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In the Hot Seat – Ralf Oster

Q. How long have you been in the promotional products industry and where have you worked?

A. I have been working in the promotional products industry for around 15 years now. Previous to my 10 years at companies who specialise in this market, including PF Concept, I was at Newell where we had a B2B promotion division for our writing instrument brands (Parker, Waterman, PaperMate, Rotring).

Q. PF recently acquired top UK supplier SPS. Do you have further plans to grow your European network?

A. Acquisitions and mergers are, and always have been, part of our growth strategy. So we will certainly continue to pursue such opportunities, taking into account how appropriate they are to complementing our strategy in terms of geography, structure and categories. SPS was a perfect example of all these aspects being favourable.

Q. How important is product sustainability? Some companies see this as essential, while others seem to be less bothered.

A. Sustainability is in our company DNA, so its importance is not something we even question. For more than 10 years, we have been employing internal experts to ensure we are optimally set up for sustainable and compliant operations. We are continually developing our structures and strategies in this regard. In addition, we work closely with the various relevant certification and audit agencies on the ground in the countries where our products are manufactured. Even though the issue of sustainability is not yet a decisive factor for all our customers, we are optimally prepared and consider it our responsibility as market leader to set standards for the industry.

Q. What product and branding trends do you see emerging?

A. Because we work with such a wide variety of product categories, this is not an easy question to answer. We are now primarily looking towards retail trends to guide us, increasingly offering products which could sit perfectly comfortably in mainstream retail stores. Having said this, I do see a strong focus on the value segment for all categories. And gifting, design, health, sports and above all, drinkware and audio, are showing particularly strong growth figures.

Q. Amazon and Vistaprint are unnerving some distributors. How do you think these disrupters will impact our market?

A. Amazon and Vistaprint are actually just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot more disrupters out there besides these two. However, I feel pretty calm about them entering our space. When Amazon decides to go into a market, they do so in a very consistent way. You have to be able to handle this. For me, it’s a case of figuring out what new opportunities such disrupters can bring to our business, rather than seeing them as a threat.

Q. PF Concept is one of the EPMO (European Product Media Organisation) member, which is behind the first substantial European research project. Why is this so important for our industry?

A. I much prefer to be able to make strategic or investment decisions based on facts about the different markets and categories. Without professional transparency or fact-based overviews we can only speculate and make assumptions, which is something we have definitely been doing for too long. The reliable facts and information this project provides means we can also help our customers to make better informed decisions about where to seek business.

Q. How do you see the distributor model changing over the next five years?

A. I don’t actually see the distributor model changing in the next five years. But I do expect to see some additional new players or consolidated bigger ones in the market, as well as online players taking on a bigger role. Digitalisation will have a significant impact on sales, order processes, efficiency and customer expectations. But the business model as such will not dramatically change or disappear. Our thousands of distributor customers are our sales team in the market who reach and serve the eventual end-user customers, and we will continue to support them.

Ralf Oster CEO, PF Concept

  • Ralf was named CEO of PF Concept in October 2012
  • Previously served as vice president and general manager of EMEA Sanford Brands at Newell Rubbermaid from 2004 to 2007 and business manager of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe of Avery Dennison Zweckform Office Products
  • Ralf received a Diplom Betriebswirt FH with focus on international marketing, controlling and management science fromFHWorms

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