How One Buying Group Is Bringing Print, Promo and Office Supplies Together to Help Distributors Meet the Evolving Needs of Today’s Customer
Todd Mellon started his distributorship, Prime Business Solutions, in 2001, growing it so quickly that colleagues began asking him for help growing their own businesses. That led Mellon to launch The Ampersand Group, a buying group offering back-office support for independent distributors, in 2004. “We looked internally at our success, and we thought, ‘How can we help others grow their business like we were growing?’” Mellon said. The Ampersand Group, based in Akron, Ohio, would go on to add fulfillment and distribution services, sales tools, marketing resources and more, eventually expanding to 60 members and more than 1,000 vendors.
If Mellon had stopped there, no one would have blamed him. He had now launched a successful distributorship and a successful buying group. But as the 2010s drew to a close, he saw a massive opportunity. The promo industry was evolving, the best distributors expanding their offerings beyond promotional products as they looked to provide additional solutions for their customers and unlock new revenue. Buyer habits and expectations were changing. The Ampersand Group, with its buying power and large vendor network, was in prime position to capitalize on the shift—and to drive it forward.
So, in January 2020, Mellon and his team officially launched The Power of One Group. The idea was simple: Create a robust directory of vendors in print, promo and office supplies, giving distributor members easy access to all three segments. The online platform would provide additional tools and resources, such as a searchable database of vendors and products, making it easy for distributors to cross-sell into existing and prospect accounts across the three markets. This would allow members to better meet the needs of modern buyers.
“The reason why we combined the print, promotional products and office supplies into one industry was that we were seeing in our growth pattern that your typical buyer was responsible for purchasing each of these product categories,” said Mellon. “Many end-buyers in the industry would like to see more of a one-stop shop environment, as our buyers seem to be condensing departments and, therefore, looking for an easier avenue to do business.
”By mid-2020, The Power of One Group had expanded to more than 100 distributors. And, despite the pandemic—or, perhaps, because of it, as buyers looked for ways to get more out of suddenly reduced marketing budgets and staff—it was already making a difference for members. Mellon shared one example where a distributor with experience mostly in print landed a large order for human resources kits featuring various promotional products. “This was unfamiliar territory for our member, but we were able to work with them and help them secure this order for a new opportunity that resulted in a $400,000 order for our member,” he said.
Mellon shared another example where The Power of One Group’s resources helped a distributor win a complex RFQ and secure a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract for print and promotional items. The Power of One team reviewed usage, handling and manufacturing specifications for each of the customer’s print items to identify which were available from the group’s vendors, then looked at alternate papers, inks, manufacturing techniques and digital solutions that could reduce costs for the customer.
“At the same time, we analyzed the promotional products and apparel side of the business,” said Mellon. “By putting these items in our Power of One Group portal, we found alternative vendors and substitute items that saved the client additional money.
”Buying groups are nothing new. But The Power of One Group’s focus on the convergence of print, promo and office supplies—three once-distinct markets that are now effectively one—puts it on the leading edge of the industry’s movement toward seamless cross-selling for distributors and one-stop shopping for customers. The group has embraced technology, too, with its internal platform for members and access to The Ampersand Group’s extensive e-commerce capabilities for customers.
It’s a window to the future of print and promo, but it’s built upon a long history of industry connections. No matter what comes next for the industries, those will remain as important as ever. “With our trusted and valued vendors, we can offer better lead times and better pricing than normal,” said Mellon. “These relationships have been 35 years in the making.”