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.