Perfect on Paper
Project Manager:Kane Weller
For more than 110 years, Antalis South Africa has diversified its offering and adhered to the requirements of the times to instil itself as the country’s - and indeed one of the world’s - most prominent merchanting companies.
As a wholly-owned subsidiary of the wider Group based in France, the expertise and knowledge that the Company has manifested over this century of operations has allowed it to remain flexible in the face of sector demands, and innovative in the face of enhanced digitisation.
Today’s Antalis comprises key components across equipment and software distribution, core print and office paper merchanting, packaging, an enhanced sign and display offering, as well as third party logistics. As such, both traditional and contemporary stages of the paper evolution are accounted for and the business’s Commercial Director, Nick Gillings is as confident as ever that paper still has a prominent place in the modern world.
“Paper itself is a broad term and it all depends on how you categorise it,” he opens. “In regards to printed news, magazines and books, of course they’ve been affected by digital media and Kindles etc. However, areas of paper and boards are growing in sectors like food and liquid packaging as companies move away from less sustainable plastic-based products.
“Some categories are declining and some are growing, so it’s all about applying the right strategy for each segment.”
For Antalis, the key to meeting this challenging array of requirements is through adopting a ‘you want it, we’ve got it’ approach to both the core products, and the peripheral equipment that makes up the Company’s overall portfolio.
Gillings continues: “We are very diverse in our offering and we differentiate ourselves by not necessarily being the cheapest, but by being the best and by putting an emphasis on quality, value-added selling.”
Sustainability across all products
With divisions dedicated to core print paper, office paper, sign and display, and packaging; the end result is an all-encompassing, turnkey portfolio complemented by its equipment and logistics offering on the border of both the print and sign and display departments.
Comprehension, variation and diversification are clearly evident as philosophies throughout the overall Group, but operational excellence is a constant driven from the top down. And much of this operational excellence derives from an unwavering commitment to sustainability.
“Antalis is a proudly sustainable, FSC certified Company,” Gillings assures. “We only source products that come from well managed sustainable sources and develop every product across every division in line with this commitment to not harming either the environment or any humans.”
An example of this ethos can be seen via the recent introduction of thermal paper utilisation to reduce the amount of harmful solvents and chemicals in its products, and while the whole industry is being encouraged to take these kinds of steps; none can quite profess to have the longevity and experience in this area like Antalis.
“We certainly believe that - in the world, and certainly in this country - we lead the way in terms of sustainability across all products in all our sectors,” Gillings emphasises. “Longevity breeds reputation in the market and we’ve formed an interesting blend over the years through the introduction of new income streams like the sign and display, and the packaging elements to complement the traditional print side, and of course the equipment.
“While paper is declining, it will never, ever disappear. A category of paper will reach its level and you have to take different approaches to the declining or growing categories, but the world will never be truly paperless.”
Extensive marketing network
As well as its six sites across the main South African cities, Antalis South Africa has also enjoyed a physical presence in Botswana for more than half a century; the two countries forming the perfect platform for export into the wider sub-Saharan African region as well.
To achieve logistical efficiency from manufacture to end consumer - via Antalis and its immediate customers in the middle - continuous collaboration and honed supply chain management is therefore imperative.
“What we do have is a very extensive marketing department which is one of our central functions,” Gillings explains. “We don’t just sell to the printing environment because they are not the end user. It’s just as important that we also communicate with the end users in terms of the options out there and to ensure they are choosing the most sustainable or most responsible option.
“Are they even aware of these options and the right option for the planet in the future? Yes we sell our product to people who convert it on in actuality, but we still heavily communicate with the end users as well through the advertising and design industries and through an extensive marketing network; to make sure the right product message reaches them.”
Subsequently a touch point for consultancy as well as simply a merchant in this regard, Antalis’ unrivalled knowledge of specifications and sustainability places it in an advantageous position; compounded by the aforementioned footprint that the Company can also boast.
“From a structure point of view, we are located in six of the big cities in South Africa, all containing sales offices and warehouses of variant sizes depending on the size of the city,” Gillings says. “Overseeing all of them is our head office which houses our dedicated marketing and purchasing departments who work tirelessly to source sustainably and correctly before filtering that down to sales.
“From there, we have some very important key suppliers across the full range of products we do, embracing a mix of loyal, longstanding - as well as new and exciting - partners.”
An interesting blend of people and skills
The same bridging of old and new is evident amongst Antalis’ workforce too, running parallel with the mix of traditional and contemporary products that each team is aiming to market, sell, distribute or maintain.
Across the board, health & safety inevitably remains paramount and the Company has the relevant certifications in place to emphasise this; and this all stems from the extensive investment placed across training and development of staff each year.
“It’s literally one of our biggest expenses and we spend well over a million rand on training each year,” Gillings states. “This goes across all support structures that we have in place for sales, marketing, purchasing, HR and finance; as well as the big technical team that we have to service the equipment and software sold into the industry.”
For the latter function, employees are also sent overseas to the sites of its OEMs to keep ahead of the industry curve and to keep technical aspects up to date with global trends. When throwing retention strategies such as competitive salaries and individual enrichment into the overall mix, Antalis ensures that it is every bit an employer of choice as it is a merchant of choice.
“It’s an interesting blend of people and skills that is trained in-house and promoted internally where possible, to align itself to the general sustainability we uphold at Antalis,” Gillings concludes. “This stands us in good stead for the future where I’d like to see the packaging side of our business expand, the sign and display segment much bigger than it is now, and even the introduction of a new business sector in order to evolve the Company.
“A recent move out of our old head office building and into a developed and increased distribution centre in Johannesburg - as well as investments into a new demo centre to showcase all of our equipment - epitomises this excitement that we have moving forward and the willingness to once again develop with the times.”