Findel plc

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Findel plc

Burley House
Bradford Road
West Yorkshire LS29 7DZ
United Kingdom
Telephone: (+44) 1943-864-686
Fax: (+44) 1943-864-986
Web site:

Public Company
Incorporated: 1955 as Fine Art & Philately
Employees: 2,732
Sales: £368.2 million ($579.6 million)(2002)
Stock Exchanges: London
Ticker Symbol: FDL
NAIC: 454113 Mail-Order Houses; 322232 Envelope Manufacturing; 322233 Stationery, Tablet, and Related Product Manufacturing; 424120 Stationery and Office Supplies Merchant Wholesalers

The United Kingdom's Findel plc operates through three primary divisions: Home Shopping, Education, and Findel Services. Home Shopping represents the company's largest division, at more than 50 percent of sales, and is centered on the company's core Express Gifts Ltd. mail order business. The Express Gifts catalogs, Studio and Ace, reach a customer base of more than one million nationwide, with a focus on the 25- to 45-year-old female with children demographic. Through Express Gifts, Findel sells a variety of clothing, home furnishings, gardening, and other items, and offers Europe's largest "personalization" service. The company also operates online, through web sites linked to its two catalog titles. Since its takeover of Novara plc in 2001, Findel is also the leading independent specialist in educational supplies in the United Kingdom. Under this division, the company manages nine distinct brand ranges under the names Davies Sports, Galt, Hope Education, NES Arnold, Percussion Plus, Philip Harris Education, Step by Step, UNILAB, and, in Northern Ireland, EDCO. In addition to its sales to schools and institutions, as well as to the U.K. government, the Education division also operates in retail sales channels, through its Galt brand, which is distributed in more than 5,000 stores throughout the United Kingdom. Findel's third division, Services, provides fulfillment and logistics support services, ranging from call center operations to product development to pickup and delivery services to mail order and catalog companies, and Internet and television-based marketers. Services represented more than 25 percent of Findel's sales of £368 million ($580 million) in its 2003 year. The company, listed on the London Stock Exchange, is headed by CEO D.A. Johnson and chairman Keith Chapman.

Merging Family Businesses in the 1950s

Three small, family-owned companies joined together to create a greeting card company in 1955. That company, called Fine Art & Philately, published and distributed greeting cards, and also operated a business-to-business mail order house, supplying retailers in the United Kingdom. The three companies were TE Webb & Co, which published greeting cards and sold them via mail order; Ivory Cards, which specialized in fund raising and charitable services based on greeting cards sales; and Joseph Arnold & Co., which acted as supplier to the other two. Following the formation of Fine Art & Philately, the company focused its greeting card and mail order operations under the TE Webb name.

Fine Art set its sights on growth at the start of the 1960s, and in 1961 took a listing on the Birmingham stock exchange. The following year, the company made its first major expansion, when it agreed to merge with Foxhill Christmas Card Company. Under terms of that deal, the Foxhill brand operations were transferred to TE Webb, while Foxhill shareholders gained a 50 percent stake in the newly enlarged company. Following the merger, Fine Art & Philately changed its name, to Fine Art Developments plc.

Fine Art's expansion continued into the mid-1960s, as the company added retail operations under subsidiary Findel Stores Ltd. The company also expanded its manufacturing facilities, placed under subsidiary Foxhill Group, and by 1967 produced more than 95 percent of the cards sold through its growing number of greeting cards subsidiaries. These included Miller Greetings, Collisons Ltd., and Studio Cards, a specialty Christmas card producer. The company had also ventured onto the European continent, taking an 80 percent stake in a jointventure, Editions Ivoire, based in Paris.

By the end of the decade, Fine Art had added subsidiaries in West Germany, the United States, and Ireland. The company also switched its listing to the London Stock Exchange, then entered Australia at the beginning of the 1970s through mail order subsidiary Bell & Howell.

Fine Art developed strongly through the 1970s, notably through acquisitions, such as that of A. Vivan Mansell & Co., a fine art color printer, in 1970. The company also acquired mail order greeting cards company Leswyn Cards that year. Then, in 1971, Fine Art paid £650,000 to British Publishing Company to acquire its greeting card operations, including the companies W. Barton, British Greeting Cards, Raphael Tuck & Sons. Also acquired that year was greeting card company Delgado & Mowbray. At the end of 1971, Fine Art's sales neared £8.4 million.

By the middle of the 1970s, Fine Art was already Europe's largest manufacturer of greeting cards. Yet the company itself had shifted the focus of its revenue growth from its greeting card business to its mail order operations. The company began expanding its product ranges, adding lines of stationery, games, and toys, but also perfume, jewelry, and home furnishings and equipment. By 1976, more than 70 percent of the group's £26 million in sales came from its non-greeting card mail order operations.

Fine Art's revenues grew strongly into the 1980s, rising to £58 million by 1980. In that year, the company added greeting card group Wilson Bros to is holdings, paying £4.3 million for its long-time rival. Yet by the following year, Fine Art ended a 25-year run of revenue and profit, as its sales started to slip, sinking the group into the red by 1982.

Retail became the bright spot for the group, particularly after its acquisition of educational retailer Early Learning. Fine Art began a rapid expansion of the chain, doubling the number of stores to more than 40 by the end of 1983, and to more than 90 by the end of 1984, including its first international stores. In 1985, however, the group sold off the Early Learning chain, to the John Menzies group.

Fine Art then returned its focus on its mail order and greeting cards businesses, which took a new step forward in 1984 when it acquired Selective Paper Group Ltd. That purchase, at a cost of £13 million, helped boost Fine Art's turnover to nearly £100 million. Also in that year, future chairman and CEO Keith Chapman joined the company.

Triple Focus in the New Century

Despite the sale of Early Learning, Fine Art had not abandoned retailing. Instead, the group developed a new retail concept, closer to its greeting card base, called Papertree. Fine Art invested heavily in building that business, opening some 100 stores by the beginning of the 1990s. Yet the company, already suffering from the dismal economic climate, found it difficult to find profits through its Papertree arm. The company sold off a number of other operations, including its stake in the Bell & Howell mail order firm in Australia, and its attempt to enter the direct mail market, Venture Marketing.

By the mid-1990s, Fine Art's long-time combination of greeting cards and mail-order businesses, including a newly developing educational supplies business, no longer seemed a viable match. Instead, in 1997, Fine Art decided to split itself into its two halves, spinning off the greeting cards business as Creative Publishing. That business was subsequently acquired by U.S. greeting card giant Hallmark in 1998.

Fine Art was now focused in three primary areas: home shopping, including mail order; educational supplies; and fundraising, which produced catalogs for charitable organizations. At the same time, Fine Art recognized the growth of a new sales channelthe Internet. In 1999, the company joined a partnership to launch a charity-based Internet service provider, Care4Free, which promised to donate 70 percent of its profits to charities of the subscriber's choice. In another move, echoing the group's former life as Europe's leading greeting card group, Fine Art launched a new web site,, which allowed customers to send electronic greeting cards.

At the same time, Fine Art sought new outlets for its longtime expertise in mail order distribution services, and at the turn of the century decided to step up providing services to third-party customers, such as discount fashion retailer Matalan, for whom Fine Art launched a home shopping catalog in 2000. In that year, Fine Art announced a decision to exit the charity and fund-raising business, a move completed in 2001 through a management buyout. By then, Fine Art had changed its name, to Findel plc.

Findel plc now embarked on a three-prong strategy for the new century. The company restructured into three divisions: Home Shopping, which included the group's core catalog and Internet-based operations; Findel Services, for its fast-growing third-party distribution services operations; and the group's fast-growing Educational Supplies operations. The latter appeared to have high hopes, particularly after the U.K. government promised a new £1.5 billion schools spending initiative through 2005.

Educational supplies took on a still greater focus for the group when it launched a takeover of rival group Novara. Formed in 1997 through the merger of two prominent U.K. educational supply companies, Nottingham Group and Philip Harris, Novara boasted a range of prominent brands, including segment leaders such as NES Arnold and the Philip Harris brand itself. Yet merging the two companies proved difficult for Novara, and by 2000 the group's profits and share price had slumped, while group sales had fallen by more than 50 percent, leaving the company vulnerable to takeover.

Company Perspectives:

The Company is: The fifth largest mail order company in the U.K.; the largest supplier of personalised products in the U.K.; the largest independent specialist educational supplier in the U.K.

Despite an attempt by Novara's management to take over the company through a management buyout, Novara's shareholders agreed to Findel's offer for the company, worth some £57 million. The integration of Novara's brands into Findel's educational supplies division placed the company as the United Kingdom's leading independent supplier to the education market. Findel set out to restructure the newly enlarged operation, shutting down a number of facilities, and by 2002 the division had become profitable.

Findel's hopes for stronger growth in its education division were dashed, at least in the short term, by a crisis in the United Kingdom's educational budget in 2003, as the promised funding for supplies was instead shifted toward paying teacher salaries. Findel itself, however, appeared to have no difficulties in weathering the drop in the educational supplies market, in large part because of strong growth in its core home shopping division. With the launch of two new web sites supporting its core catalogs, Findel had also begun a program of boosting its year-round sales, reducing its reliance on the core year-end holiday season. These moves enabled the division to double its sales by the end of 2003. Findel's three-prong strategy seemed a strong foundation for continued growth in the new century.

Key Dates:

Three family-owned companies merge to form greeting card and mail-order company Fine Art & Philately.
Company is listed on Birmingham stock exchange.
Company merges with Foxhill Christmas Card Company and name is changed to Fine Art Developments.
Collisons greeting card company is acquired.
Fine Art pays £650,000 to acquire W. Barton, British Greeting Cards, Raphael Tuck & Sons.
Focus on mail-order operations is stepped up, especially non-greeting card business.
Selective Paper Group is acquired for £13 million.
Fine Art enters Internet and e-commerce market, joining partnership to launch Care4free Internet access service.
Fine Art announces plans to sell off fundraising division, and changes its name to Findel plc.
Findel becomes the United Kingdom's leading independent educational supplies group.

Principal Subsidiaries

Express Gifts Ltd.; Findel Education Ltd.; Home Farm Hampers Ltd. (60%); James Galt & Co. Ltd.; Findel Europe B.V. (Netherlands); Fine Art Developments (Far East) Ltd. (Hong Kong).

Principal Competitors

Argos Ltd.; NEXT plc; Waitrose Ltd.; Littlewoods Ltd.

Further Reading

Blackwell, David, "Fine Art Poised for E-Commerce," Financial Times, May 23, 2000, p. 28.

Cassidy, Siobhan, "Home Shopping Sales Growth Lifts Findel," Financial Times, May 23, 2003, p. 27.

"Findel Fine Despite School Cash Squeeze," Birmingham Post, October 16, 2003, p. 21.

"Findel Gets its Sums Right as School Funding Crisis Bites," Yorkshire Post, May 22, 2003.

"Findel Gets Out of Charities Business," Yorkshire Post, April 12, 2001.

Kiphoff, John, "Findel Optimistic on Purchase of Novara," Financial Times, December 7, 2001, p. 26.

M.L. Cohen