The Pen Shop has a big enough buying clout from its mammoth UK retail business to manage a profitable corporate division. And times are better than ever — plus the company has recently celebrated its sixtieth birthday.
OPI+ speaks exclusively to Colin McClymont, who came in as managing director of The Pen Shop 19 years ago as the first outsider in the family’s history. In this milestone year for the company, he looks back at his success and details why his corporate division is so strong and will only get stronger…
OPI+: Congratulations on The Pen Shop’s recent sixtieth birthday. How does it feel to have reached such an impressive milestone and still be so successful?
Colin McClymont (CM): It is a very exciting time for the company and I. We’re delighted. I just had a letter this morning from a former employee who is our oldest surviving pensioner. She’s 96. As part of The Pen Shop’s sixtieth birthday celebrations, we sent all of our employees, shareholders, family members and retired personnel a solid silver commemorative pen.
The lady who wrote to me told me that she joined the company when she was 14 years old in the 1920s and she worked for the company for most of her adult life and saw the opening of the first Pen Shop in 1946. That would have been an exciting era to have lived through. She said how proud the founder Edward Allen would have been to see The Pen Shop rolled out from Glasgow down to London and now in airports.
OPI+: You’re saying it’s an exciting time in the company’s development at present. Why is that?
CM: We’re continuing to expand and we’re continuing our development on several fronts. We are developing our standalone strategy — we try and open at least one if not two standalone shops per year and we now have 25 in the UK.
We want to continue with our concession strategy — we do a lot with Debenhams and we want to expand our concession with the chain. We’re just sorting out plans for this Christmas.
OPI+: What percentage of your market/sales comes from office products? How is your corporate side doing?
CM: We have a corporate division that supplies companies with products that you wouldn’t find in the High Street shops. If you wanted to buy 5,000 pens and your budget was 25p each, we could supply you even though we would not have that product on sale in our shops.
The corporate side is going well. We’re running 23 per cent up on last year on corporate like-for-like.
And we do it all here at head office. We have direct links to all our own suppliers — we don’t have any middlemen on our corporate side at all. And we go straight to the main companies, because we clearly have more than enough buying clout from the key suppliers. We’re one of the biggest pen retailers in the UK, so for many of our suppliers we represent them as their biggest customer.
OPI+: You talked about expanding all divisions. How will this affect the corporate business?
CM: We’ve had the corporate business for 12 years and apart from a dip close to September 11, when everyone’s corporate business went down, it’s steadily grown each year. Our web business — with more and more business done via the web — is growing at double-digit rates every year. Corporate is continuing to do well.
But while the corporate side is very important, it is still a small part of our business. The Pen Shop will continue to expand, but I haven’t agreed to all the strategy yet, and there will be more announcements on this soon.
OPI+: Where do you visualise the corporate side to be in five to ten years’ time?
CM: It’s grown in double digits for the last few years. We continue to invest in the corporate business and have a completely separate brochure for it. And with the growth of the internet, we expect to see it grow at that rate for the next five, six or seven years.
OPI+: Are you looking at the rest of Europe on the corporate side?
CM: We supply some European customers already and we supply things into Switzerland for banks. We also supply some of the international banks that ship back to their motherland.
OPI+: What do you expect to be your biggest challenges over the next few years on the corporate side?
CM: As long as companies feel that they are able to reward their customers and staff, with incentives of various descriptions, corporate will thrive. The business suffered around the time of September 11, because companies said they had to make cuts in their corporate budgets — and even those that didn’t need to cut them used this as an excuse.
That’s why a lot of us have made sure that we build up regular customers. We’re getting regular orders from the same company on a monthly basis rather than one-off orders that you might get once and then never again.