Being in the office supplies business during a period when many people were not actually working in the office made for a particularly challenging couple of years for the office supplies company evo Group. And the new Group Chief Executive, Andrew Gale, has had his work cut out for him.
But having been in the company for eight years as Group CFO prior to being appointed to his new role in November 2022, Gale had the background and the experience to get the business back on course.
As the workplace is evolving, what we’re selling goes with it.
It has been no easy feat, with over 50,000 customers and almost 2,000 staff members across six brands: household name Staples, business supplies wholesaler VOW and VOW Ireland, business supplies and services providers Banner and Complete, delivery arm Truline and paper products supplier Premier Vanguard.
“It’s quite a range,” Gale acknowledges. “Stationery is part of it, electronic office supplies, furniture, workwear. As the workplace is evolving, what we’re selling goes with it.”
Gale and his team have moved with the tide, recognizing the demand both for kitting out home offices, and in revamping company offices to entice employees back. Brands like Jabra, for example, have become a greater part of the evo product range, with headsets for virtual meetings becoming an even bigger draw.
Meanwhile furniture, an area the company had previously kept lean, is now proving lucrative.
“We’re now bidding for business that six months ago we said, ‘we can’t do that’,” Gale explains. “Right now, furniture is in big demand, and there’s a big opportunity. So we’re investing in furniture specialists, in terms of people, and the supply chain there.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also prompted evo to shore up supplies of hand sanitizer, face masks and to expand their cleaning products ranges, with the help of partners such as Reckitt.
“We now know a lot more about face masks and cleaning products than we did before. Whatever the challenge of the day is, you can either hide from it, or you say, ‘how do we turn this to our advantage?’” Gale says.
Other world events have also been significant to operations. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant the company stopped sourcing paper from Russian mills, putting a hole in evo’s paper supply, while Brexit put up barriers against distributing products across Ireland.
Whatever the challenge of the day is, you can either hide from it, or you say, ‘how do we turn this to our advantage?
Brexit and the pandemic also had a double impact on evo’s Midlands facility, which employed a significant number of Polish workers. Gale has had to think creatively about how to source staff.
“I’d love to say that Brexit was going to lead to lots of people saying, ‘I really want to work in Andrew’s warehouse at six o’clock on a Monday morning’. That’s not been the case. We have to recruit differently than the way we did five or 10 years ago,” he admits.
“How can we build better relationships with schools? How do we broaden our pipeline through platforms like LinkedIn? Getting the right people is important to us.”
Developing long-term careers
Gale is placing an increased emphasis on developing long-term careers across the business, investing heavily in training and appointing a training and development director. He’s keen to create pathways across the different brands.
“Giving people the opportunity to step up and do bigger roles gives you a positive dynamic. So if you’re a warehouse operative, we are giving you management training so you can go through from an entry point job to a supervisor to a manager,” he says.
“The only people I want my organization to have to recruit are smart school-leavers and smart graduates. We’re capable of training everybody through. What I want to see is people being able to move across the different channels.”
Gale has also reviewed his leadership team, leading to a number of departures.
Giving people the opportunity to step up and do bigger roles, that’s what’s going to drive this business forward.
“Either they were ready to retire or they were in the wrong role. That senior leadership team is now very clearly defined,” he says.
That reshuffle also came with a change in remuneration structure, moving toward more modest basic salaries, but with larger rewards across the team, who share targets across bonuses and equity in the business.
Having laid all the foundations, Gale’s next priority is to drive growth in the United Kingdom and Ireland, before looking to Europe longer term.
He has recently announced a refinancing of the business, including further investment from shareholder Endless as well as a three-year US$109 million funding arrangement with Leumi ABL and Close Brothers.
“evo is moving forward positively. Our numbers are improving, we have the support of strong stakeholders and we are focused on delivering both with, and for, our UK and Irish customers and suppliers.”
Gale is also the founder and one of the trustees of the recently unveiled evo Foundation, a charity launched to focus on the advancement of education, a particular passion of his. The first fundraiser, a 274-mile trek between evo’s locations in the United Kingdom, took place in late October 2023. “The idea here is to help people across the UK with the cost of education, and support them when they fall on hard times,” Gale explained at the launch of the initiative.