Colourful time for Staedtler's new boss
Welshman Nich Lee has had a globe-trotting career with Staedtler, having joined the company in the UK and making his way to Australia via the head office in Germany.
INTERVIEW: SWith an economics and management degree, Nicholas (Nich) Lee started his career with a market research agency before moving over to the client side - first with Guinness in London followed by a stint with United Biscuits, working on the McVities and KP snack food brands.
Lee joined Staedtler in 2004 as marketing manager for the UK, moving up to the role of deputy managing director while gaining a Masters in Business Administration. In 2014, the opportunity came up to to work at Staedtler's head office as head of international marketing.
STATIONERY NEWS: Firstly, welcome to Australia. How did the job come about?
NICH LEE: Thank you... it's a pleasure to be here! After 10 years with the company in the UK, the opportunity came up to work in head office in Nuremberg, Germany, which was a great experience.
However, I always wanted to run a company within the group - I missed the customer interaction that you get in local markets. This aspect feels further away in head office.
After a couple of good years in Germany, this opportunity came up when Paul Cashmore, our previous managing director in Australia, decided to retire. My wife and I had travelled in Australia in 2003 and absolutely loved it - so when the chance to work here came up, we jumped at it.
STN: Your previous role with Staedtler as head of international marketing sounds interesting. What did that job entail?
NL: As a marketeer, the opportunity to shape a global brand with heritage back to 1835, with market-leading products in many sectors doesn't come around too often. It was a great role for sure.
The international marketing team has a tough assignment to balance the needs of more than150 countries around the world where Staedtler trades.
However, I was in the fortunate position of being handed the baton as adult colouring hit the world. I had previously worked in the UK market with Johanna Basford, who is the queen of adult colouring with books such as Lost Ocean.
And, I was fortunate to be able to bring the partnership to a global level - helped by Johanna's love of our products, such as the pigment liner drawing pen, the triplus range of fineliners and, of course, our colouring pencils.
Bringing these sorts of commercial plans to a worldwide audience and watching the growth would excite anyone! I consider myself really fortunate to have held the position.
STN: While you've only been in Australia for a relatively short time, what do you see as the main differences between this market and office products markets in the UK?
NL: Our business in the UK and in Australia is very similar. Both countries developed around a manufacturing base with pencils at its core and the market-leading position in graphite pencils is hard-earned in both countries.
The product portfolio of both businesses with pencils, ballpoint pens and the Lumocolor brand represent the heart of our position in offices, schools and homes in Australia and the UK.
The differences are minor. For example, the UK is focused on the yellow and black striped Staedtler Noris pencil while Australians love the red and black Staedtler Tradition pencil.
The office products market is equally challenging on both sides of the globe and brands are having to fight hard to maintain a competitive proposition as cost (often divorced from value) increasingly becomes a key factor.
For us, it comes down to continually reassuring the consumer that purchasing a Staedtler product is worthwhile - and we will continue to focus on this.
STN: Writing instruments is one OP category that relies heavily on innovation and product development. What is in the pipeline for Staedtler in the near future?
NL: Our core sales at Staedtler are driven by the products that have been in the portfolio for many years - such as the graphite pencil where we continue to grow year-in year-out.
However, we have also seen over recent years that 'simple' innovation around that core, based on real consumer insight and trends, can add significant turnover growth and also keep the brand fresh for consumers. A good example is the line extension of the triplus fineliner to 42 colours in response to the developing adult colouring trend.
As a result, triplus is our fastest-growing product area. We have some further exciting product plans on the horizon... but I'd rather tease and say 'watch this space' for now!
STN: Finally, how important are the independent dealer groups in Staedtler's overall channel strategy?
NL: The network of independent dealers remain key to our success in the Australian market.
We are seeing growth there and see further opportunity for the dealers particularly within the education channel where service levels, local knowledge and the personal touch can be a competitive advantage.
We will continue to work with independent dealers to ensure that they remain an important part of our business model going forward.