In the Hot Seat – Stephen Gibson

Stephen Gibson has helped Mid Ocean develop into a serious player in European merchandise.

Stephen Gibson’s career

Having worked for Philips Lighting, Gibson crossed paths with Mid Ocean in 2002 as senior supply chain consultant for KPMG, shortly after the company acquired ITD in Spain and Impex in Germany.Having facilitated integration of back-end wholesale activities, he was asked to join the board of directors and management shareholding of the group in 2004.

In the role of supply chain and ICT director, he was the initiator of the establishment of the warehouse and decoration operation in Poland and a new ecommerce platform. Gibson was responsible for the reorganisation of the company in 2013, eventually leading to a two-phased management buy-out that was completed in 2016.

Today, he is CEO of Mid Ocean and the majority shareholder of Mid Ocean Group alongside Rutger de Planque, the former CEO PF Concept.

Mid Ocean brands, one of the leading European merchandise wholesalers, takes compliance very seriously, says CEO, Stephen Gibson. End user buyers are ever more demanding of what they want, when they want it, and, at times, what price they want to pay for it.They are also much more involved in the selection of product, particularly among the larger brands.

However, Gibson admits that talking compliance can sometimes be risky too – we don’t want to scare them away from buying merchandise, but we do want them better informed.

“We make every effort to promote certain legal requirements that apply to products in our catalogue so that distributors can convey that message to their customers,” he says. “End users are taking more notice of corporate social responsibility, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but in some cases it’s commercially beneficial too. Transparency though the supply chain is something we shouldn’t shy away from, but it still comes down to trust. Our European factory is regularly audited by our major customers and often with their end users’ customers too. Compliancy is key.”

Q. What trends are you noticing?

A. Our market can have its fair share of gimmicks, like electronic bikes and fidget spinners, and they are great for creating a pull factor but don’t tend to last too long. Of course, there has been a growth in eco-friendly products. Functional evergreen products in the low to mid-price range are growing the fastest. We’ve noticed some of those buyers want specific selections, for example in the drinks industry.

Q. Tell us about your factory visits

A. We’ve carefully selected customers to come over to see our printing facility in Poland. We have the teams not just visit the facility and watch the process but get involved too. This hands-on approach certainly improves awareness and a better understanding of the entire print process. We believe in creating a platform of learning that suppliers should embrace and work through the distributor. 

Q. What are the threats to the industry?

A. I am honestly very upbeat about our industry. I think there will be more consolidation of some of the mid-sized distributors, and I do feel that distributors and end users will be far more selective about who they work with. Some of the distributors are using review websites to boost their rankings, particularly the internet providers. I believe the market is eventually most benefitted by transparency and critical evaluation of performance throughout the value chain.

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