Since taking over the helm at GNS Wholesaler Stationers early in 2012, CEO Alex Stewart has overseen a major and on-going restructure of the amorphous co-operative, previously known as Group Newsagency Supplies.
The new GNS aims to “create business efficiencies and cost reduction for stationery retailers, resellers and suppliers by combining superior supply-chain solutions with via its national warehouse network”.
Established in 1964, GNS is an unlisted public company owned by newsagents and, according to its charter, is “run for the benefit of newsagents and stationery resellers”.
STATIONERY NEWS: Simon Foster, David Gifford, Neil Sinclair and Paul Middleton are part of a relatively new management team at GNS, can you outline their respective responsibilities and work-in-progress to date?
GNS: There are four new members serving on the GNS senior leadership team alongside Alex Stewart (CEO), Jason McLeod (COO) and Leigh Galloway (financial controller).
They are Simon Foster (national sales manager commercial); David Gifford (national sales manager retail); Neil Sinclair (national merchandising manager); and Paul Middleton (marketing and digital products manager).
Simon is well-known within the industry and is responsible for the development of the commercial channel, which has resulted in impressive growth since he started last July. Thanks to Simon’s efforts, GNS has strengthened relationships with most of the major dealer groups in the channel, most recently with ASA-Australia, for whom we are now a preferred wholesaler.
Growing our commercial business is good for all GNS customers as the dealers typically service a different market to our retailers, but provide greater strength to GNS’ purchasing power, which benefits everyone.
David joined GNS at the start of the year and is the national manager responsible for our retail channel, which remains primarily newsagents.
David is a strong advocate of face-to-face contact and has already disbanded our relatively new telesales team following a review in which he decided our customers couldn’t be adequately serviced over the phone while also trying to run their business.
Some of the telesales team have already gone back on the road, and David is busily recruiting more around the country.
Neil is the latest recruit to the team having joined from ChristCo just two months ago where he served as CFO.
Though it’s early days, Neil is already having an impact in negotiating with our suppliers and managing the production of our promotional campaigns (we’ve just launched our mid-year campaign).
Paul joined GNS in May last year in the capacity of e-commerce and website manager, and took on a broader role incorporating marketing towards the end of last year.
Many of GNS’ customers will already recognise Paul as providing updates on the e-commerce facilities at GNS, which he manages and develops through an external team.
Paul has also begun a project cleaning our product data, laying the foundations for further improvements and updates to our websites down the track, and helps the other members with branding-related issues and communication of GNS services.
STN: How has GNS' extensive inventory and warehouse network operations changed over the past year (including the focus on 'drop ship')?
GNS: Over the past 12 months we have really challenged our inventory handling systems to improve accuracy and time lines to our customers.
It’s been very exciting because we have been able to shift well beyond our traditional mid-day order cut off times to 3pm which significantly shifts service capability to be more in line with our customers’ need to offer improvement.
We have now taken this further in Victoria, and have successfully been trialling an afternoon shift which now offers a 5pm order cut-off.
Our goal would be to extend this with our other DCs over the coming year. Change and improvement never comes quick enough, as we know, but it has been essential we map and plan these improvement to ensure success.
More great initiatives, driven from our operations team, have been the implementation of same-day metro freight and, more importantly, our drop ship service for all customers.
This service really upgrades our capacity to help customers reduce costs and significantly improve their cash flow.
GNS manages the holding of inventory and the entire logistics process right to the consumer's door on behalf of our customer.
We believe this gives our customers the support to focus more on sales growth than back-end processes.
The positive feedback and suggestions to further improve this service have been tremendous and we are certainly appreciative of our customers’ support with this opportunity.
STN: What plans do you have to expand and upgrade the OFFICEsmart branding and online offering?
GNS: OFFICEsmart represents a significant opportunity for newsagents, providing members with a low-cost program that allows them to compete with larger commercial resellers and retailers under a national banner.
The website is long overdue for a review and, probably, a redesign, and Paul Middleton is working on that with his development team already.
There are some exciting developments coming to OFFICEsmart in the near future, but we’re still working out exactly what we (GNS and the members) want OFFICEsmart to be moving forward.
We have a number of very dedicated members, who are keen to see the brand grow and invest effort into supporting that, but there are also a number of members who only use the program to gain access to certain lines at preferential rates. That’s one behaviour the new program will address.
STN: What plans do you have for trade shows and market fairs in 2015?
GNS: We ran our last big 'Market Fair' type show in 2013, and opted for a smaller, in-house version last year.
This was an unpopular decision for many of our customers, who saw the expo as an opportunity to network and socialise with their industry peers and suppliers.
Everyone at GNS enjoyed attending the events, too, but, unfortunately, it simply wasn’t an effective use of funds for GNS or our suppliers, as sales didn’t cover the costs of running such a large event.
We’d already noticed a decline in attendance from our customers, too, as they were increasingly required to work within their own businesses instead of leaving things to a shop manager.
Last year, the intention was to put as many of the cost-savings back into the deals as possible, and this year we’ll be pushing that message with our suppliers even harder in preparation for our much-anticipated expo in September.