Successful succession

Deva Designs keeps family vibe going as Jenny Williams becomes sales director

 

Hitting a major trade show just three weeks into a new job could be daunting – but Jenny Williams took the whole thing in her stride.

Though she might have only just taken over as sales director at Deva Designs, the Chester-based company is in her blood as she’s grown up with mum Ann Rogers working at the gift wrap business before buying it with business partner Andrew Maddock eight years ago.

Above: Ann and Andrew setting up their Bunnies By The Bay brand in Hamleys (left) and Andrew back in store with Jenny recently
Above: Ann and Andrew setting up their Bunnies By The Bay brand in Hamleys (left) and Andrew back in store with Jenny recently

And now, with Ann set to retire this month, the succession planning at the proudly independent business is well underway as Andrew has managed to get just the person he wanted in place for the second time!

He was managing director back in 2015 when Deva’s then-owner and founder Derek Bell-Jones wanted to retire himself so was looking to sell the business but none of the interested parties felt quite right.

“There were a few people interested and a few different paths we went down,” Andrew explained, “in the end Derek came to me and said ‘come on, aren’t you interested, can I not support you to do it?’. I said there was only one person I would do it with, so we asked the staff and I got a text message that night from the one person I wanted to say yes – Ann!

“And we’ve done it very successfully for eight years, as joint partners, 50/50, straight down the line, no messing about.”

Above & top: Spring Fair was Jenny’s official debut as sales director
Above & top: Spring Fair was Jenny’s official debut as sales director

Now it’s time to secure the future of the business founded in July 1992, which Andrew joined as design and marketing director 22 years ago – and that’s also how many years he’s attended Spring Fair – while Ann started on 8 April, 2005.

She told PG Buzz: “I’m 67 in April so that’s when I want to go, whether I’ll totally step back I don’t know yet as I’ll always love Deva. I initially joined to cover a maternity leave and stayed on to work part-time job sharing with another girl, but she didn’t stay and I’m still here.

“I loved it, the family environment, Andrew was putting up designs on the wall, everyone was doing their own job, mine was accounts at the time, and it was a nice, creative, happy environment to be in.”

Andrew confessed: “I don’t want to own the business just by myself because I think it’s very important to have a partner so you have someone to talk things over with, and make decisions together.”

Having seen the business through her mum’s eyes, Jenny was happy to be persuaded away from her sales role at housewares firm Addis where she’s been for 12 years, following marketing roles and as a designer making hats with milliner to the stars Philip Treacy.

Above: Family fun on some of the numerous Deva days out
Above: Family fun on some of the numerous Deva days out

“I’ve been trying to plant the seed for years,” Andrew admitted, “because you know when something feels right it usually is right. She’s known Deva since 2005, and the time is now right.

“I want her to ruffle a few feathers, ruffle my feathers too – when you’ve been doing a job for 22 years you get into a way of doing things and it will be great to have that mixed up.””

Reminiscing about Jenny’s summers spent working in the warehouse as a teenager, which has given her insight into every level of the company, Ann said: “She’s part of the Deva family anyway,” and her starting role as sales director will gradually change to taking on her mum’s administration work too, while Andrew continues to look after the design side in Chester along with in-house designer Reuben Duffy.

When Ann first mentioned to her daughter about taking over, Jenny admitted: “I said I’ve got a good job already, thank you very much! I absolutely loved working for Addis and this is a big change, although I’m from a fashion background and had gone to laundry and housewares. But, once I sat down and thought about it, I realised that it’s a great opportunity.”

Spring Fair in February was Jenny’s official introduction to the business, just three weeks after taking on her new post, and she’s now settling in, working on plans to “move the company forward as there’s a lot of potential not just in the UK but further afield” for the mix of in-house and licensed flat wrap, double-sided roll wrap and gift bags, along with the Bunnies By The Bay plush, clothes, dolls, books, nursery and greeting card products, as well as the Kitted Out baby gifts, keepsake albums, wedding accessories and greeting cards.

Above: Andrew and Ann with designer Reuben at the 2023 Henries Awards where his work was a finalist
Above: Andrew and Ann with designer Reuben at the 2023 Henries Awards where his work was a finalist

Jenny said she loves the product “particularly the baby stuff” as she and husband Mathew now have two youngsters, two-year-old Gwen and Delyth, seven – on her first day with the children wanted to know “did you see lots of bunnies”!

The Bunnies By The Bay brand epitomises Deva’s can-do attitude as it was Andrew and Ann who took on the task of the original display fit out at Hamleys which had to be done overnight while the famous London landmark toy store was closed.

Ann laughed: “They left us on our own in this building with millions of pounds worth of stock! You can’t get to the shop by van, you have to park two streets behind and we were wheeling the trolley over the cobbles, going ‘clank clank clank’ with all the bunnies jumping about, it was bizarre. We thought we’d supplied enough for three months and it all sold in a week!”

And the family vibe runs throughout the business with regular works outings, including to the races, nights out, canal trips, visits to Shropshire Petals where the biodegradable confetti is made, and a special 30th anniversary trip to a sea life centre.

For the twice-yearly launches, there’s a totally new range of over 70 gift wraps, 15 gift bag designs, 15 roll wraps and colour-coordinated gift-wrapping accessories, giving a diverse collection to meet customers’ different needs.

Above: Collecting petals for biodegradable confetti on one of Deva’s trips
Above: Collecting petals for biodegradable confetti on one of Deva’s trips

Deva is looking at a much more focused sales-driven approach, and Andrew said: “We create beautiful products, that we’re all very proud of, and they’re all sustainably sourced, and we know that we’re only in a very small proportion of the shops that we could potentially be in.

“I think that’s what’s exciting about Deva, with Jenny on board it will become more focused – we’ve not had a sales director for four years! He retired and then we had Covid.”

Jenny will be working with the team of 12 sales agents, including Sarah Caldicott in Oxfordshire and Martin Morton in Ireland who have both just notched up 31 years with Deva, having taken on the account just three months after the business started.

With loyalty like that underscoring the family feel of the business, the trio are determined to keep it that way, as Andrew explained: “When you look around you see companies like Deva are being swallowed up and, when it comes to this sort of time, it would normally mean we would have to give up and be swallowed up by one of the big boys – I don’t want that.

“I know that Jenny will grow the business but, more than that, we’re a team and we own it, and I’m proud of it and we’re independent.

“It’s very rare for a business to run for 30 years successfully, and stay independent. None of our competitors have managed it, they’ve all been absorbed, but we can stay on and it’s really nice that we have the succession plan in place to retain the ownership!”

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