Category Archives: News

Theo hosts annual #SBS Small Business Sunday event

On Tuesday 12th January Theo hosted the #SBSevent2019, the annual event, just for the winners of his #SBS Small Business Sunday competition.

800 small businesses headed to the Birmingham ICC for a day of networking, guest speakers and business advice. New winners could collect their certificates and have a photo with Theo to help their publicity and marketing efforts.

New for this year, Google’s Head of SME Marketing, Raja Saggi, took to the stage to present on Digital Best Practice, covering the importance of website speed which many winners could then test themselves. Also joining Theo on stage were Webroot, who revealed key statistics from their Cyber Security report released that day. It focussed on the the idea that businesses are never too small to focus on what data they need to protect.

Theo’s special guest this year was celebrated entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir Tom Hunter. He started out, like many of the #SBS winners, selling trainers from the back of a van which grew to become Europe’s Largest independent sports retailer, Sports Division. He sold his business to his main competitor,JJB Sports, for £250 million. As Scotland’s first homegrown billionaire his journey was an inspiration to the small business owners. He covered his lessons in business and the importance of not giving up when it does not go right the first time.  Discussing risk with Theo, a topic close to a lot of small business, he said that “the best entrepreneurs are not risk takers, they are risk managers.” He spoke earnestly about the importance of mentors, his own being his Dad, who had helped him on his journey to success.

Along the road to business success, Sir Tom had read about a Scot named Andrew Carnegie who said “he who dies rich, dies in disgrace”. This set him on a road to philanthropy, setting up The Hunter Foundation which has since donated more than £55 million to charitable causes. Both Theo and Sir Tom then took questions from a captivated audience who covered off everything from “What would you do if you were the Prime Minister for a day” to “How did you know it was the right time to buy a business?”

The afternoon saw all the new winners receive their certificate and have a photo with Theo, while breakout presentations from the sponsors Ryman, Robert Dyas, iLaw, HP, Square, Western Union, DHL and Autumn Fair continued. These covered a huge range of topics from how to make the most of Trade Fairs and how they can grow your business, a guide to intellectual property rights and a journey to ecommerce success. Winners could have 10 minute 1-2-1 sessions with the sponsors to have all their burning questions answered.

Three #SBS winners also did breakout presentations for their fellow winners. Sarah Pittendrigh of Simply Bows and Chair Covers shared her journey of franchising her business across the UK, David Speed of Graffiti Life spoke about overcoming fear and Nicole Martin from Pinpoint Marketing ran a marketing workshop for the attendees.

Throughout the day games from #SBS winners,Garden Games Hire and a selfie Mirror, from Oden Events, kept the winners amused and new for this year was an HP Photo Zone where winners could get a new headshot for their website, business cards or linkedIn.

It was the biggest #SBS event yet, with fantastic guest speakers and business advice – Theo has already begun to think about #SBSevent2020!  

Theo is Awarded Retail Legend Award by the RetailTRUST

On the evening of the 31st January Theo, and many of his colleagues, attended the annual RetailTRUST event to celebrate the excellent work the Charity does for those in need in the retail industry. Theo has been part of the charity for many years, supporting the incredible work it does.

To help celebrate the work of the RetailTRUST, some well known faces took to the stage. The event was hosted by Rory Bremner, had a live auction by Charles Ross and included moving stories from individuals who had been helped by the Charity.  There was also an artist who created fantastic artwork of Freddie Mercury and John Lennon, that went on to be sold in the silent auction.

Occasionally the RetailTRUST recognises an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to the Charity and industry as a whole, known as the Retail Legend award. The award goes to someone who has worked at every level of retail and supports both those on the shop floor and the boardroom.

This year Richard Bowland, CEO of the RetailTRUST, gave this prestigious award to Theo, highlighting his passion for the industry which has spanned over 40 years. Rory Bremner then spoke of Theo’s philanthropic work both to small businesses through #SBS Small Business Sunday and charities, such as raising over £4 million for Comic Relief with his businesses Ryman and Robert Dyas.

It was a fantastic evening which saw Theo join a list of very few to receive the Retail Legend award.

Theo Visits The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital

Theo visited the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to see the hard work that goes on day in, day out by the team and to see how the money raised from the Many Hands Campaign has been used to make a huge difference to the children who are treated at the hospital.

Theo visited Ward 78 which is the Spinal, Orthopaedic and Neurosciences ward where children suffering road traffic accidents, nervous injury and diseases are treated. Lisa Stephens, the Ward Manager, introduced Theo to the hard working team and got to speak to the children about their injuries and their care at the hospital.

After the tour of the Ward Theo was taken to see the Mini C Arm, it is a specialist piece of equipment that can take X Rays while the patient is on the operating table, so the surgeon can see exactly what is happening during the operation. The Mini C Arm had been funded by the Many Hands Campaign, and was a great opportunity to see how the money raised makes such a huge difference to the hospital.

After 10 years, 2018 was Theo’s final year with the campaign and it was a fitting way to end his journey with the charity by seeing how the campaign has changed lives.

Theo Visits Many Hands Campaign Winners

On Thursday 17th January Theo headed up to a very sunny Manchester to meet the winners of the 2018 Many Hands finals, We are Gntlmen.

Back in October We are Gentlemen were crowned the winners of the 2018 Many Hands Campaign. The initiative sees businesses compete to raise a minimum of £1000 for the charity in 6 months. Over the years Theo has been witness to all sorts of wonderful ideas and this year the competition was as fierce as ever.

For the campaign, We are Gntlmen created an exclusive shirt called the ‘Humphrey’ shirt. It was a white Oxford shirt with brand logo and the Many Hands charity mascot, ‘Humphrey’ embroidered onto the cuff. The shirt was sold for £40 and all the proceeds went towards their total. To add a bit of showbiz to their campaign they enlisted the help of singer songwriter Frank Turner, who backed the campaign and helped to raise awareness.

Theo visited the offices in Manchester,  where they chatted through the different shirts and their inspiration for their campaign, the Humphrey bear. They even discussed an exciting plans for the business, launching soon.

It was a fantastic way to end Theo’s support for the campaign which has seen him judge 10 years worth of pitches and seen 180 businesses raise money for the charity.

We need a cunning plan…but sadly that’s not what we’ve got!


As we get closer to the Brexit precipice, I am more and more inclined to believe that it is perhaps worth losing the battle now, to go on to win it another time.  By that, I mean perhaps we should step away from stubborness, personal political agenda, saving face and the current political pain we are all experiencing, on all sides, and stay in to influence from the inside.  Currently it feels like Blackadder, Baldrick and Captain Darling going over the top in the last episode of the series…and that seemed all too pointless as well.

Why are we here?  Because Cameron and Co threw us under a bus by holding the Referendum in the first place, and we must also hold the EU accountable too.  They did not budge an inch on any of Cameron’s negotiations on control of the borders etc, and thus left him and the Tory party with no leverage or incentive to persuade those already wavering on the EU fence to come back over to their side.  Now, having cancelled the meaningful vote because of a blatant lack of confidence in it, Theresa May is also off to Brussels with cap in hand again. Perhaps she will also come back with as worthless rewards as Cameron; 3 christmas baubles, 2 unhelpful changes and a partridge in a pear tree, or even worse, as it looks, a painful Baldrick shiner.

Clearly, this deal will end in tears. We won’t be able to agree terms and the Northern Ireland challenge is a BIG problem.  If we keep pushing this deal up the never-ending hill, gathering moss and more obstacles as it goes, we will be looking at decades of uncertainty and pain for business, the political system in the UK, the good people of our country and a likely impact on EU trade too.  We need stability, and this deal is a million miles from it. Theresa May could do with one of Baldrick’s cunning plans….a giant ‘political’ turnip that, for him, would save the day. At this point, I’m not sure anyone has planted it, let alone found it !

We are at a crossroads, and we must make robust decisions.  In my world, if the conditions change, I make a different plan, I don’t just carry on blindly saying this is the plan, when it is no longer fit for purpose and will drag us all into the wasteland. Things change and you make the crucial decisions based on those changes.  To now wait for a vote to happen before the 21st January is to continue the farce. The EU has said that there is no room whatsoever for renegotiation…so what is going to change by that point? It is bordering on criminal to delay the vote to so near the Brexit deadline that MPs have no choice other than May’s terrible deal or ‘armageddon’, due to a lack of plan B.  This is reckless and is almost a criminal act against democracy !

Have remainers made it so difficult for us to negotiate anything meaningful, have the Brexiteers stirred the pot so much that many have been blind-sided, has the EU been so intent on making us the example of the naughty child that they have given us no leverage, is the Northern Ireland issue insurmountable and are we flogging a dead horse?  Perhaps the answer to all of these is sadly yes. There is much wrong with the EU, and I still believe it plays a part in the very fabric of our future, but to leave at any cost because Theresa May won’t see the wood for the trees doesn’t cut it. Even a cunning plan from Baldrick can’t save this one. We need to put our best fighting trousers on, and realise that maybe everyone has found this too hard, the timing isn’t right and rather than sticking two pencils up our nose and being done with it, we need to hold our hands up and say right sentiment, wrong timing.

Cameron didn’t have a plan B when he called the election, and he must take responsibility for his part in this satire.  The lack of plan B for Cameron didn’t end well and created the playground of discontent that our politicians, and sadly the rest of us, are now playing in.  Theresa May also doesn’t have a plan B. Did we learn nothing? In business, you have to have a back-up plan when external influences create difference. To not have a back-up is reckless, and leaves us the laughing stock of Europe.  

The decision to leave was not necessarily a bad decision, but as in anything, the execution is the measure of it and the politicians were unfortunately not up to the job.  I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about the people have made a decision, we can’t go back on it. Politicians aren’t playing by those rules and Theresa May has constantly flip flopped over decisions.  ‘No election’…announces an election a few days later, ‘we are definitely going ahead with the meaningful vote’…announces vote deferred minutes later, ‘the Cabinet are united’….resignations. Democracy is all about people being able to change their mind, especially when the facts and conditions have changed and weren’t what was voted for in the first place.  

With no consensus in parliament, nor the likelihood of one, perhaps a second referendum is our only option now, with just two binary questions; May’s deal or withdraw Article 50 and stay in.  Our future rests on a knife edge. We should live to fight another day; a worthier battle with meaning. It now feels to me that the only sensible option we have been left with is to rescind Article 50 – the antidote to the ailing May Chequers Deal – and escape the tarnished handcuffs that it would leave us in; strangled by an everlasting Backstop.  In business, if the deal isn’t a good deal, you step away from it and that’s what we need to do here. One step back to be able to step forward in the future or risk terminal failure.

Theo Paphitis: ‘It feels like retail is now closer to the precipice’

Theo Paphitis: ‘It feels like retail is now closer to the precipice’

Like any other disgruntled constituent, Theo Paphitis often takes his problems to his local MP. It just so happens that the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge who listens while the former Dragons’ Den star gets something off his chest is Philip Hammond, the Chancellor.

Handy when you consider the entrepreneur’s biggest beef is the unfairness of business rates which pour close to £30bn a year into Treasury coffers but are routinely blamed for squeezing the life out of Britain’s high streets.

“We’ve had words in the past but we are still talking which is important,” says Paphitis, whose empire stretches across the Ryman stationery chain, homewares retailer Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue, a lingerie seller.

After last week’s Budget, the words may be choicer next time. Although Paphitis says Hammond is an “incredibly sensible guy”, he is angry that he did not go further while stood at the Dispatch Box.

“Anyone that knows anything about retail would tell him that this minor relief to our industry will make no difference to the continued demise of the once great British high street,” Paphitis says, lambasting plans for temporary rates relief for small retailers and restaurateurs plus a £675m “special projects” fund. “The Chancellor was quick to tell us retailers that times are changing and we should adapt accordingly. I, and no doubt many others, found that particularly insulting.”

The tycoon is even less charitable when it comes to Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, who as local government secretary reviewed the business rates system but kicked any changes into the long grass.

“What a halfwit,” Paphitis labels the man some regard as the next prime minister. “Why would you go into politics if you don’t want to make a difference? It is not just him, there are lots of them guilty of it. No one is doing anything about it (business rates) because it would involve putting their bum in the bacon slicer.”

Such blunt language is not uncommon from the self-made businessman who left school at 16 and whose fortune is now estimated at £300m. In last year’s annual trading statement for the privately held group, Paphitis warned that “it really does feel like retail as we know it is creeping closer and closer towards the precipice”.

Toys R Us, Maplin, Homebase, New Look: the numerous failures and store closures this year offer plenty of evidence of the tough times that shopkeepers are enduring.

There are higher costs of course, including the minimum wage and rents. The consumer is also feeling the pinch after a World Cup-inspired spending spree petered out in September. But Paphitis, tanned and wearing a bright checked shirt, is laser-focused on business rates.

The tax on the physical stock of property, regardless of how efficiently it is used or how much revenue it generates, tips the balance heavily in favour of internet retailers that trade from giant warehouses instead of those that choose to maintain a high street presence.

So what about the digital services tax on revenues from search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces that the Chancellor also unveiled and is forecast to bring in £400m by 2022? Paphitis dismisses that haul as “likely less than the digital big boys spend on their staff’s skinny chai lattes”.

He favours a transaction tax for both physical and online retailers. What he proposed six years ago would have raised 14pc more than the amount business rates was bringing in, he calculates. “The fact is when you have a cake that is shrinking your take shrinks,” he says. “But on the other side there is another cake that is growing vastly.”

Never mind the northern town centres struggling along with 30pc vacant retail sites. Paphitis says he can see the impact of the Government’s failure to act on his drive to work every morning from leafy Weybridge in Surrey to his Wimbledon base in south-west London.

“A lot of properties are boarded up and sheltered housing is being built. Is that what we are really going to do, make every high street into a retirement village?” Paphitis employs 170 people at his headquarters and more than 4,000 staff overall. Some lunchtimes he exercises Gladys, his cocker spaniel, on the common.

Born in Cyprus, the entrepreneur arrived in the UK with his family aged six. School was a struggle. His dyslexia was detected late and only a job in the tuck shop provided a bright spot. “It allowed me to shine and allowed people to see that I wasn’t stupid – there was something worth salvaging here”.

That love for retail was revived a few years later when he became a sales assistant for Watches of Switzerland in London’s Bond Street. “I remember going home and saying to (his wife) Mrs P it was fantastic and I couldn’t wait to go back the following day.”

He made some money in commercial property that enabled him to return to the industry by a circuitous route. Ryman had fallen into administration in 1995 and Paphitis, after working on some earlier turnarounds, seized his chance to acquire it.

Because the paperless office revolution was meant to be just around the corner, sceptics said the business was doomed. Paphitis thought otherwise. “In those days we sold typewriter ribbons and things like fax rolls. We had to move with the times so we replaced ribbons with ink jet cartridges at 10 times the price.” Last year the chain made an underlying profit of £10m.

Ryman provided a template as Paphitis developed a reputation for buying businesses out of administration. One of the first times I encountered him was in 2005 when he acquired, along with fellow Dragon Peter Jones, Red Letter Days, the gift experience company he discovered was in financial trouble after reading my coverage.

That takeover was particular piquant because the venture had been owned by a third Dragon, Rachel Elnaugh. Having become profitable, it was sold on last year.

“If you buy an asset for the wrong price in the wrong way you are going to struggle to turn it around,” he says, sipping a glass of red wine. More importantly, don’t buy an asset with a view to selling it on, he advises.

“You have got to buy it and assume you are going to have it forever. Treat it like that from the very first day. Don’t buy it private equity style, bump up the profits and cut the costs to zero. If you treat people like rubbish, guess what happens? Rubbish.”

Boux Avenue was different. The lingerie chain was the product of a team drinking session in 2009, three years after he had exited La Senza and Contessa.

“We were complaining about La Senza and Marks & Spencer and started sketching out the perfect lingerie store. Apparently I agreed to fund it, or so they told me the following morning.”

Boux Avenue launched two years later in the teeth of the recession, which meant Paphitis could pick up some cheap sites. Today, it has 30 stores and turns over £50m.

What is consistent throughout his story is how he makes sure his people feel part of an enlarged family. Recently, 500 staff convened in Birmingham for the group’s annual conference where Paphitis, 59, dressed as the ringmaster from The Greatest Showman movie.

Dragons’ Den – where budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to five veterans in the hope of winning financial backing – made him more famous than his retail brands, something that hasn’t done business any harm in the long term even though he left the BBC Two show six years ago.

“If it’s on it’s on, but I don’t make a point of sitting and watching it,” he says. “The fact is it simplifies what business is all about. It is so much common sense.”

If only ministers could have a dose of something similar the next time they consider how best to help out the UK’s retail scene.

Theo Paphitis on 125 years of Ryman

In 1995 when I was looking at buying Ryman, and approaching private equity businesses and banks to raise the money, I was told it was a dog of a business; that I was absolutely mad to even look at it, let alone consider investing in it. Why? Because the paperless office was the future and no one was buying stationery anymore.  I knew they were wrong then, and that’s why nearly 25 years on since I bought the business out of administration, Ryman is now marking its 125th year of business and doing well. Not a mean feat in the shifting plates of the current retail marketplace and a credit to the teams in store and across the business.

In 1893 there was the panic on the New York stock exchange, Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit and Henry Ford designed the first gasoline fuelled engine.  It was also the year that Ryman opened on London’s Great Portland Street in October, an iconic road it still resides on today, even after a number of relocations throughout the years!

Ryman has grown and we’ve acquired some friends along the way.  In 2001 we bought 86 Partners the Stationers stores and in 2007, 61 more via Stationery Box.  This created the portfolio we know now, of over 200 Ryman stores across the UK. Our latest acquisition was the iconic arts supplier brand London Graphic Centre in 2016…all helping people tackle that ‘paperless’ office head on!

At Ryman we recognise and value the heritage of the brand and that we are the custodians of it.  After Henry J Ryman, I am the business’s longest owner, and have a responsibility to its history as well as our colleagues.  

It will inevitably be survival of the fittest, through hard work and relevance.  Brands that don’t rely on just one aspect of their businesses, but instead ensure that the technology supports the stores, that the product and the price points are right, and most importantly that customer service really is excellent.  When your store colleagues care enough to make your customers feel special, an experience in itself, and want to return to buy, you can hand on heart recognise why there is life in the old dog yet.

As business owners we must understand why we exist.  Ryman used to sell fax rolls, and now it sells plain paper for printers.  It used to sell typewriter ribbon and now it’s ink cartridges. We now help our B2B customers in a more bespoke way and have introduced services for increased convenience for our customers and to meet demand.  Ultimately, we must give our customers what they want and need now, not what we’ve always given them – or someone else will.

The high street is under pressure, but hard work, investment and relevance are what will ensure that retailers, like Ryman, stay on our high streets for the foreseeable future; important to the economy and people’s livelihoods.

To ensure the high street remains right in the heart of our communities the Government must help the whole industry through retail-friendly policy.  They must address the Business Rates elephant in the room; the unfair taxation of the shrinking physical retail cake as opposed to the rising digital cake.  The future of retail depends upon it.