – small, big, medium, local and international - is important to Bantex / Quill.
We have the best brands and products available to the industry, I want everyone buying them and everyone using them, not because it's good business (and of course it is) but because our brands, products and services are the best!
STN: Finally, what do regard as the main challenges and opportunities for the industry going forward?
MS: The challenge: Stay out of the ‘race to the bottom’.
It doesn’t take an economics PhD to see that if our industry keeps slashing and burning prices, quality and people, there will be nowhere left to fall. It will be a veritable “race to the bottom”. I don’t want to be in that race if I don’t have to be.
The opportunity: I don’t mean to be lazy about this answer, but see the above.
The opportunity is to stop the slide downward. If we take a big step back, start talking quality, performance, durability, pride in product and service and stop thinking ‘commodity’ our entire industry will benefit in countless ways.