Making a packet from packaging – how one woman’s drive and vision has put a Jewellery Quarter firm in the box seat
Three years ago Julie Fowler-Drake was running her own children’s fashion company. Called Brights and Stripes, it was doing very nicely with 100 stockists worldwide. Then her father died and she was plunged into a business world that could hardly be more different than dreaming up togs for tots. The Talbots Group specialised in making boxes and packaging for the jewellery trade. With her brother and sister both running businesses of their own in London, it fell to Julie to decide whether to take it on – and then what to do with it.
“Let’s just say when I looked into it, the business wasn’t in the best shape,” she says. “It was a very traditional family business in a very traditional market. After running my own business for 10 years there were things I couldn’t understand – overheads like the huge amount of stock being carried in five separate warehouses. “I had a big decision to make – do I go for it and do the full restructure needed, or do I call it a day on the whole thing?” Julie opted to take up the challenge and as MD she’s completely turned the company around. From being in debt when she took over, the business based in the city’s Jewellery Quarter is now turning over £4million a year – and that’s predicted to rise to more than £12million within the next three years. “At first it took me eight or nine months to sort things out and come up with a plan of action. It meant serious changes for the company and the people who were working for it at the time,” says Julie. She set about bringing Talbots into the 21st century by reducing staffing levels and improving efficiency, updating the products, setting up a design studio and totally rebranding the business. She also diversified production – she now deals with a pool of 20 competitive manufacturers in China, instead of just one, to produce upwards of six million boxes a year.
The business has two distinct strands – Talbots which was originally bought by Julie’s grandfather in 1941, and Pickering and Mayell, which started producing handmade boxes in 1913 and was purchased by Julie’s father 25 years ago. The group now offers a full design-to-production service across a range of different packaging markets. “It’s all about cementing our position in the market and making sure we have strong links to fashion and trends,” Julie explains. “We are also very active in using all the soclal media to our benefit – it’s incredibly important these days.” Eighty per cent of the business is large volume designed and produced fully branded for clients. The other 20 per cent is supplying small to medium account customers. Talbots deal with the big volume while Pickering and Mayell handles ‘cash and carry’ independents such as those in the Jewellery Quarter. The group’s biggest client is Argos, for whom Talbots provide special jewellery boxing. “Big brands is where the future is,” says Julie. “We are currently involved in really exciting discussions with two big global brands which could triple the size of our business. We are also actively in talks to supply a number of high-profile High Street names.”
Julie, 39, is a Midlands girl through and through – she is originally from Alvechurch and now lives near Alcester. As well as steering her business to new success, she’s a devoted mother to her two children, both under 10. “Family is very important. I never forget that,” she says. “But with technology you can do the school run and still focus on your business. I’m not like other MDs in the trade. I love being at the cutting edge of new trends and opportunities. I’m incredibly ambitious, I know what I want – and I know where I’m going…”