Tim Levey BA FCA
- Chairman and Business Advisory Partner
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Priory Direct – Planet Friendly Packaging – is the UK’s largest environmental packaging provider. It also offers a bespoke packaging design service that aims to minimise packaging and the large voids that all adds to transportation costs and environmental damage.
Online retailing has chipped away at the High Street for over a decade as ease and convenience has won over a trip to the shops. And with the COVID pandemic all but closing non-essential retail for much of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, online retail has soared by over 60% in the past 12 months.
This seismic shift is set to continue as we emerge into a post-COVID world. So too is the demand for planet-friendly packaging as brands and their customers demand action on waste and environmentally damaging business practices.
Josh Pitman, Managing Director at Priory Direct, the UK’s largest environmental packaging provider, tells Kreston Reeves of the steps it is taking to change online retailing, the community and the planet, one parcel at a time.
Priory Direct was established in 1988 by Bob Pitman as a print management company, supplying stationery and print to large businesses in the City of London. It built its reputation by buying print in bulk and providing a ‘just in time’ delivery allowing its clients to save on print costs and expensive storage space.
Josh started working for the family business when he was 15 working occasional shifts in its 15,000 sq ft warehouse in Paddock Wood, Kent. On leaving university, he worked across the entire business before becoming its Marketing Manager in 2011 and its Managing Director in 2018.
“At around the same time we developed a new type of integrated label for an emerging e-commerce business, Photobox,” explains Josh. “It contained all the information a retailer needed to ship products efficiently. We caught the start of the e-commerce wave and very quickly the business grew to over 3,000 customers.”
It was at this point that Priory Direct took a major change of direction that built the foundations for the business that exists today.
“We asked our 3,000 customers what they stick the labels on, with a view of improving the adhesive,” says Josh. “80% said padded envelopes, so we thought we ought to stock those. My dad asked me to present a business plan to the board, which included a change of name, and Priory Direct emerged.”
Today, Priory Direct has more than 28,000 customers worldwide, an extensive range of over 2,500 products, a new 60,000 sq ft purpose-built A+ rated warehouse in Aylesford, Kent, with 45 people, a turnover of £10.25m and growth in February 2021 of 94%.
But what stands Priory Direct apart from its competitors is its commitment to planet-friendly packaging.
“Six years ago I wanted to inject purpose into the business and to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, some of which are much bigger than us,” explains Josh.
“I wanted to make the rapidly expanding e-commerce market truly sustainable, and that meant looking at our supply chain, materials, waste, transportation and manufacturing. I wanted to make a difference to our community and the planet.”
Priory Direct is now the UK’s largest provider of planet-friendly packaging and on a mission to go further.
It obtains its packaging materials from sustainable sources, removed polluting countries from its supply chain, is actively eliminating single-use plastics, reducing waste and encouraging greater levels of recycling through better design.
Priory Direct also offers a bespoke packaging design service that aims to minimise packaging and the large voids that all adds to transportation costs and environmental damage.
So far, Priory Direct has eliminated more than 286,000km of bubble wrap from the supply chain, and introduced its own branded products, Priory Elements™, that are fully biodegradable, recyclable and, where possible, climate neutral. The Priory Element™ range includes a new phenol-free thermal label designed by Priory Direct using a harmless vitamin C coating.
The demand for these products is strong as brands and their customers demand greater corporate responsibility for their impact on the planet. There are, says Josh, some very exciting conversations happening with big businesses of all kinds.
Priory Direct’s commitment to change goes beyond packaging: Josh is turning the entire business into a vehicle for good.
“One per cent of all sales on the Priory Elements™ range goes directly to One Percent for the Planet, raising, in its first full year, over £75,000,” explains Josh.
“We have always offered customers a rewards programme where one per cent of an order can be used as a discount on future orders. Now, customers are given the opportunity to donate that one per cent to Cancer Research, Save the Children, Heart of Kent Hospice or One Percent for the Planet. Most now choose to donate.
“We have an education support programme, with local schools able to obtain the stationary supplies they need at hugely discounted prices. And when our customers make purchases of more than £30, they protect 1,000 square metres of virgin rainforest. We are on target to protect six million square metres of rainforest this year alone.”
Priory Direct’s ambitions do not stop there.
It will be shortly introducing a fully electric 7.5-tonne lorry into its fleet in Kent, an expansion programme to include a new warehouse and distribution hub in the Midlands, and still has further to go to fully eliminate all single-use plastics. It is also looking to adopt B-Corp status.
Accountants, business and wealth advisers have been a key partner in Priory Direct’s transformative journey, as Josh explains.
“Our business is an unlisted PLC, meaning that we must have an audit every year. But that audit is more than just a statutory requirement. Kreston Reeves’ work on the audit has instilled good financial discipline that has helped support double-digit growth over the past decade. The need for strong financial and management information is critical.
“The audit is also a time when we can stop and take a step back from the day-to-day and see how the business is performing. It helps us keep on top of the business and not just in the business.”
“Businesses all too often overlook R&D tax credits, and again Kreston Reeves has been brilliant in guiding us and helping us understand what can be claimed. This has been particularly valuable when developing our packaging range and our e-commerce platform.
“Most importantly, Kreston Reeves shares the same values as we do, making them a valued part of the team.”
To learn more about Priory Direct, its growing range of planet friendly packaging, and its commitment to its communities and the environment visit their website.
This year Kreston Reeves is celebrating 200 years of history. We are using the significant milestone as an opportunity to celebrate our clients, our colleagues, and our communities! Find out more.
"Businesses all too often overlook R&D tax credits, and again Kreston Reeves has been brilliant in guiding us and helping us understand what can be claimed. This has been particularly valuable when developing our packaging range and our e-commerce platform."
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