BSA Spotlight: Raising Standards - Barry Lane interviewed by Michelle Sturman of OPI

BSA Spotlight: Raising Standards - Barry Lane interviewed by Michelle Sturman of OPI

Barry Lane, BSA President
VP of Commercial Sales, Avery

Not all industry organizations have staying power, but those that do are in a constant battle to stay relevant to their members and the industry they serve.

Strong leadership and a willingness by its committee to continually seek solutions to industry challenges are just two reasons 102-year-old Business Solutions Association (BSA) keeps operating as a vital aspect of the US OP industry.

OPI spoke to current BSA President Barry Lane (and VP of Commercial Sales for Avery) to find out more about the inner workings of the association and its plans to support the industry.

OPI: What are the main BSA goals and priorities?

Barry Lane: Our priorities are straightforward: to provide industry leadership and increased value to our members – manufacturers, wholesalers and manufacturer representatives – that are responsible for working with the independent dealer channel (IDC) across the US. 

As the industry in general, and the IDC in particular continues to evolve, we believe BSA must play a more strategic role in terms of leading collaboration efforts, which ultimately results in the development of plans to keep dealers competitive and relevant.

I’m fortunate to have an active and engaged board and a strong planning committee. We volunteer our time to establish programs, build awareness and provide solutions on the most important challenges facing the IDC.

Years ago we developed objectives and strategies and some members would say: “That’s great, but how is this helping my business?” We want our members to believe they are receiving value throughout the year and not just at our annual Forum.

We are doing all we can to improve communication with respect to our objectives, strategies and plans. Throughout the year at industry events we have three or four town hall meetings for our members to provide progress reports, seek feedback on our initiatives and then course correct as needed. 

OPI: Content standards is a big issue, particularly for the IDC. How is BSA involved?

BL: It is one of the most important and significant initiatives that we have taken on. We have had exceptional participation and involvement across the entire business – representatives from dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers have been dedicated in driving this channel-wide initiative.

The success of our standards group is inspiring to me. It validates that we have enormous talent in the channel with individuals and companies that are willing to collaborate and drive necessary change. Candidly speaking, I don’t believe the standards committee has received the level of recognition it deserves – the entire board is proud of its accomplishments (see ‘BSA Standards Council’, page 30).

If we use the successful outcome of the standards initiative as a proxy, I’m confident our industry principals and companies can take collaboration efforts to a new and necessary level.

Historically, a core activity for BSA was a two-day Forum where commercial channel leaders would meet once a year to discuss a variety of topics. Now, our desire is to provide our membership with an ongoing opportunity to discuss, debate and deliver through a scalable, strategic vehicle that helps address and balance channel expectations and priorities.

As a sector, we have to find new ways to streamline and optimize our collective resources and budgets to ensure the independent dealer remains a relevant and competitive member of our customer portfolio. Speaking as a manufacturer, our balance sheet will not support the status quo. The rapid pace of economic change requires a call to action.

For years we have all talked about the need for better collaboration and being completely objective, but I believe our report card warrants a fail grade.

However, it’s not for a lack of trying. Many of our industry executives worked tirelessly to inspire and drive change, but for a variety of reasons we keep embracing legacy practices.

It’s never easy. Implementing change is hard work. It takes courage, clarity of thought and a vision for the future – as well as a thick skin to manage the criticism. This isn’t for the faint of heart. Fortunately, we have a strong group working together. 

As industry headwinds increase, doing nothing is unacceptable. Our customers, investors and employees deserve better! Many of us believe it’s the right time for BSA to step up and play a more effective management role. With the involvement of our legal counsel, and in partnership with Mike Tucker of the National Office Products Association (NOPA) representing many of our customer interests, our leadership team – Essendant, SP Richards and manufacturers – can begin a process to examine and identify options and alternatives.

OPI: You’ve been BSA President for 18 months. What has been done and implemented under your leadership?

BL: First of all, I would say it’s not about what I’ve done. I’ve had the good fortune to learn from Joe Templet and Jim O’Brien who came before me. They are true friends, respected industry leaders and have been great mentors.

I learned from my family years ago that we only get out what we put in. Being BSA President is a significant time commitment. I’m grateful the Avery management team has been so supportive. My boss Jeff Lattanzio [VP of Sales for Avery] understands the significance of our vision and importance of this group.

I take my role seriously and in cooperation with a strong executive committee – Casey Avent of Smead, Mike Metchikoff from OPMA, Todd Carlson of 3M, Paula Kreuzburg and Alice Simpkins of BSA – we have implemented the following: a quarterly town hall communication process an ongoing, proactive outreach program to members and non-membersthe development of crisp and concise priorities the validation of our priorities and strategies by “keeping the customer in the room”

We want BSA to be seen as an opportunity for members to discuss business topics that are of central importance. We can all identify problems. However, our mission at BSA is to work collectively on realistic channel solutions that are a result of open dialogue, healthy debate and timely action plans.

The independent dealer has survived through years of disruption because of strong, passionate and forward-thinking individuals. The IDC is critical to the marketplace. It pays attention to its customers. It sells brands. It’s a unique relationship where I believe we care equally about each other’s business.

BSA can play a pivotal role to ensure the IDC has the proper tools and resources to prosper, and that’s a compelling reason for the association to exist.

OPI: What are the biggest challenges right now and what role can BSA play in helping to solve them?

BL: That’s a great question and one that has multiple answers. I think the main challenges are: the decline of core supply categories and the economic impact this reality has on dealers; the rapid shift from print to digital; and consumer behaviors – alternative channel options, product search and declining loyalty.

How can BSA help? The board and our Forum committee are working on three initiatives:

The feasibility of a US-based end-user study to better understand how historical work is conducted within corporate America (paper usage, impact of technology, etc)Begin an industry-wide discovery project to examine event consolidation opportunities to minimize duplication and reduce costs – ‘Industry Week’, for example. This year’s IDC Industry Forum on 5-6 September in Indianapolis. The emphasis is on consumer research, education, technology and networking.

OPI: How should the industry deal with all these challenges?

BL: By having candid, timely and straightforward strategic conversations with customers. I’m an optimist. We still have a huge installed base of paper-based products in the US if you look at it in absolute dollars. Even though it’s declining, it remains a seriously big-volume business.

We need to understand where it’s heading from a consumption standpoint. Done properly, I know BSA can play a role in helping all manufacturers understand it better. Equipped with facts and not opinions, we can then sit down with our customers and have an intelligent conversation.

OPI: You mention Industry Week – hasn’t event consolidation been attempted before?

BL: We tried to merge some events a few years ago and, for a variety of reasons, we weren’t ready. Now, economic conditions have changed for everyone and based on recent conversations we have had, I’m confident executives are more open-minded to implementing real change.

I’m hopeful that everyone will be as encouraged as we are… we can get to a better place when our focus is on what is right, not who is right. Fortunately, many agree and it’s time to test and prove a new model.

OPI: If you can get this off the ground, do you have a timeframe?

BL: Yes. 2019 would be the earliest but it’s probably going to be more like 2020. Critical to our success will be knowing how the executives at Essendant and SP Richards are thinking about 2019 and beyond. Equally important in this process are TriMega, Pinnacle, Independent Stationers, AOPD, DPCG and Office Partners – their input is absolutely essential.

As we all know, organizing and managing an event of this magnitude requires enormous planning and attention to detail in terms of budgets, logistics and legal matters.

OPI: How would you describe the relationship between BSA and the IDC?

BL: What we are trying to accomplish as a group of manufacturers, wholesalers and manufacturer rep groups is to figure out best practices and provide tools that can ensure the independent dealer remains relevant, profitable and competitive.

We invite dealers to sit on our panels as active and engaged participants. They are guests at the Forum and a meaningful part of the process,

So, as we collaborate further with NOPA, I’m certain our partnership will strengthen.

OPI: Any plans for international collaboration?

BL: An interesting question. Initially, my thoughts are let’s complete our homework in the US first. Down the road, if there is an opportunity to share with our peer groups in other countries, it may have some merit.

OPI: What’s BSA doing about helping the industry attract younger people?

BL: The board has been very clear in terms of trying to bring in younger people as we don’t want to be perceived as an ‘old boys club’. Looking around the IDC, it’s impressive. We see many examples of strong and effective leadership coming from the next generation. They are smart, insightful, understand technology and are proficient with social media.

OPI: What’s your long-term strategy for BSA?

BL: I look at it very practically and compare it to being on the board of a private golf club. You want to keep your current members and at the same time you want to encourage new members to join and be part of the club. I can tell you, in this economic environment it has its challenges.

Budgets today are being reduced and while it’s not overly expensive to be a member, business leaders are looking closer at their P&L. Every dollar makes a difference, so unless we’re really delivering value they’re going to invest their dues and sponsorship funds elsewhere.

If we can persuade people to believe in us long term and allow us to work collaboratively across the wider industry, I believe BSA will be a valued investment for our members. We must add value – and we will do all we can to make it happen. More of the same isn’t going to cut it.

BSA Standards Council

The purpose of the BSA Standards Council is to develop, monitor and promote voluntary performance guidelines for manufacturers.

Standards created by the Council include brand, images, infographics and video, along with color attributes and product attributes. In addition, there are the Print Cartridge Classes, Definitions and Use Guidelines which Amazon has adopted, while the Government Services Administration follows BSA Standards & Best Practices.

Standards marketing campaign 2018

BSA will begin a standards marketing campaign this year that identifies the value proposition for each Standard or Best Practice developed. The objective is to survey BSA members and prospects regarding manufacturers’ content marketing organization structure, development, management and syndication. 

BSA aims to gain wholesaler support for the initiative and the survey will be conducted annually for industry benchmarking. In addition, a glossary of e-commerce and digital-related terms will be created. 

Those that participate in the BSA-sponsored survey will receive aggregated results to provide insights into content marketing at other organizations. BSA membership is not required. 

BSA Standards Council Leadership


Jamie Mennicke, Senior Manager of Digital Product Development at Essendant
Jeffery Buysse, VP Sales and Marketing at GOJO Industries

Article featured in OPI
Article by Michelle Sturman