Chris Stott, managing director of the Poole-based stationery company, became the owner of Pukka Pads in 2005 when the turnover was only £3 million. He is the majority shareholder in the company, which was founded in 1999. UK turnover for this financial year will exceed £15m but will increase to more than £35m when recent acquisitions are taken into account for 2014.
It was originally a Swindon-based company and Chris Stott loved the name. His first range comprised eight different pads, but it has grown to more than 400 products – Jotta pads, project books, Things to do Today pads, refills, a dyslexia pad, lever-arch files, leather portfolios, invoice, receipt and duplicate books, copier paper – Pukka does it all. The company has been operating from its Poole headquarters since 1999 and achieved significant overseas growth.
Early days – what were you involved with after school and in terms or pursuing an early career, before Pukka Pads?
I began working full time in the printing industry when I was only 15, but started work at the age of 13, washing and collecting glasses, sometimes doing 60 hours a week.
Was there a family business influence or entrepreneurial flair which inspired you?
Maybe. My father owned a DIY store then we moved to Bournemouth where he ran a hotel, so he was always self-employed, with a focus on customer service. My wife is from a large Irish family with a working background, so there is a strong family work ethic.
Can you tell me about the growth of the company and international expansion?
Business has grown internationally and we now supply products to many countries around the globe. Our UK infrastructure includes our Poole-based head office, sales office, marketing team and design studio, plus a central distribution centre located at Lutterworth. In recent years Pukka Pads has established its own paper pad production facility and strategic office in the Far East, a trading office in Hong Kong and a sales and distribution centre in Poland.
The business was further expanded in 2011, by the acquisition of four UK-based production plants. Firstly, Poole-based Business Form Company (formerly Rediset Business Forms), specialising in all types of NCR work, continuous and cut forms.
Cardinal was the second acquisition; based in Grimsby this factory specialised in duplicate and trip books, art pads and sketch books. The Poole-based company has now been moved to Cardinal to improve costs.
Yorkshire Envelopes was acquired in October 2013; we purchased the business and assets to meet our customer demands in envelopes and packaging, and potentially greeting cards.
And most recently, Concord Filing Products in December 2013 – we purchased the business and assets of the business, we have some initial challenges including the relocation of the London operation which is being consolidated into the main Liverpool manufacturing facility. This consolidation will give massive savings and efficiency improvements.
All are solid businesses for me to take forward. I enjoy putting energy back into a newly-acquired business, seeing it grow and where it can go.
A paperless office has been touted, but are we ever going to be without paper products?
Never. Technology has gone too far – in a way – but it’s reeling back in. Stationery is fashionable again and we have a diverse range of companies and products. They look good and people like to see them in the office and take them out and use them with their customers. Some work sectors may move to a paperless office, but not my team.
What’s behind the current success – you have obviously diversified in response to custom demand?
I have a great team around me, a strong brand and portfolio of products, great design coupled with diversification, such as the Pukka Fun range, and a commitment to excellent customer service. They are all important aspects of a successful business.
Who taught you the most important lesson in business – and what was it?
Well, there are two really that I stick with and it would definitely be my Dad who taught me never ask anybody to do something I would not be prepared to do myself; the other is that if a job’s worth doing then it’s worth doing properly. If you stick with these rules and enforce them throughout the business then everything should work.
Where are Pukka’s products going in the future? The envelope range is new, but have you considered sport scoring books, such as for cricket?
I suppose another thing to highlight in the entrepreneurial sector is that you should never give anything away … so watch this space.
The design team is important. How has that grown over the years?
The design team is basically the engine to the company and it has grown with the needs put upon us. The current team comprises four, with some new blood, and is busy generating fresh ideas. I really enjoy liaising with the creative team for product development.
Pukka Pads secured a £5.5m invoice finance facility from HSBC to support expansion plans after the acquisition of Concord Filing Products. What’s planned to drive growth with this new company?
The new funding package provides the business with a robust financial working capital platform. Pukka has made a series of strategic acquisitions during the past two years to broaden its product portfolio ahead of expansion in both the UK and overseas markets. The company has a sales and distribution facility in Poland to serve its European customer base. This is a strong business which has an excellent reputation; we are using the strength of that book to generate the finance required to help grow the business further. This was a strategically important acquisition as we look to expand in the UK and overseas. I have said that the Pukka Pads brand is a natural extension of what the company is – bold, vibrant, a representation of quality and innovation and addition of new brands.
Have you used a PR campaign to raise Pukka Pads’ profile?
We have used a PR company for local things, but basically nothing outside of Poole. We have recently developed in-house marketing, since the beginning of 2014, and the task is to update the website and make sure all our products and information match on all platforms. Customers can access the 2014-15 catalogue online.
Is word of mouth the best recommendation in your business?
If you have ever started your own business, you’ll be able to appreciate that Pukka Pads is much more to us than the place where we work. We have a sincere commitment to the brand and the creative thinking behind it; if you have truly inspiring and motivated people around you, you can do anything. Our brand’s personality shines through, especially from the finished product. It’s why we believe we have ’The Write Product for You’.
Do you have a favourite among the range? If so, which product?
The Project Book must be my favourite. I just wish I had patented it. Loads of places have copied it. Pukka Pads is putting the fun back into business. A lot of stationery is ordered by younger office staff or PAs, and we know that they like our range because it’s stylish and modern.
Do you have a business mantra?
Quality and customer service. Keep them at the heart of everything you do and they will keep customers coming back.
What do you do on a day off or enjoy as downtime hobbies?
I enjoy many sports, mainly golf and cycling, and would love to get back into windsurfing, which was always my favourite. Holidays are always active, so skiing would be my preference. When I leave the office I leave the working day behind and I don’t ring my staff at weekends or out of hours. I spend a lot of time travelling, especially at the moment with the latest acquisitions, therefore my family time is precious. Active sports are a great way to unwind but then again I’m quite competitive.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Getting through the past 10 years still being happily married with three children. It’s been a very busy decade and exciting time, building a brand and incredibly fast-growing company which is now a leading supplier in its market.
Do you have family who may follow in your footsteps and how have you managed the home/work balance?
My eldest daughter Rochelle is now working with me, in sales order processing. She’s doing a great job and certainly seems to be enjoying it at the moment. I do spend a lot of time away from home, but fortunately the children are less dependent on me being there. My wife Sandi does a great job.
You support the Junior Scratch Open golf tournament; are you a golfer? If so what is your handicap?
Yes, I am a keen golfer and the idea of doing a scratch golf competition was a great way to give something back to a game I have played since I was 10. My handicap currently is five.
Penmanship … do you use a fountain pen, or the nearest to hand, and do you have neat handwriting?
There’s alway paper to hand because of my business. I used a fountain pen years ago but mainly pick up one of the many I have hanging around in my office. I must confess my handwriting is not the best, however, if I had Pukka Pads when younger it might have been much better. If you’re going to write then enjoy writing in something which is functional and stylish.
Chris Stott: Pukka Pads