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Onwards and Upwards

BPMA chairman Angela Wagstaff passes the baton to Haydn Willetts this month. Product Media spoke to them both

The highs and lows of chairman Angela

After three years as chair of the BPMA, Angela Wagstaff is handing over the reins to Haydn Willetts following her time in charge that she describes as having its many highs and lows.

One of the ‘highs’ was being introduced to a packed Merchandise World gala dinner by charismatic 6 foot 10 former rugby international Martin Bayfield. However, one of the lows was definitely the previous awards ceremony which didn’t go quite as well.
“I was quite nervous and bit down on my tooth just as I got on stage, shattering my tooth and leaving me with a mouthful of fragments and the inability to remember anything,” she laughs.
It’s possibly one of the few times she’s been lost for words as chair after joining the BPMA board intent on making a difference and giving back time to an industry that has supported Angela and her business Allwag Promotions over the years.
“If you want to change things, then you have to get involved, so I joined the board and fairly quickly,be it by default, volunteered to be vice chair because nobody could step into the breach,” she says.
Her passion was, and remains, education and training, and she helped set up the BPMA education programme. She was also heavily involved in setting up the first BPMA show at Silverstone, which would eventually become Merchandise World when the association teamed up with Sourcing City.
“It proved a real launchpad to bring the industry together,” she said. “The Board wanted to put on a show for its members by its members but we didn’t realise just how much work goes into it.”
That was solved by the joint venture with Sourcing City, which has created the industry’s main meeting place, and one that came back in its September slot this summer after an 18-month enforced absence.
The pandemic has been the biggest challenge the industry has faced over that time, which coincided with bringing CEO Carey Trevill on board in the early part of last year.
“We needed to reshape what we were doing as a trade association and Carey’s experience with other trade bodies, and her extensive advertising background mean that she was the perfect candidate,” says Angela.
They only managed one strategy meeting that wasn’t COVID-related before it became apparent that the areas that Angela had prioritised for her chairmanship, such as sustainability, the next generation, end user engagement and research were going to suffer.
Angela describes her CEO as “an absolute star” in how she helped steer the association through the pandemic, keeping the association on track and helming weekly webinars to keep the embattled sector up to date atatime when many were both uncertain and unaware of legislative changes and the impact of COVID.
“During the pandemic, the BPMA showed how strong we are as a trade association and as an industry. It wasn’t the 18 months that I’d planned certainly,” she says. “I do think we earned our stripes and provided a supportive service to our members. We engaged with far more people than we’ve ever engaged with and our reach was far greater.”
A big disrupter has been Brexit, although it has almost been overshadowed by the pandemic as a challenge, Angela says. However, in the longer term it will have a bigger impact on the economy and the industry.
As it was, Brexit and the pandemic squeezed some of the initiatives that she thinks the industry has to address, such as making room for new blood. She was conscious that the industry risked ageing if it didn’t appeal and engage with younger people.
The result was Next Gen, a group that brought together younger voices with the idea that they could be mentored as they found their feet in the industry and be represented on the Board. Because of the past year that hasn’t quite happened but it remains something she thinks is important.
Sustainability is also a key area that Wagstaff has been passionate about and one that she will continue to focus on as she steps down as chair into the President’s role. While many suppliers are progressive, she says there is still a huge mountain to climb to rid the industry of its reputation for throwaway products, mainly by educating its buyers throughout the supply chain.
As Angela reflects on the many highs and lows, she says: “I’ve been privileged to work with a fantastic Board and have enjoyed the last three years despite the challenges faced. I look forward to supporting Haydn and wish him every success.”

Communication and Education

Haydn Willetts, the regional director of Midocean for UK and Ireland steps up to the chair of the BPMA at what he calls “a really pivotal moment for our industry”.
“With all the complexity of post Brexit delivery, compliancy transparency in the marketplace, supply chain challenges regarding courier delivery accuracy along with stock and raw material availability and pricing combined with heavy increases in demand as a result of the bounce back we are witnessing, the months ahead have the potential to offer a bumpy ride for all involved in the supply chain,” he says.

Compliance and sustainability are huge issues for suppliers. The DNA of a product must be demonstrated as meeting the required criteria. This translates to continual improvement of working conditions not only in the UK and EU production sites but with more challenging global supply partners.
“The final customer will insist on this type of conformity of product and people compliance. The ongoing challenge of carbon footprint, sustainability and the eco angle of product supply is going to become ever more important,” he says.
Many suppliers, including Midocean, re working to be more transparent with testing reports for both product and suppliers, he says. “End customers are demanding instant gratification to their requests.
Companies who do not embrace this requirement along with information on product stock availability, print capability, and performance potentially could leave themselves vulnerable in the supply chain to certain customers.”
The BPMA can help explain sustainability and what that really means, as well as educating staff of both suppliers and distributors. The relaunched education programme will ensure that new blood coming into the trade has a high level of professionalism.
After a tough 18 months for everybody in the business, Willetts is positive about the future. “This year has been really strong with order books coming back in a really dramatic fashion and talking to industry colleagues on both the supplier and distributor sides of the fence, this seems to be the case for large chunks of the trade.”
The challenge for many is to ramp back up, both in terms of staff and stock. Product availability changes rapidly from quotation to the placing of an order. It means communication is more important than ever to ensure that customers are aware about dynamic changes in the order cycle.
Change is also coming as furlough and government support comes to an end. It’s something of an unknown he admits but says the industry should continue to drive home the value in the marketing mix of promotional merchandise.
“The BPMA will continue to educate and reinforce the importance that merchandise should and can play in a company’s engagement to be a more important part of the overall marketing mix rather than a last-minute consideration.”
Again, it comes back to education, he says. Often a distributor is reliant on a junior member of staff within the end customer relaying a complex message on issues like compliance and sustainability to their boss.
When it comes to his approach to the chairmanship, Willets says he hopes to carry on where his predecessor left off, providing an element of stability in a period of great change.
He hopes to be inclusive and get more of the industry involved and to garner further participation from both suppliers and distributors alike. For companies to recognise and take advantage of the added value in what the association does and focus on a partnership approach to help the industry win business as a whole. Relations between suppliers and distributors will be a focus.
“There have always been far too many assumptions on both sides and a lack of understanding. So, the communication needs to be sharp, accurate, informative, clear and concise, with the ultimate aim that the end customer experiences a smooth, professional and fully compliant service.”
Trusting and utilising the information on suppliers’ websites will help, he says, giving instant information that can be provided by the distributor to the final client. “People need to trust this information so that they can respond to the end user’s request far more quickly and effectively.”
Willetts says that one thing that has come out of the past 18 months is that players in the industry should respect each other. “We should all try to play nicely with each other. There’s lots of pressure on all sides of the supply chain and everybody wants everything immediately. We all strive to do our best but with the sheer volume of transactions that are taking place at present, issues can arise. Talk to each other more to understand situations fully. Everybody has the same end goal to put as much merchandise out in front of people as we can.”  

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