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“You must have a reason to exist in business”

Theo Paphitis told a packed standing-room-only audience at day one of London Stationery Show that there is no substitute for hard work if you want to succeed in business.

Theo started off with a surprise, telling the audience that as a young boy that he hated school, he hated academic studies and he hated writing. “I am dyslexic. I couldn’t spell. My writing was a mess. In fact the last thing I thought I would ever get involved in would be stationery.”

Above: It was standing room only for Theo’s talk at London Stationery Show
Above: It was standing room only for Theo’s talk at London Stationery Show

His first exposure to Ryman came at his first job after leaving school at a London brokerage firm. “I found myself needing to write memos. The first ones I did were such a mess, they sent them back to me and told me to try again. One lunchtime I took myself down the Borough High Street and went to Ryman and there I bought a calligraphy set. I took it home and practiced every night for a week. My writing improved, but my spelling didn’t. So back to Ryman, this time to buy a dictionary. So then my spelling improved.”

Fast forward to 1995 and Theo bought Ryman out of administration. “At the time Ryman was an office supplies business. Its top seller was fax paper. Once fax machines starting dying off, no one thought Ryman would survive.”

Theo has definitely proven that Ryman can indeed not just survive but thrive. “You must have a reason to exist in business,” he said. “Once brands lose the reason to exist, that’s when they disappear. We’ve had to change with the times. We’ve had to change our product mix and the way we do business.

“We’ve moved more into fashion-led stationery. Covid accelerated the merge of home and office with lots more people working from home. They don’t want boring stationery. They want something a lot more interesting. We’ve tapped into this with our new Ryman Design branded stores, newest one opening next week in Edinburgh.”

Above: Theo spent the afternoon at the show talking to exhibitors, like Jason Malone from Tom’s Studio on the Manuscript stand.
Above: Theo spent the afternoon at the show talking to exhibitors, like Jason Malone from Tom’s Studio on the Manuscript stand.

Key to the success of Ryman has been linking technology to the high street store to get people into the store. And that is exactly what the Ryman has done with its print on demand greeting card app. “The app enables us to offer something completely unique in the online greeting card industry using the strength of the High Street. Like others, you can download the app and personalise one of thousands of cards, but what makes ours unique is that you can then collect the card in a Ryman store within just 60 minutes.

“We’re linking technology with good old-fashioned retail.”

With National Stationery Week well under way, Theo was asked about his favourite products at the moment to which he replied: “Posca pens and Legami pens. I absolutely love Posca pens, I love the colours and I love playing with them. You can do so much with them. And Legami is an amazing fashion-led brand. It really is something different and new.”

Summing up with some advice, not just to retailers, but any business owner, Theo said that a business will only survive “if it has a reason to exist. You must know what you are in business, what will you do differently, why will someone come to you, what is the reason they will buy from you. There is no substitute for hard work.”


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