The proverb that necessity is the mother of invention was never more apposite than in the marketing services industry. After all, the launch of the first mail order catalogue in late 1800s America was fuelled by Aaron Montgomery Ward’s desire to stop the store middlemen creaming off his profits.
Fast forward to mid-Fifties Britain and the owners of a tailoring business on Granby Row Manchester were going through similarly challenging times.
The bespoke tailors was in decline and they found themselves with plenty of spare capacity. But instead of shutting up shop, they used their warehouse to store samples for Kellogg’s, and Granby Marketing Services was born.
From these humble beginnings Granby has been providing what it claims are leading-edge marketing services to blue-chip clients, luxury brands, promotional marketing agencies and public sector organisations for over 60 years now.
Proof there is life after Omnicom
Even Omnicom took a slice of the action for a while, although by 2000 the company was in private hands once more. And those wondering whether there is life after Omnicom had their questions answered late last year when the current management team – led by managing director Joanne Varey – secured a £3.8m management buyout, backed by Enterprise Ventures and NatWest.
For Varey, who has been at the company 14 years, the run-up to the deal was a perfect opportunity to reappraise the operation. She explains: “Historically we were always very entrepreneurial, but getting venture capitalists on board has made us think more strategically about the future direction of the business.
“It has also brought the senior management team closer. Where once they looked after their own function, they are now more involved in the strategic direction of the company as a whole and we have a team resource looking at the long-term view.”
The MBO has also been beneficial to staff, Varey reckons. “They feel much more involved. With VCs coming in, all our employees know there are plans to invest in the business moving forward.”
Managing the rise of digital
Where once fulfilment houses were quite a simple business – the majority were based on sending out campaign response collateral – the rise of digital marketing has revolutionised the way most work.
Granby now offers a raft of services; from traditional warehousing and distribution, contract packing and collation to call centre services, e-commerce fulfilment and database management.
But Varey believes the rush to “digital-wash” everything means the consumer is often getting left behind. “There is such a huge focus on digital that companies forget how consumers want to interact with brands. I might well have an iPhone and an iPad but that doesn’t mean I only want to use them to communicate, and consumers are no different. Sometimes it’s just a lot easier to pick up the phone or even send a letter.”
She says there is still work to be done to get this message across. “Some of the traditional promotional mechanisms are being lost, the ones that have proven successful for years. We play a big part in trying to educate graduates – especially those working in agencies – that digital isn’t always the answer.”
Granby is also trying to wield greater influence when it comes to creative concepts. “Fulfilment houses are always the last link in the chain and because of that we are the last thing people think of when designing a marketing campaign. But we have years of experience in knowing what works and what doesn’t. There’s little point coming up with a great idea if it can’t be followed through.”
Looking after the logistics
Varey believes many people don’t realise what’s involved. “When you’re sitting in an agency the last thing on your mind is probably storage capacity or packaging requirements or even ensuring materials aren’t hazardous or harmful to children or obstructive.
“But it’s not just agencies, there is often lack of consideration about the end logistics of any campaign within client marketing departments, too. They get wowed by creative but under-estimate the complexities. That’s why we like to get involved as early as possible in the process.”
One area where Granby is investing plenty of time and effort is in its call centre operation, launching training programmes and apprenticeships to try to attract the right calibre of staff.
“The problem is, there has been a lot of negative press about call centres. They are now deemed as not very attractive places to work. But working in a contact centre can be very rewarding and there’s a lot of opportunity for career progression.”
Despite conceding there is “tons of work to be done”, Varey – who sits on the DMA Telemarketing Council – believes the industry is changing.
“The heavy fines being issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office are starting to weed out the cowboys. And hopefully by working closely with the DMA we will start to see attitudes change.”
And the concept of team work is something that Varey is also keen to promote within Granby, citing Virgin boss Richard Branson’s approach to business as the perfect example.
“He might not necessarily be good at everything, but Branson has built a very strong team of people around him. Everyone plays to their own strengths but people who build strong teams tend to have strong businesses.”
No doubt Enterprise Ventures and NatWest are in total agreement.