A stronger website and wider product range have helped the retailer’s profits to bounce back.

Organic growth and acquisitions have characterised the past decade at stationer Ryman, which began a chequered history on British high streets in 1893.

Founded by Henry J Ryman nearly 120 years ago, the stationer opened its first store on Great Portland Street in London and grew steadily into an established chain.

From the 1970s onwards, the chain changed hands a number of times. It was acquired by the Burton Group and then entrepreneur Jennifer D’Abo before it was brought into the Pentos Group where its sister brand was book chain Dillons. Theo Paphitis bought the business from Pentos in 1995, and is still chairman.

In the past 10 years Ryman has added 144 stores through acquisitions alone. It bought 83 shops from rival Partners in 2001 and 61 Stationery Box stores shortly before it entered administration in January 2007.

The retailer saw a notable uptick in performance in 2004/05 as operations were bolstered by an rising number of products being imported at lower costs. However, the following years proved difficult as Partners stores held back group performance.

But the acquisition of Stationery Box in 2007 provided a lift in the face of tough trading conditions over the following two years.

The retailer then embarked on an extensive rebranding programme, with both Partners and Stationery Box stores being converted to a new Ryman Stationery fascia, the Ryman brand having outperformed its stablemates for some time.

The group changed its name at this point from Chancerealm to Ryman Group, consolidating its head office and support services to achieve new efficiencies.

Ryman’s head office was relocated from Hayes, in Middlesex, to the site of the former Partners distribution centre in Crewe.

Despite the efficiency drive, sales were hit by the economic downturn in 2008/09, before bouncing back the following year. Ryman enjoyed a strong improvement in performance in 2009/10 as operating profit increased 18.1%. The improvement in fortunes was thanks largely to Ryman capitalising on the collapse of Woolworths, combined with a store refurb programme.

Ryman relaunched its website in 2010 in anticipation of the increasing importance of multichannel. Retail Week Knowledge Bank estimates online trade represents just 6% of sales but the retailer has stated it aims to raise this to 20% in the medium term.

The website has a strong focus on commercial customers, offering bulk purchases options and substantially reduced delivery charges. Ryman also plans to begin operating a click-and-collect service although no time frame has been set. Alongside extensive stationery ranges from paper products and ink cartridges to office furniture, the site also lists a number of services including personalised stationery, a printing service and wedding stationery.

Ryman now sells in excess of 5,500 commercial stationery products, and more than 200 stores also function as DHL Servicepoints for parcel collection.

The expanded range and online business contributed to an improvement in performance last year. In its latest accounts, pre-tax profits at Ryman surged 14.1% to £7.2m in the year to April 2, 2011. Turnover jumped 2.3% to £126.2m.

But Retail Week Knowledge Bank is cautious as to whether economic conditions will play in Ryman’s favour. It says: “Both businesses and consumers are likely to be affected by the stalling economic recovery coupled with lower consumer confidence. Management is expected to continue to take a cautious approach towards further store openings in the short term.

“Management attention will surely be focused on reducing the company’s staff costs-to-sales ratio. While the company does provide high service levels, significant improvements should be possible which would have an immediately positive effect on the balance sheet.”

But Ryman’s pushing of the envelope, through diversifying its ranges and focusing on multichannel, should ensure continued success.

Writing on the wall

Store numbers 240

Chairman Theo Paphitis

Group chief executive Kypros Kyprianou

Managing director Malcolm Cooke

Finance director Simon Lakin

Results for year to April 2, 2011

Pre-tax profit Up 14.1% to £7.2m

Turnover Up 2.3% to £126.2m