Celebrating 25 years in the industry, the team at PenCarrie marks this significant anniversary with a trip down memory lane and looks back on just how it got to where it is today.
It all started back in 1991. On what is now the largest industrial estate in Exeter, PenCarrie founder Paul Persey, his sister-in-law Penny and wife Caroline (hence the company name) established PenCarrie as a garment distributor.
Things looked very different back then, Paul was manufacturing 539M polo shirts for Russell (or Jerzees as they were known back then) and Russell was looking for a way to adopt distribution as a route to market. Paul was appointed a distributorship and the family business was established.
PenCarrie’s first warehouse was just 350sq m, tiny in comparison to the one occupied today. Penny and Caroline started building a customer base by making calls from the Yellow Pages. The business soon gathered momentum and the need for an additional pair of hands meant that Andrea Charteris, customer services manager and longest serving employee, joined for the summer of 1991 at the tender age of 18 to help out. As Andrea now fondly points out: “It’s been a very long summer! I don’t know where the 25 years have gone to be honest. I love my job. Some of the customers have now become friends. We are very lucky at PenCarrie, you have to work hard to get it, but we have a very good relationship with our customers and a very good level of respect and appreciation. We get a lot of love from our customers and I think it’s because we show it to them.”
As the years progressed, so did the business, with brands like Fruit of the Loom and Result joining a year later and helping PenCarrie to grow out of its first warehouse in 1992.
In 1993 PenCarrie produced its first brochure, an industry first. It was just 12 pages long and featured hand-drawn illustrations of the garments. This kick started the growth of the business and saw the creation of the annual brochure now used across the industry.
Soon after in 1995, and with more brands coming on board, John Mallett, now warehouse manager, joined the business and is currently the distributor’s second longest serving member of staff. He recalls that the way the warehouse staff worked 20 years ago is very different to today. “In the early days we would unload a lorry and put it all on the floor in products, put labels on them and then handwrite the product codes on the labels. Each person in the warehouse had a sector and was responsible for a certain brand, so that person had to know say, what the Fruit of the Loom codes were and what PenCarrie called the product,” he said.
In the same year, PenCarrie moved to its third warehouse which measured 3,500sq m, just in time to celebrate its fifth anniversary in 1996.
Another relocation and a warehouse load more brands boosted the brochure by an additional 136 pages, and by 2001, what started as a small family business was rapidly growing into a national distribution company. Now with over 26 brands and more growth on the horizon, the digital age was slowly creeping in and the way the business interacted with its customers was about to change.
In 2003 PenCarrie’s first website was live. It was used to display garments online and acted as the first version of the company’s online brochure. It wasn’t until four years later and that PenCarrie’s first customer ordered online using the PenCarrie Orderpad. This changed the way that the company did business forever. It wasn’t just the online ordering in 2007 that changed the dynamics of how the business operated, managing director Tony Lock joined the PenCarrie family.
Despite another major recession, the number of brands and products expanded further, offering an ever-increasing choice and the business continued to grow. 2010 saw a dramatic change with the takeover of UKL in Swindon which for a short time saw PenCarrie UKL service the market across two locations. Merging the two teams together, with many dedicated staff relocating to Exeter, meant that the company gained a great deal of momentum as it continued to focus on its profitable growth and on providing industry-leading service. This inevitably meant more brands coming aboard and the brochure reaching 368 pages. 2011 also saw PenCarrie reach its 20th anniversary and to celebrate hosted a weekend party for staff.
PenCarrie took its next leap in 2013, moving its entire operation to a purpose built distribution centre in Willand, Devon, ideally located on junction 28 of the M5. Offering 11,000sq m of space, it’s now a staggering 31 times bigger than the first.
Tony attributes some of the company’s growth in the last three to five years to the internet. This is because of people selling online to the end user, whether that is a plain garment or a decorated garment.
He adds: “But I think the main reason for growth is firstly, availability of choice and secondly, businesses being more conscious on all levels of brand image. Whether that’s how they want to promote themselves to their customer or to provide uniform for their staff. The sector has benefitted from people realising that there is huge choice available from distributors, who now represent not three or four brands, but 70 or 80+ brands.”
Welcoming exclusive brand SOL’S to the family of brands, PenCarrie really stepped up its game, with lots of exciting new brands breaking into the market in the following years, including Trespass and Salomon in 2014.
In September 2014 PenCarrie opened The Academy, an onsite training and demonstration facility for customers to visit, try and learn about the different decorating techniques available. Headed up by John Williams, The Academy saw over 150 customers in its first 12 months. John continues to work closely with brands Amaya Sales UK, TheMagicTouch and Xpres on demonstration days and events while offering a number of different options of group and bespoke open days throughout the year.
John says: “The continued aim of The Academy is to support our customers with as much knowledge, support and tuition as we can, to ensure they have all they need to succeed, develop and grow their own businesses.”
And in its 25th year PenCarrie is showing no signs of slowing down. Five new brands; So Denim by AWDis, AWDis Academy, Comfort Colors, Dennys Brands and Mantis World, have joined the PenCarrie family. And its anniversary brochure has reached 800 pages and is now not only available in paper format but as a bespoke digital brochure on a USB stick.
Tony adds: “Overall the current team has over 720 years of collective service under its belt. Without their dedication complementing the support of the brands and the loyalty of the customers, the company wouldn’t be as strong as it is today and the management team, including myself and the family shareholders are keen to highlight our appreciation.
“Suffice to say, it’s been a great ride so far, and there’s no slowing down for PenCarrie and the dedicated team that makes up the PenCarrie story. The business is constantly evolving and reacting to the needs of our customers, as well as keeping ahead of the curve with the latest technological developments and offerings.
“PenCarrie was founded on the ethos of delivering exceptional customer service and prides itself on its family values. All employees, brand contacts and customers are treated as individuals and also like extended members of the PenCarrie family. With a strong focus on service and delivering to the needs of customers across all parts of the business, PenCarrie loves its customers.”
The team at PenCarrie is hopeful that this is a journey that will continue for years to come as the industry develops and expands even further.