LONDON — Smythson’s new chief executive officer Mark Daley has begun polishing the luxury stationery and leather goods brand from the inside out, preparing the company for a growth spurt that involves store openings, a wider variety of leather and paper goods, and a greater embrace of technology.
He’s doing it all with a frank American wit that’s no doubt tickling the halls of Britain’s most famous stationer, a 130-year-old business that boasts three Royal Warrants — from Queen Elizabeth, her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, and Prince Charles.
Smythson’s current and past clients are an illustrious bunch — Sigmund Freud, Katharine Hepburn and Erdem Moralioglu are among the many who have scribbled in Smythson Panama diaries — while Queen Elizabeth has used the brand’s Royal Court diary nearly every year of her working life.
Daley, who joined Smythson last August, spent much of his career at DFS, part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s selective retail division, and later moved onto Dean & Deluca and Ralph Lauren Corp., where he served as president, Asia-Pacific, for the past five years. His job now is to take a jewel of a company — the products are rarely marked down and the diaries never go on sale — place it in a slick, modern setting, and watch its value grow.
“I want people to be curious about Smythson. I want them to question it, to check it out. We have such confidence in the product that we know that if you come to play, you’re going to stay,” he said.
Daley said he expects the business to grow 20 percent in the 2016-17 fiscal year, with the sale of paper products alone increasing by 50 percent.
The bulk of the business comes from leather goods, which generate about 70 percent of sales, with the remaining 30 percent coming from its hand-bound notebooks, stationery and other paper products.
Smythson is owned by investor Jacques Bahbout. Daley declined to comment on the company’s current performance, but according to Companies House, the official register of U.K. businesses, Smythson had sales of 29.5 million pounds, or $47.5 million, in the 2014-15 fiscal year, a 10 percent increase on the previous year.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 1 million pounds, or $1.61 million, while the company registered a loss of 989,000 pounds, or $1.59 million.
Daley said he wants to focus on Smythson’s luxury lifestyle offer, and stay away from fashion or seasonality.
“We’re not a high fashion brand. I’m not trying to redefine yellow. I’m not trying to have a runway show. We don’t want to be an apparel company. What we do is we make amazing products at the highest-quality level, and our job is to propel ourselves internally. You can’t just leap, you’ve got to get your foundation built, which we’re doing.”
The brand has recently tapped two young brand ambassadors James Norton, who’s starring in the BBC TV series “War and Peace,” and Vanessa Kirby, the British stage, TV and film actress who will star alongside Gillian Anderson in “A Streetcar Named Desire” off Broadway later this year.
The company owns all of its manufacturing, with paper products handmade in England and leather goods manufactured in Italy. Daley said he’s at work on improving the brand’s customer relationship management systems, increasing the number of handmade books Smythson can produce, and training more young artisans how to use the engraving machines.
A few weeks ago, the company launched a new point of sale system, last May moved its warehouse to prepare for better distribution for the Internet business and rebuilt its manufacturing facility and expanded its facilities in Italy.
Daley said Smythson is also upgrading its online execution with fresh features, examining how long transactions take, adding PayPal and better payment platforms.
“We have to have ways where you can personalize the product online, see what it’s like, flip it over, zip it up, there’s a lot of things that are in the marketplace today that we’ll be implementing, and we expect the fastest compound of annual growth over the next five years will be online,” he said.
The brand is also pursuing a brick-and-mortar strategy, with plans to add 20 to 30 locations over the next five years. Stores will open in Manhattan on Madison Avenue and 61st Street in mid-March and at the World Trade Center in August, both of which span about 2,000 square feet. Smythson is also planning units in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Seoul.
Britain’s first lady Samantha Cameron, who has been working with Smythson for nearly 20 years, will be involved with the New York opening and continues to offer support from a marketing perspective, Daley said.
The brand currently has about 18 POS, including flagships on Bond Street and Sloane Street in London; a handful of concessions in Paris and London; two stores in Hong Kong; one in New York, and a small international wholesale business.
As for the product itself, Daley said the in-house design team has been working on translating the higher-quality leathers into books and diaries. Asked whether Smythson would appoint a new creative chief — Rory O’Hanlon was the brand’s first and only design director — Daley said he planned to stick with the in-house team.
Daley added that the Smythson product “machine” is becoming a bit more nimble, with the design team able to respond quicker to changes in technology, and create new cases for the new iPad or iPhone, for instance. Even the Smythson diaries, which regularly feature printed, fold-out maps of different cities, will in the future suggest specific apps for travelers to download to help them navigate a certain city.