News | Published November 22 2019

Maped Helix flexes its innovative muscle for retailers to take note

Changing shopping habits among consumers have seen UK high streets fall upon testing times. The shift toward online purchasing has culminated in a sharp rise of empty store units in town centres across the country with a number of businesses falling into administration.

One stationery retailer on the high street to have fallen into administration in 2019 was Office Outlet, which formerly traded as Staples. Its struggles came amid weak demand for stationery supplies and suppliers adjusting the credit terms upon which the entity was able to trade. Deloitte, overseeing administration proceedings, announced the closure of 16 stores, with 161 individuals made redundant.

As retailers struggle with a lack of demand, so do the suppliers that provide them with stock.

Helix, the manufacturer behind the Oxford maths set, which was a stationery staple for classrooms, homes and offices since 1887 when it traded as the Universal Woodworking Company, entered administration seven years ago. This came amid an unmanageable SKU count, a lack of innovation at product level and declining margins.

However, over 130 years of history was not to end so suddenly, with the firm being bought by French stationery company Maped and becoming part of the wider Maped Group. Now operating as Helix Trading Ltd, the brand has stayed true to its historic roots but reinvigorated itself through its innovation of products to meet with changing demand trends, something which its managing director Gray Richmond discussed in The Parliamentary Review.

Richmond wrote: "It is from here so much work has been done to regenerate, in particular, the Oxford brand. The stationery market is a category that faces an ongoing struggle to remain relevant to younger consumers of the post-millennial generation. The Oxford maths set is a prime example of this. Having once sat at the top of every student’s school list for a new year, the appeals of cheaper own-label products had impacted sales.“

In 2017 we launched a new range of coloured maths sets. In doing this, the objective was to reignite a relatively stagnant category where our share was declining within the stationery market. It was the first real change to the Oxford maths set for many years, and the trade reacted with general enthusiasm.”

With Helix Trading as a supplier having recognised the need for innovation, the need for the retailers it serves to be equally as ‘forward thinking’ cannot be understated, especially those operating on the troubled high streets.

Indeed, as Richmond wrote in 2018, Helix Trading already had plans to make further updates to its Oxford maths set product to make it more contemporary over 2019 and 2020 and stay ahead of trends.

Richmond said: “We are constantly striving to stay ahead of the trends and make generations of the future remember Helix and Oxford fondly from their school days. That brand recognition is 130 years in the making, and it is treasured by us. But even though this is the case, we can’t sit back and treat it as a right; it’s something we have to continue to work for.”

Its new future orientated attitude to business certainly seems to have paid off, with the group entity, Maped Helix, having now been confirmed as a sponsor for National Stationery Week in 2020.

National Stationery Week, running from April 20-26 next year, will form part of a campaign to get British youngsters back into writing, marketed by the promotional hashtag: #WritingMatters.

Maped Helix’s marketing manager, Lianne Fletcher, said: “National Stationery Week combines both fun and meaning into a campaign that encourages the nation to put pen to paper.

“Maped Helix has stood the test of time with iconic products and we were keen to be involved with this fantastic event.”

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
November 22 2019

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