GNS has a plan - and it's taking shape


Paul Yardley

GNS boss Paul Yardley says the company is aiming to be a distribution partner not just a wholesaler.


STATIONERY NEWS: Can you tell us a little about your time with WHSmith and are there any aspects related to that company which are relevant to your plans for GNS?


PAUL YARDLEY: I was responsible for WHSmith’s Australian businesses – WHSmith-branded outlets in airports, rail stations and universities, Wild Card and gift stores and the Supanews newsagency business along with some other brands and concepts.


Three aspects stand out as particularly relevant for GNS – firstly, the importance of being really customer focused, making sure that everything you do supports the end consumer of your products. Secondly, the power of an amazing retail experience – bright, modern, appealing stores, savvy service and the right range and stock weight. Thirdly, that constant evolution of the business is necessary – tweaking, changing, reformatting, trialling new ideas – so you don’t go backwards.


All of these are important we set out to improve GNS, support our customers and drive the improvements needed across the channel.


STN: In a recent communication to GNS shareholders/customers, you outlined a series of mistakes/lost opportunities that impacted on the organisation's performance and profitability. In the light of the restructure of the group's real estate holdings, how have you addressed those issues in the relatively short time you have been CEO.


PY: GNS has certainly had its challenges in the recent past – that’s part of what attracted me to the role. The sale and leaseback of our Sydney warehouse released a significant amount of capital which allowed us to improve the depth, range and quality of our inventory as well as refinance the business onto a stable footing.


I joined GNS in October 2016 and my first priority operationally has been to fix the basics: accurate, timely supply of inventory in full to our customers when they expect it. We’re making good progress there and will keep up our focus on this – and it’s been really pleasing that customers are already noticing the difference.


STN: How did the deal with WA Stationery come about and what benefits will the new arrangement bring to customers and suppliers in the West?


PY: The two businesses are a great fit – GNS with its historic strength in the retail market and WA Stationery’s focus on the commercial and enterprise space. Once we started talking to Rik Thornton, the possibilities became clear very quickly. The deal is part of the ongoing rationalisation of our industry – more of this is needed given the pressures the office products space is under.


In terms of benefits for customers and suppliers, the combined business will be WA’s largest stationery and office products distributor, guaranteeing the strength and reliability of the supply chain in WA. We will carry a deeper and broader product range to support this, deliver the high levels of service WA Stationery is known for across the customer base, and use their expertise to improve our offering to the commercial market nationally, a key growth area for GNS. And everyone will benefit from the reinvestment of the efficiencies generated as part of a combined operation.


Finally, the business will be managed locally in WA, so will be a much more responsive and accountable local partner.


STN: While on the subject of expansion, the distribution arrangement with Double A is good news for GNS following the recent consolidation in the office paper market. Are you in a position to reveal further developments in this area, particularly in relation to additional product lines and brands?


PY: Our distribution partnership with Double A is a true win-win. It’s a fantastic brand with a great product story to tell and we believe our customer base, both at the retail and dealer level, will respond well to it. Alongside our existing Tombow partnership and those agencies we have acquired as part of WA Stationery, this further credentials GNS as a distribution partner, not ‘just’ a wholesaler.


As more brands and suppliers look to reduce their costs of doing business and focus on what they are great at – selling and marketing – we believe we will grow more in this area.


STN: What is the status of the preferred arrangement with the Office Choice group?


PY: We have for some years now been the preferred wholesaler for the Office Choice and ASA dealer group networks and these are relationships that are really important to us. As Australia’s only national wholesaler I think we provide a compelling proposition in this area and, particularly as dealers look to remove cost from their businesses and partner more closely, we see the potential for growth here.


STN: Finally, can you provide an update on the move to 'pick up and pay' for newsagents?


PY: The change from traditional cash and carry to pick up and pay was a big one, and has allowed us to make a step-change in our warehouse efficiency as well as vastly reduce the space requirements for our business. It is working well for the vast majority of our customers but I do acknowledge that some have struggled with the transition.


In response to feedback we will be holding regular ‘open nights’ in our warehouses where customers can walk the aisles again to stay familiar with our ranges and specials, put an order together and catch up with GNS staff and each other. The first of these was in Perth recently and was very well received and I’m looking forward to rolling these out elsewhere in March.