Having headed up Paperchase for the last 22 years – and a senior executive of WHSmith prior to that, Timothy Melgund, now deputy chairman of the UK’s well-loved design-led specialist, has earned his ‘greeting card spurs’ and will impart some of his industry insights to delegates on Day 2 of The Ladder Club seminar (to take place on Wednesday 7 November, at Westcliff on Sea).
Paperchase is now part way through the retailer’s 50th anniversary celebrations. When art school students Judith Cash and Eddie Pond opened the very first Paperchase store in 1968 unicorns had been invented, but were not emblazoned on sequined journals. Greeting cards were around in the late 60s, but nothing like the 3,000 different designs (not to mention the additional 1,000 postcard options) that tantalise every aesthetic taste and cover every occasion imaginable on the racks at Paperchase’s Tottenham Court Road store.
It has grown to be a retailing ‘bestie’ to everyone who loves cards and stationery. Its stores differ in size, shape and even feel, it’s product range constantly evolving to reflect the trends both in design and society in a fun confident way, and it has nurtured its relationships with customers, bringing them closer into the ‘tribe’ through elements such as its Treat Me cards, curated emailers and events instore.
“It is quite something to think that Paperchase has been selling stationery to three generations – and we want it to carry on doing that for many generations to come,” Timothy Melgund told PG Buzz poignantly. The retailer’s anniversary is a marker in the sand for Timothy personally, having relinquished the position of ceo to Duncan Gibson a few months ago, himself taking the deputy chairman’s position.
It is now 22 years since Timothy joined forces with the former Boots buyer Robert Warden and staged a venture capital-backed management buyout of Paperchase from former owners WHSmith (for whom Timothy previously worked). It was seen as a big deal at the time, but Paperchase only had nine stores and was viewed very much as a niche player its stores expected to be confined to major conurbations, which had a large population of affluent arty types.
Now look, over 140 standalone stores all over the UK, trading from high streets to train stations, concessions in other stores (inclsuing Selfridges, Next and Fenwick), a growing online presence (on ASOS, Amazon as well as on its own ecommerce site). Its recent tie-up with Norwegian book chain, Norli adds to Paperchase’s overseas trading activities, which include a franchised business in the Middle East as well as concessions in many other leading retailing names, such as Galeries Lafayette in France, Karstadt in Germany and Hudson’s Bay in Canada among others.
Having sat in the ‘big funky chair’ at Paperchase for almost half of the retail brand’s life (through a couple of changes of venture capital backers as well as a period when it was owned by the US Borders book chain), Timothy has plenty to write in the designer journals the retailer produces, on the changes and challenges it has faced over the years and will share some of these to the attendees at The Ladder Club Day 2 seminar (aimed at publishers who are up and running) that will take place on November 7.
As to the biggest changes, Timothy’s natural default is to product. “The British greeting card industry has become ever more creative, which is great as the consumer’s expectations have risen too. Being able to source from the wonderfully diverse and talented publishers out there as well as develop our own brand products that are tailored to our customers’ tastes has served us well. But it is not getting easier!” he admits.
Timothy says that the quickening pace of trends coming in and out of fashion has put increasing pressures on Paperchase. “We have had to become quicker to respond to trends, be more inventive with how we communicate with our customers and stay ahead of the competition,” he sums up.
He sees Paperchase’s competition as a pretty wide field: “It’s everyone and no one,” says Timothy. “The consumer has so much choice of where and how to shop, hence the reason that we have concessions within other retailers, online, in high streets, train stations and retail parks.”
Contrary to what one might expect, Timothy is full of praise for Card Factory, on a holistic level seeing the value retailer as having helped to safeguard the sending of cards.
“You cannot deny the huge volumes of cards that Card Factory sells, which has helped to ensure youngsters recognise the importance of sending cards, and so they too will hopefully adopt the card sending habit,” he says, citing the sheer number of Card Factory stores increasing cards’ visibility and its value offer means that cost has not been an obstacle for the consumer to buy cards.
They say that the darkest hour is the one before dawn, when asked whether the troubles at retail will start to improve, Timothy draws on his many years of experience: “Are we at the bottom? I am not sure, it is difficult to tell. The retail businesses that have failed are those which have either over borrowed or made silly mistakes. We are not perfect, but we know our customers, feel fortunate that we are selling products that the public has a real affinity for and we are focused on delivering the best that we can – both now in our 50th year and in the future.”
The bookings are open for both one day Ladder Club seminars. The Day One seminar (to take place on Tuesday 6 November ) will be dedicated to would-be or fledgling card companies.
The Day Two seminar on Wednesday 7 November (at which Timothy Melgund will join the speakers) is aimed at publishers who have attended a Day One Ladder Club seminar before. It is for publishers who have been trading for a little while, have made their trade show debuts and want to know more about growing their business through better economies of scale, agents, licensing, supplying multiple retailers, brokerage, export.
To attend a Ladder Club seminar costs £85 (including VAT) (and includes lunch and refreshments). Each seminar fills up quickly and spaces are limited.
Delegates are encouraged to arrive the evening prior and attend a relaxed dinner so that the networking gets off to a great start.
Top: Timothy Melgund, deputy chairman of Paperchase will share his industry insights at The Ladder Club seminar on November 7.