The sun shines on a firm with its finger on pulse of retailing

Paul Bean has risen through the ranks to lead a Yorkshire firm with global connections. He met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

Paul Bean, managing director at Bradford-based business Sun Branding Solutions

Today, he’s leading a Yorkshire firm that relishes change and the glorious uncertainty brought by innovation and competition in the retail sector.

He wants Sun Branding Solutions (SBS) to become a force to be reckoned with in North and Latin America by meeting the needs of the FMCG – that’s the fast moving consumer goods - sector while keeping an eye on the market close to home. His story shows how far technology has taken us over the last four decades. He started his career as an apprentice at John Waddington, the Leeds’ based printers. He wanted to be a draughtsman and graphic designer, but decided that print was more lucrative. His decade at Waddington’s included stints as press minder, plate maker and foreman.

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He joined Gilchrist, a graphic design firm, in 1989, with the intention of spending a couple of years there. More than a quarter of a century later, he’s still there. He’s seen the business go through four changes of ownership, and he has worked his way up to become managing director of a global packaging design firm which has its roots in Bradford, but also boasts an international portfolio that includes clients in Europe, North America and Latin America.

SBS’s clients include Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Jordans, Moy Park, Pets At Home, Twinings and Unilever. Today, SBS is the branding division of Sun Chemical Corporation, which is a global graphic arts business best known for its colour pigments and printing inks.

Mr Bean became the managing director in 2004, and he was responsible for overseeing the sale of the business to Sun Chemical. It’s a sophisticated operation, which includes strategy and brand design, brand graphics and implementation and legal labelling, creative copywriting as well as packaging technology and development.

Mr Bean recalled: “In 1989 it would take weeks and weeks just for the reprographics to be done. The clients would be ringing up and saying, ‘When can I have my job?’

“It’s not like the timeframes we move with nowadays. All of it was manual. We’d just brought scanners on board, so that was the first sign of the digital era.

“My drive was to get into management,’’ he recalled. “I wanted to gain the grassroots experience and the knowledge. It was a fast moving and creative sector. The thing I’m most proud of is the diversification of the business. We moved it from the core reprographics business that it was, and brought the technology on board to create an integrated offering. There was an understanding that things couldn’t run in a linear fashion. They need to happen in parallel.”

In common with many employers, SBS often struggles to find the right people.

Mr Bean said: “We’ve formed our own training programmes to bring people through as rounded individuals. That’s one thing that has to happen – professional organisations must work far closer with academia.

“We’ve got to work together to build an understanding, otherwise people end up being too narrow (in their skills base) or too general. A lot of the graduate courses we’ve done are a mixture of on the job training, where they see it for real, and time spent in academia. Everybody wants qualifications that they can use elsewhere. That has never been more true than today. It’s important that people have real life experiences.”

SBS’s annual turnover is £24m and it employs 242 staff, and Mr Bean is acutely aware that all firms need to innovate to survive. He has had to monitor changes in consumer habits very closely.

“In our particular market and sectors, 2015 and 2016 will bring price pressure,’’ he said. “There’s a war going on among the retailers to gain the consumers’ confidence. We’ve seen the rise of the discounters.

“Price pressure is going to be as it’s never been before. The impact on our business is very positive. A lot of those organisations will look to outsource more and more and will look at the supply base. As a supplier, with a broad portfolio of services, if we continue to do what we do, and do it incredibly well... then the model has an opportunity to work even better than it has in the past.

“More and more clients are seeing their internal cost being scrutinised,” Mr Bean observed. “Their supplier costs are being scrutinised to levels they have probably never been before.”

He believes the spending and buying power of consumers can only increase over the next decade. Over the next five years, he wants to see the business increase its market share across all divisions.

He added: “North and Latin America will be an increasing focus for us, as we aim to be as strong in those territories as we are in Western Europe. Today’s pace of change and the volatile economic climate places an increasing demand on businesses to be nimble and agile.”

As Mr Bean can testify, any apprentice can rise to the top, provide they have an insatiable hunger for knowledge.

“I love the industry because it never stays still,” he said. “It’s constantly changing. As a business, you have to be open and confident with change.

“It’s how you take advantage of that, instead of being fearful of it.”