Lithuanian office suppliers shun crisis, spur eco-product sales

  • 2012-01-04
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

PENS AND PAPER: Arturas Tuminas says that business is good, and that sales weren’t hit by the recent crisis.

KLAIPEDA - While the year 2011 marked a steady economic recovery from the 2008 economic turmoil, the office supply market has been enjoying a slower, but steady, growth even during the crisis.
“Frankly, our business segment has not been affected by the 2008 crisis and its ensuing relapse,” says Arturas Tuminas, director general of Biuro pasaulis (Office World), a Scandinavian-owned office supplier which, along with Officeday, is a leading enterprise of this kind in Lithuania.

The company head praises the past year as “very successful.”
“We have seen 25 percent turnover growth during 2011’s first 9 months, to 10.6 million litas (3.0 million euros). Although I do not have the sales report from 2011’s last quarter, it is evident they have been very good,” asserted the director general.

Biuro pasaulis reported turnover of 8.5 million litas during the same period last year, 13.3 million litas in 2010 in total. It extended its constant turnover rise from as early as 2006: 8.8 milion litas in 2006; 10.8 million litas in 2007; 11 million litas in 2008 and 11.8 million litas in 2009.

Tuminas attributes the increase to the robust recovery of the national economy, supporting Eurostat’s claim that the national economy is among the fastest growing post-crisis EU economies.
“The office supply sector is the best litmus paper for an economy. If it is ailing, sales go down, but not so drastically as in other market sectors. If the economy starts doing well, we are the first to see that. However, the lineup of turnover through 2006-2011 defies that rule to a certain extent, suggesting that office supplies is rather proof of an economy shake-up” Tuminas noted to The Baltic Times.

Biuro pasaulis is a part of the Scandinavian office supplier alliance Nordic Office, which runs its affiliates not only in Lithuania, but also Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Latvia. Most of Biuro pasaulis’ goods come with the Nordic Office trademark which, Tuminas says, is recognizable in Scandinavia and the Baltic States.

In the post-crisis economy, the Biuro pasaulis director says he is especially surprised by the growing popularity of ecological office supplies. “It is at the point where we can obviously speak of a trend. We have seen eco-goods sales this year to be 30 percent higher than in 2010. More and more office managers tend to pick high-quality office supplies made from natural materials – envelopes from recycled paper and pens from recycled plastic,” Tuminas said.
Eco-office supplies, he says, are often still more expensive than the traditional ones. The propensity for eco-goods, he says, signifies an increasing number of socially and environmentally responsible enterprises. He also notes that the prices of eco-friendly office supplies is slowly decreasing and, in some categories, match the prices of traditional products.

The company director says that with eco-awareness rising, demand for ecological office supplies will rise too. Biuro pasaulis invites all Lithuanian enterprises and companies to support its ecological initiative – to contribute in tree planting in Mozambique, a poor African country - by buying office paper marked with the eco-friendly sign.

The popularity of ecological office products does not surprise Jolanta Graudinyte, an environment protection consultant at Ekokonsultacijos. “The pursuit to use eco-friendly office furniture, paper and other office supplies is nothing out of the extraordinary as more and more state and private companies are becoming environment-conscious and savvy. One realizes that by using goods made from recycled materials, we diminish our harm to the environment, promote recycling and also support the ecology-friendly office supply producers,” Graudinyte says.

Renata Uckuronis, office manager of Eugesta, one of the largest Baltic wholesale trade, distribution and logistics companies, says that the company uses paper and envelopes only from recyclable paper. “In our daily activities we mail out over 200 letters, in various envelope shapes, daily,” the Eugesta office manager said.

Contradicting her, the manager of a transport company who did not want her name to be revealed cast a shadow on ecological office paper. “Although we are environmentally conscious, we buy only traditional office paper. We would not mind using ecological paper - we have tried it out - but it is grayer, often with tiny, though visible, cracks, dents or tiny recycling paper scraps in it. It is just not up to the standards we need,” a transport company office manager said.
She also paid attention to the price – a pack of ecological office paper costs 6-8 litas more than traditional paper, on average.

Aleksandras Cvetkovas, director of an ecological stationery store, says that the larger price is due to the larger transportation costs of ecological paper. “The traditional office paper is being brought into the country by trucks carrying 100 tons of paper each. Meanwhile, transportation of ecological office paper is counted by boxes and kilograms. Therefore, we have a price difference,” the entrepreneur noted. He says, nevertheless, that demand for eco-paper is slowly but steadily increasing.

Graudinyte also asserts that use of ecological office paper in the West is a lot more widespread than in Lithuania. “However, the ecological mentality is here as well,” she says.
Asked about other trends in the market segment, Tuminas also discerns a rising demand for ergonomic office products. “More and more company heads are becoming conscious about office accessories and facilities that create a comfortable workplace, increase productivity and, importantly, heed their employees’ health. One of the most sought after ergonomic products now is computer keyboards,” says Tuminas.

Ergonomic keyboards, he says, are usually bent and capable of adapting to the natural position of hands on a keyboard. “These kinds of computer keyboards are usually divided into two parts and turned according to the direction of palms and fingers. They, therefore, do not tire out your wrists,” the director explains.
Among other popular ergonomic office goods are movable stands for laptops, which allow regulating the height of the screen, thus, tire out eyes and body less,” Tuminas says.

Because many offices preferred quality office supplies this year, he says demand for simpler, cheaper and faster wearing-and-tearing office goods has decreased.
Over 2011’s first 9 months, Biuro pasaulis, he says, has expanded its supplier list and increased its product assortment. The office supplier has started offering a bigger variety of office paper and folders as well as some other office goods and facilities. “In addition, we have listed more goods on our Internet store. Internet sales have also increased,” Tuminas says.

The Biuro pasaulis director notes that, in previous years some clients would struggle to timely settle their bills or, in some cases, their debts had to be written off due to bankruptcy. “None of this happened in 2011. On the contrary: we saw our client list soar to over 4,600 as we had many new clients from new market segments. It is a sign that the general economic situation has been improving in the country,” Tuminas stressed to The Baltic Times.
However, he notes, with awareness for eco-goods rising, many Lithuanian companies do not yet pay any attention whether their office supplies are environmentally friendly or not. “For a big part of consumers, price and only price still remains the most important factor,” Tuminas stresses. “No Latvian and no Estonian haggles over the prices, as most Lithuanians do,” adds the director.

“As much as I have dealt with Latvian and, especially, Estonian customers, they have never appeared to be so thrifty and frugal as most Lithuanians. For some Lithuanian companies amassing seven-digit yearly turnovers, a 2 cent difference when buying a pack of office paper plays a crucial difference in making the choice,” regrets the Biuro pasaulis director.
He also admonishes that the neighbors, Estonian office suppliers especially, can boast of a larger list of steady customers. “In Lithuania, even large companies often move from one office supplier to the next in search for the best price,” Tuminas says.

Asked about the biggest competitor in the market, he points to Officeday, arguably the largest Baltic office supplier. “We focus mostly on business-to-business clients, i.e. those who run private businesses; Officeday caters mostly to state clients – state offices and enterprises. It always takes part in public tenders for the service and, as a rule, wins most of them,” Tuminas said.

Vilnius Officeday management did not return The Baltic Times calls or e-mails for this story.