Celebrations are in order at Pukka Pads and are well underway in the year the British vendor marks its 25th anniversary. And it’s come a long way since starting in a small production facility and warehouse in the south of the UK near Poole in Dorset, producing just three core designs of a simple notebook. These, incidentally, are still among the company’s top sellers today, with the flagship A4 Metallic Jotta selling around two million copies worldwide.
The Pukka Pads team now comprises approximately 80 staff, working – a far cry from its humble beginnings – in a wide range of locations. Interestingly, at a time of perennial digitisation talk and woes of secular declines of core OP, Pukka Pads had its biggest ever sales increase in 2021, growing revenues by 15% to £22.7 million ($29.1 million).
There have been many milestones along the way. When the firm outgrew its premises in Dorset, part of the production was outsourced to Asia, for example – that was in 2001. At the same time, the portfolio was expanded to include other filing and stationery items.
In 2008, Pukka Pads opened a new warehouse and distribution centre (DC) in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, meaning it now had a very central location in England. From there, it could easily service all its UK and European customers.
The vendor’s international expansion continued in 2010 with the creation of Pukka Sourcing in Hong Kong – an office that in recent years moved to Ningbo, China.
As E-commerce and Marketing Director Jessica Stott – one of the two daughters of company founder and CEO Chris Stott – says, this sourcing facility allowed Pukka Pads to dive much deeper into stationery and other categories such as indexes and dividers, sticky notes and packaging.
Growth through acquisitions
Further additions to the range came with acquisitions. Envelopes became part of the portfolio as a result of buying Yorkshire Envelopes while still more items were added through the purchase of Concord Filing. Aside from a bigger assortment, these purchases also gave Pukka Pads two further production sites in the UK. They were ultimately consolidated under one roof in Bingley, Yorkshire, where a considerable amount of products are still made now.
In 2019, Pukka Pads ventured into the US, buying planner brand Carpe Diem Planners, in the process adding a wide variety of planners and organisational items to the range. Says Stott: “The acquisition allowed Carpe Diem items to be sold in the UK from our DCs here, while Pukka Pads products could be sold and distributed in the US via our newly set up offices and warehousing facilities in Madison, Wisconsin.”
The latest expansion was announced in November 2022 when the vendor bought another UK business, Yorkshire-based party supplies company Party Centric, now known as Pukka Party. This is somewhat of a departure from its core stationery range, involving a 400-SKU catalogue that comprises everything from streamers and balloons to party hats and tableware.
We go wherever our customers can best be reached and we plan to grow each and every route to market
Evolving customer base
Pukka Pads’ target audience has also changed over the years, beginning with young working professionals and businesses supplied through the B2B channel, then increasingly incorporating the student population served through large grocery and retail chains.
Today, the vendor’s route to market is very much an omnichannel approach. This is partly a result of its vastly expanded product portfolio and customer demographic, but also due to the pandemic which put such heightened emphasis on online platforms.
Chris Stott explains: “Our main route to market today is through the mass market grocers as well as the wholesalers that supply independent stores, schools, dealers, etc. But we’ve also seen a big sales increase coming from online platforms.
“We go wherever our customers can best be reached and we plan to grow each and every route to market as much as possible.”
Local production has remained important, with many products, including ring binders, lever arch files, box files and bubble wrap still being made at the vendor’s Bingley facility. Chris Stott adds: “It allows us to remain extremely competitive compared to importing. There is a huge amount of flexibility in local manufacturing, with quick turnaround times for bespoke work.
“We can offer our customers a large selection of sizes, colours and designs as well as much lower minimum order quantities. Other vendors may not be able to do this.”
Sustainability is a topic close to the heart of the Pukka Pads teams and UK production certainly has benefits in that regard. All local waste is recycled and plastic waste in particular is collected and put towards the vendor’s bubble wrap production. Because Pukka Pads manufactures to order, this minimises waste and excess stock on a large scale while a quality control team on-site can iron out any issues as and when they occur.
In an attempt to reduce its carbon footprint, plans are underway to install solar panels at both its UK sites, a project that is expected to be complete by the end of 2023. There are plenty more initiatives underway, such as having 90% of its timber-based product offering FSC-accredited by 2024 while, by June 2024, all recycled cartons used in its Asian imports will be FSC-accredited.
Indeed, having a dedicated Pukka Pads sourcing team in Asia is a bonus, as Jessica Stott points out: “Our team there allows us to source a vast variety of eco materials successfully. And they can independently manage the switch of materials into our core offering without input from the UK – and on a much quicker timescale. Through them, we’ve been introduced to concepts we never thought possible and these are constantly driving our fight for sustainability forward.”
So where now for Pukka Pads? Succession is often an issue in our industry, but this isn’t a concern for Pukka Pads, given that Chris Stott’s daughters – Jessica and Rochelle – are very involved in the business. “I have no plans to retire anytime soon. The industry is ever-changing and developing, it’s really starting to get exciting and I can’t wait to see what else we can do. I love working with my daughters and I won’t give that up too easily!’
Expanding further on the future, he adds that more diversification is firmly on the cards, with international expansion and sustainability at the forefront of those plans. “I am lucky to have a very strong team of creative and bright individuals around me – some of them have been with the company for over 20 years.
“I have no doubt the next 25 years will be even more successful than the last and we can’t wait to share our journey.”
Time to celebrate
Pukka Pads kicked off its 25th anniversary celebrations at the London Stationery Show in May with a special event. It also coincided with launching Pukka Party to the trade.
Another big occasion will be the company’s open week later this year, to be held from 21-23 November. At this event, customers and business partners will have the opportunity to see all of the vendor’s products in one place, celebrate in a relaxed setting, network and meet the Pukka Pads team.