Helix Trading

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Helix Trading is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.


Highlighting best practice
Gray Richmond, managing
Oxford maths set
Founded in the 19th century around the time state
education became universal in the UK, Helix saw an early
opportunity to provide school equipment – a market in
which, to this day, it is still broadly situated. In short, Helix is
a stationery manufacturer. The brand has seen a lot over the
last three centuries, and survives whatever trials come its way
by combining its strong commitment to historical continuity
with a genuine desire to move with the times. That is to say,
it recognises its strengths, but also seeks to adapt – and it’s
this adaptability that’s kept it going through whatever tumult
comes its way. At the fore of this movement with the times is
their managing director – Gray Richmond – whose exposition
of Helix’s progress comprises the followingpiece.
Our historical background
Helix has long since established itself as one of the most recognised stationery
brands in the UK and abroad. Those reading this article now will almost certainly
remember lessons using our Oxford maths set and shatter-resistant rulers. While,
of course, not the purpose of the product, I am sure there are still school desks
etched with students’ names using the point of a Helix compass.
Helix was founded in 1887 and is still proudly based in its West Midlands
home. Helix has had to overcome quite a few obstacles over the last 20 years.
However,these are just the latest setbacks for a company proud of its record in
»Managing director:
»Established in 1887
»Based in Kingswinford, West
»Services: Manufacture of
»No. of employees: 40
»Manufactures the highly-
recognisable Oxford maths set
»Has been based in the Black
Country since its inception
Maped Helix
adapting to the times. In 1887, then
known as the Universal Woodworking
Company, we were the first to mass
produce school rulers; in 1894 we
introduced the modern drawing
compass; in 1899 we became the
first to produce rulers in a plastic-type
material; and, in 1912, the first to
market a “maths set”. The Helix ruler
is probably one of the best known in
the world, and it was upon this initial
manufacturer of rulers and compasses
that the firm was built.
Helix fell into administration in
2012 against a backdrop of an
unmanageable SKU count, lack
of innovation at product level and
declining margins. Helix was then
bought by Maped, a stationery
company based in France with
worldwide reach. The message,
however, was clear that it was
important to reinvigorate the Helix
and Oxford brands. We were now
part of a wider European family, but
the heritage of Helix needed to be
protected. We were therefore the
guardians of the brand.
Moving with the times
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. How could we reinvigorate this
iconic product while staying true to its
roots? Younger generations are now
captivated by colour. The traditional
Oxford blue was well known, but it
did not jump off the shelf. We also
had the concern within the business
that if we moved to introduce
“fashion” colours as an alternative,
it would go against the DNA of the
company. Nevertheless, 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. Keen to
keep hold of our roots, we also used
the trend for nostalgia to produce a
Our headquarters in the
West Midlands
We are
striving to stay
ahead of the
Highlighting best practice
vintage maths set that would appeal to
the traditionalists. A bow top compass
and wooden ruler were just two of the
additions to the set. As a result, we
improved retail sales by 18 per cent
and grew our market share at retail
by almost 5 per cent. This was made
all the more impressive as it was set
against the backdrop of Brexit and the
devaluation of the pound against the
dollar, making the trading environment
more challenging than it was in many
years prior.
Already plans are in place for 2019
and 2020 for further developments
of the Oxford maths set. 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.
Looking to the future
Many companies in stationery and
other consumer goods categories
have implemented similar strategies
with varying degrees of success. In
1956, Helix made the brave step
of dealing directly with retailers for
the first time, angering many of its
wholesalers. We have a record of
innovation and forward thinking at
Helix. The temptation is always to
stick with the tried and trusted, but
we are in a time where change is
happening faster than ever before,
and we need to embrace this. The
key is finding a balance between
moving with the times, all the
while remembering and protecting
where you came from. This has only
been the first very small step in the
evolution of our brand. With time,
dedication and an open mind, our
stationery will hopefully remain at
the desks of our children’s children
They key is
finding a
moving with
the times, all
the while
and protecting
where you
came from
Our talented and
passionate management


This article was sponsored by Helix Trading. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.