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Company profile - Puckator

Mark Howard, Managing Director of Puckator, shares how the company has grown since its inception in 1991.

How did Puckator begin and when?
Puckator was started by myself, Mark Howard, in 1991, after a holiday in Bali inspired a career in importing. From fairly humble beginnings based in a small industrial unit on Bodmin Moor, the company has stayed loyal to its Cornish roots, now operating from a bespoke built 50,000sq ft warehouse and office close to Liskeard. The site was acquired in 2001 and has been developed as the company has grown, with the latest extension to the warehouse completed at the end of 2013. Despite the fact that the company now has offices in Spain, Italy, China and a design office in Sheffield, Cornwall is still home and always will be.

Were there any teething problem when setting up the company?
As with most new start-ups, cash flow was a cause for concern in the early days, as were the pitfalls of importing hand-made goods from distant lands. However, with hard work, perseverance, the birth of online sales and a little bit of luck, the company has gone from strength to strength.

What's the inspiration behind the company and its products?
This has changed substantially over the last five years with Puckator, slowly at first but now with greater speed, changing from a company that was buying off-the-shelf to designing the majority of products in-house. Finding recruitment of designers a challenge at our base in Cornwall, we opened an office in Sheffield in 2010; this enabled us to tap into the talent from the university and has been pivotal in the company's continued growth. With our expansion into Europe over the last few years, we also involve staff from the entire company when it comes to product development.

What types of products do you offer?
Puckator has come a long way from the beginning when best-sellers included banana trees from Bali and wind chimes from South America. We now stock more than 5,000 products from headphones to homeware and mugs to moustaches. Product ranges like beauty accessories, which we hadn't dreamt of selling five years ago, are now becoming a huge part of the range. Having in-house designers has opened up a world of possibilities, with overseas buying trips now focusing on products to add designs to, rather than looking for products to buy off the shelf.

How would you describe your most recent collections?
Working with a team of in-house designers, as well as freelance artists, means Puckator has a very diverse range of own design products. From Fantasy artist Lisa Parker, with whom Puckator has worked with on a licence basis for some time, to in-house designers Laura Bell and Teddy Smith, there really is something for every retailer and this is reflected in our customer base. We like to provide current designs, but still keep prices realistic for our traditional and growing customer base. New designs for 2014 include the Laura Bell Chouko butterfly collection, with products including pocket mirrors, cushions, beauty accessories and more. Designed by Teddy is the contemporary Robotnies range, giving retro robots a modern twist.

Will you be exhibiting at any trade fairs this year. If so, which ones?
Puckator has exhibited at Spring and Autumn Fair continuously for over 20 years, with Exeter (before that Torquay), also been a regular show on our calendar. Spring Fair is a particularly successful show, with the opportunity to launch new ranges to both existing and new customers. With the opening of Puckator's first overseas office in Valencia in 2009, we began our venture into the European gift shows. We started in Madrid in 2010, which even with the poor market conditions in Spain proved to be a success with many new accounts opened, and we have been exhibiting at Intergift twice a year since.
Then in 2012, subsequent to our office in Turin getting up and running, we began showing at Macef Milano (now called Homi), and this really did build Puckator's confidence in the European market. We're delighted to be showing at Top Drawer and Maison & Objet Paris for the first time this January. It's going to be hard work with six major trade fairs in five weeks, but we're all excited with the challenge.

How do you see your business developing?
Puckator will continue to increase the percentage of own design products over the coming years; this is a major factor in our growth plans. With the launch of websites in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland and Sweden over the last 10 years, all offering local free phone and native speaking customer service, Europe is another target area for growth. We will continue to add to our trade fair calendar, beginning with Formex Stockholm in August 2014 and will also look at fairs further afield. We will also be expanding our sales force on the ground right across Europe, beginning with Spain and Italy where we have a physical presence on the ground, to France and Germany, where plans to open further offices are in the pipeline.
As always, at Puckator we're on the lookout for opportunities to expand the business, while sticking to the fundamentals that have made the business a success up to now.

What emerging trends to you expect for the coming year?
For spring/summer 2014, Puckator expects butterflies, all kinds of nautical and seaside products to move well for many of it's customers, and with London expecting a bumper season for tourism, we've worked very hard on contemporary London and UK icon ranges.
We will also be focusing on craft, baking, and haberdashery with our Stich in Time range by Jan Pashley and make do and mend button products. In addition, there will be new twists to some of our current best-sellers, including Dotty Kittens and the best-selling bike range.

What are your plans for Puckator in the future?
Just continue what we're doing, making the most of our excellent team of staff, create products that customers love and can sell, and try to have fun along the way.

To find out more about Puckator, visit www.puckator.co.uk

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