Wagstaffs’ plans under wraps

Wagstaffs’ appointment of Clare Anderson as managing director is part of plans to grow the business. Clare Dowdy reports.

Wagstaffs is going places – though its new chairman Steve Puxley is keeping exactly where it’s going under his hat.

Wagstaffs, known as a packaging design consultancy, has been through a number of incarnations in recent years. “Solid” and “service-oriented” seems to be the general view of the industry on Wagstaffs, and indeed its long relationship with its major client Safeway is an indication of this.

But, being seen as own-brand packaging specialists doesn’t necessarily attract top design talent. Last year’s purchase of creative outfit The Green House, founded by Judi and Brian Green, was a step towards remedying this.

It was followed five months later by the resignation of creative director Caroline Page, just before Judi Green was appointed creative director (DW 12 December 1997). Consultancy partner Jonathan Shaw insisted the two events were unconnected.

That September, three staff joined from the client side to boost Wagstaffs’ “brand partners” development – “the shared understanding of a client’s business issues to help build leadership brand positions”, according to a spokeswoman at the time.

Last year also saw the arrival of Wendy Frampton, a big-hitter from the advertising world, to concentrate on marketing.

Now Clare Anderson, who has been in the employ of a string of design consultancies in recent years, replaces Puxley as managing director, which allows him to become chairman. Puxley says she will be bringing in “a new vision, a fresh look and a new approach to grow the business even further.”

Puxley has run the business for the past six years and says he has taken it as far as he can in his current role. “I have grown up with the business and the business has grown up with me,” he says. It is now up to him to focus on the consultancy’s next phase of development.

Puxley is loath to be drawn on his plans (“I don’t want to say where the business is going”), but the expansion will either be in the form of acquisitions, link-ups or organic spin-offs. Whether these are with similar design offers or complementary services is yet to be revealed.

Wagstaffs’ setting up of research company Prescient last year may serve as a model for further expansion. “That was one step in the right direction,” says Puxley. “There are a number of design groups that are looking at research as a way of understanding what clients want.” Design Bridge, for example, took a stake in brand development consultancy Illumination in order to boost its research capability (DW 27 February).

This commitment to research reaffirms Wagstaffs’ care of its clients, which seems to pay off with long-term relationships. Following the award-winning design of the Weetabix Advantage packaging, the group has since revamped Ready Brek, also in the Weetabix stable. Before we know it, Wagstaffs will have Weetabix’s whole cereal family under its belt.

Any expansion, however, bar a steady organic upping of staff numbers, takes serious funding, and Wagstaffs bought its venture capitalist backer out two years ago. Puxley says it is looking at different options for funding growth.

Whatever happens, a reticent Puxley states that: “This time next year, it will be a very different Wagstaffs.”

Wagstaffs history

1965: Wagstaffs is formed

1993: Roger Heathcote is brought in as managing director from Lewis Moberly

1995: Heathcote is poached by MPL to be managing director. Steve Puxley and Jonathan Shaw become Wagstaffs joint managing directors

1997: Wagstaffs buys The Green House in July

Wagstaffs has a turnover of 3.6m and 335 staff

Major clients are Abbey National, Cow & Gate, RHM, Safeway, Spillers Petfoods, Cadbury’s and L’Oreal

It has a partnership with research company Prescient

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