The BOSS Federation is the trade association which serves the UK office supplies and services industry by providing a range of initiatives, cost saving benefits and services, to enhance the business performance of its members.

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A brief history of BOSS from 1905 to the present

"It is no travesty of the truth to say that thousands of retail stationers were faced with the position that the only reward which they received from the investment of their capital and their arduous work from early morning until the late hours of the evening was a net profit which but equalled the wage of a common labourer"

So proclaimed the author of an article in the Silver Jubilee edition of The British Stationer in 1930, describing the parlous state that the stationer had endured at the start of the twentieth century; the cause of all this anguish was price cutting and the industry felt it had to deal with the problem.

Chemists had faced the same difficulties and had formed a trade association. Their spokesman, a Mr Glyn Jones, met with a group of stationers led by Mr J Clayton Mather, and on 28 November 1904, described the workings of CPATA, the Chemists Proprietary Articles Trade Association.

The stationers approved and on 23 January 1904, Mr Mather proposed a resolution 'that it is desirable that a Proprietary Trade Association be formed on the lines of the Chemists' Association'.

On 10 May 1905, the Stationers Proprietary Articles Trade Association was formed with the prime stated objective of fighting price cutting and establishing a stable, orderly market. A published list of proprietary products and their prices became sacrosanct and if anyone cut prices or supplied known price cutters, they were put on a stop list and supplies were cut off.

In today's climate of 'hammering down prices' and 'never knowingly undersold' the notion of Resale Price Maintenance (RPM) seems extraordinary but back in those early days - and indeed up until the 1960s - the SPATA pricing rules had full legal backing.

Financial Pressures

Financial pressures seem to have been ever-present. After five years, SPATA had £6 2s. 1d. to its name (approximately £400 at today's purchasing power) and owed £30 (approximately £2000) to its guarantors.  In 1914, one of the Council members, Mr A Waterson, records that a small deficit for the year was cleared by passing round the hat.

'Unqualified success'

In 1912, SPATA proclaimed that 'owing to its unqualified success (in protecting selling prices), it had been found necessary to change its title so as to cover its many and varied activities'. Thus SPATA became the Stationers' Association, later adding the words of 'Great Britain and Ireland' to reflect the widening geographic spread of its membership.

Broader remit

While price maintenance continued to be the main pillar of the Associations remit, there were other issues that threatened its members on which formal campaigning action was undertaken. These included fighting:

  • the Post Office over its scheme to sell pre-stamped postcards for the price of the stamp (in effect, free postcards);
  • The Treasury over plans to introduce new sizes of banknotes (making members' stocks of wallets and notecases obsolete);
  • The Postmaster-General again over envelope size restrictions; and even
  • The Navy and Army Canteens Board (later the NAAFI) who had announced plans to open subsidised shops around the country.

Today the BOSS Federation still maintains the crucial role of battling on behalf of members of legislative and regulatory impositions, with lobbying government on national and international issues that threaten to impact the office products iOffice products ndustry in the UK.

In the 1920s, the Stationers Association started to widen the services offered to members. An Information Bureau, an Employment Bureau, a Free Legal Service and the Education Service were introduced. In 1925 the Stationers' Association Benevolent Fund was inaugurated and was well supported, enabling the administrators to begin their valuable work of helping needy colleagues, past and present.

An annual exhibition

In the post WW2-era, the Stationers Association found a valuable source of income in the form of an annual exhibition. It flourished for many years in venues up and down the country but hit a brick wall in 1992 when a bullish decision to extend the amount of space at Olympia was followed by the onset of a severe national recession, causing a dramatic decline in exhibitor numbers and space requirements.

BOSS faced heavy losses and called upon the expertise of Bill Armstrong, Hugh Sear and Steve Bellingham to rescue the Federation and conduct a complete overhaul of its structure. This resulted in the setting up of the Manufacturers, Wholesaler and Retailer/Dealer Management Boards, nearly halving BOSS staff numbers which took them  a step back from the financial brink.

BOSS retained a foothold in exhibitions with a reduced Statindex held at the NEC until 1997 and a final show, the Total Office Products Show, back in London in 1998 and 1999. For the last few years BOSS has had a presence at a number of the Dealer Group conferences and exhibitions; the Spicers SOS show and since 2008 the annual SOPX.


The next financial bombshell was potential rather than actual. As the Federation's activity increasingly developed into areas linked to IT and data communications, it became vulnerable to crippling legal action in the event of any commercial disaster at a member's site that could be attributed to a BOSS endorsed system or service. As things were structured at the time, every BOSS member could be liable for resultant costs and damages, so the decision was made to re-establish the Federation as a company limited by guarantee. Every member, elected officer and senior staff members was thereby released from a potentially devastating financial obligation.


For many years BOSS was synonymous with its central London office at 6 Wimpole Street. Despite the prestige of the address and the reassuring aura of oak-panelled solemnity, it was far from ideal as a modern working environment and the decision was made to relocate; and after a forced six-month temporary residence at Stabilo's offices in Slough, the Federation moved into 12 Corporation Street, in High Wycombe.

In July 2007, the Federation signed an association management contract with the British Printing Industries Federation (BOSS Federation) and following some staff changes it was decided that it made more sense for the remaining staff to relocate back to London to the BOSS Federation's central office in Farringdon. Since January 2017 - BOSS has been located at St Bride Foundation.

Subscriptions and Structure

A number of concerns about subscription levels for manufacturing members were resolved through constructive discussions. The outcome was the current transparent structure in which every member, irrespective of business type, pays according to its turnover in office products.

The different perspectives of the Manufacturers on the one hand and the Resellers and Distributors on the other are fully aired through their two Forums and the different priorities of BOSS members are addressed at joint meetings, allowing potential areas of conflict to be headed off at an early stage. The Executive BOSS Board has representation from the two major Wholesalers, Manufacturers and Resellers and Distributors and meets 4 times a year to agree the strategy for BOSS in today's ever changing world.


A significant development in BOSS' recent history has been the increasing emphasis on industry standards. In fact the Federation has been so successful with several standards that many within the industry do not know business operations without it - the standards in question are: Packs & Pers and the Industry Standard Product Classification.

Since July 2007, following the partnership with the BOSS Federation, the Federation is able to offer a much wider range of benefits and services to members, including:

  • HR
  • Health & Safety
  • Environment
  • Legal (Commercial and Employment Law)
  • Business Consultancy services
  • Business Process Improvement Advice

The Future

Over 100 years ago, SPATA was formed with a clearly defined objective of protecting and policing RPM. Those particular worries are long gone but BOSS today continues to represent all businesses along the distribution chain in the office products industry.

By 'informing, enabling and improving' BOSS is still pursuing the original SPATA mission - to bring commercial advantage to all its members.

(Source: The Industry Champion - the evolution of the BOSS Federation 1905 - 2005)

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