As I work on the brands of office supply and business products dealers, one issue always comes to the forefront: Expertise.

To some it comes as a complete surprise that expertise should take a leading role in their brand and therefore, their sales process.

One dealer told me, “We sell a commodity our customers can get at Walmart or on Amazon. What do I need to explain about toner, paper or staplers? It’s all in our catalog. People are only interested in price. We just have to get out there and sell.”

Actually, I have to agree on all three of his points. If you look at office products as a commodity, then a commodity will be what you’re selling. Your customer, who doesn’t know better, will agree as well. And yes, wordy explanations can kill the sale of staplers or any product. Selling a commodity is about price. And finally, we all agree on the need to “get out and sell.”

Here’s where we part ways and this is my response to that dealer: Salt yourself. Salt your own interest and get into an area where you are thirsty for knowledge. You are lucky because you have a wide choice.

Office supply dealers today can work in at least eight different product categories or industry verticals.

You have office supplies, commercial printing, break-room, jan-san, office machines, computer supplies, office furniture, green products, managed print services, and who knows what other new lines of business the future holds. Core skills like customer service or printer repair are also robust areas of expertise.

And each one of these areas has spin-offs that are equally interesting. For example a spin-off of break-room is premium coffee service. A spin-off of business machines might be a focus on one brand like HP. The expertise list is infinite and that’s one of the beauties and strengths of being an independent dealer.

How would like to sell WD-40? They sell one product and it isn’t even patented. They have been classified a “miracle worker” by the Harvard Business Review.

Are they salted about their single product? Are their customers still excited about this old line product? Is there still a lot to know about WD-40? The answer is a resounding YES!salt

What about Coke Classic? It’s been around since 1896. Is it still exciting and winning new fans every day? Is there so much to know about Coke that you could build a “World of Coke” and charge customers admission to come in and learn more about your product?

There are tons of lubricants and soft drinks on the market, yet have these products sunk into the oblivion of commodity?

So I ask you: Are business products interesting, exciting…sexy even? Can you find something to salt yourself and your customer’s interest?

Orbit works with John Givens of Source Office & Technology in Lakewood, Colorado. John is fascinated with office supplies and it is contagious. Seven years ago John called me to design wraps for his trucks. I asked John what would be “great” to put on his trucks. “I was thinking my logo but…Great?”

This opened a whole new conversation that led to differentiation in the market place and branding. Already a skillful business developer, John had a host of pent-up ideas that finally had a place to blossom in his brand. He was about expertise—and leading sales with expertise.

To make a long story short, he had started with toner sales. Charles Butler of S.P. Richards came along and said, “You’re doing the heavy sales lifting already, why not sell office supplies on the tail end?”

Now John wanted to ride his expertise further. We branded his MPS efforts as “OneSource” and began a mega-successful strategy that is a story for another day.

John’s next area of expertise came in the form of an alliance with a local roaster of premium coffee. He hired a coffee barista as his expert and Source “Coffee Bar” was born. Free coffee tastings became an excellent vehicle for growing his break-room business.

John presently has an array of five areas of expertise, each with at least one resident, expert on staff. Check out Read each area and see how expertise salts the customer’s interest.

As a dealer you are not selling a commodity. That is for the big box stores. Your value-add for every sale is your branded expertise.

Brand well and prosper!

Andy Cleary is president of Orbit Design and author of Genius Simple Branding and the soon to be released Salt: The Ultimate Sales Tool.

(This article was featured in the Independent Dealer Magazine in May)
Orbit Design is also a TriMega-certified vendor.
Visit to learn more.

Andy Cleary

Andy Cleary

Founder & CMO at Orbit Design
The founder of Orbit Design, the Branding Map Process, and co-author of “Genius Simple Branding” and “Salt”, Andy Cleary has been working with independent businesses for over 30 years. He has branded businesses ranging from business products companies, to universities, to international airport designers. His focus has been on how branding drives sales.
Andy Cleary

Latest posts by Andy Cleary (see all)