A packaging company that has grown up alongside the city’s flourishing jewellery trade is bracing itself for growth after celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Pickering & Mayell, which merged into the Talbots Group 20 years ago, has supplied gift boxes for Jewellery Quarter produce since it was founded by Fredrick Charles Pickering in 1913.
While production in the city has waned, it has remained in business and currently provides more than 1,000 clients with jewellery, gift and retail packaging, including Argos, Signet, Bid Up TV, Shop Direct and NowSeen.
Now Talbots’ managing director Julie Fowler-Drake wants to take the firm from being purely a supplier and wholesaler to being a packaging partner of major international brands.
Ms Fowler-Drake said the firm’s heritage was important but having restructured the company and changed its whole focus the emphasis was now on the future.
“In one respect you have to celebrate the heritage of a business, it’s a very important thing in a business which has that knowledge and expertise,” she said.
“When you have been there for so long and it is established even though the processes everything are so different now it’s still a very solid foundation and still counts for something.
"But on the flip side if you’re going for 100 years you can’t stay as you were.
"You build an established business but it is very much evolving as well and I have flipped it over to become a modern forward-thinking business.”
The business was rebranded from Talbots Birmingham to Talbots Group, new experienced people were brought in and there was a radical overhaul of the firm’s Far East supply chain.
A sourcing office was opened in Hong Kong in a bid to introduce a “competitive aspect” and instead of using just one Chinese factory, the firm now uses several.
Ms Fowler-Drake said: “If you had to describe where it was very much a wholesale business. I went in there and changed it to a packaging solution provider business and we now do jewellery, gift and retail packaging. It has opened up our capability as a business and we also have own design studio.
“We work with big high street brands and go right through from design and development through to production and distribution. The design side is a big part of business now, something we didn’t have before.”
Getting to this point has been an intense three-year process for Ms Fowler-Drake, who has a strong design background and had built up her own children’s clothing firm before stepping in to take over the family firm.
She added: “When you re-shape a business like this you bring it down like a house of cards and start reinventing it.
“We are very focused on social media and are looking at new ways of doing things and new ways of communicating with brands. It’s not the old way of doing business.
"You have to engage with these brands, set the trend and we have become the market leader in many respects and spread a new message that we are no longer just a wholesaler.”
The changes to the way things were done 100 years ago are far-reaching and not just in terms of production in the Far East rather than Birmingham.
“100 years ago everything was UK-made, hand-made, more specialist and lower volume,” said Ms Fowler-Drake. “It was low volume skilled work but the majority of what we do now is high volume for bigger brands.”
As well as the challenge of reinventing the business, Mr Fowler-Drake said she was acutely conscious of changing what was in effect her father’s firm.
“I had a very good relationship with my father but when you have made quite aggressive changes to a business it is very hard when that person has done it the same way for so long,” she said.
“At that point it was very much my father’s business, now feels like it is my business and has been reinvented.
“I was able to make those big changes because of coming in from a different angle, being a fresh generation with fresh eyes and looking at it very differently.”
Asked what the firm’s founders and her father would think of the firm now Ms Fowler-Drake has no doubt they would give it their seal of approval. “I very much wish they could all see it,” she said. “I think they would be absolutely thrilled we are thriving and have such a great strategy and vision for the future.”
As to what that future entails, the year ahead promises to be an exciting one, with ambitious growth plans.
“I have no doubt about where I am with it and where I am going,” said Ms Fowler-Drake. “For the first few years we didn’t grow, we focused 100 per cent on change. To restructure a business takes three to five years, you have to get business on an even keel and have to have a stable platform which you build on with growth.
“This year we will have grown, the change has all been done and now we’re at the exciting stage - 2014 is going to be very exciting.”
The company is currently working on ten potential contracts with major brands, and if just a portion of them come to fruition it will mean substantial growth.