Independent Top 100 Business': Maxwell escapee triumphs

Sticker company is the fastest grower

A COMPANY that escaped the clutches of the late Robert Maxwell to become Britain's leading publisher of children's sticker books is this year's fastest-growing privately owned business.

Merlin Publishing International, which achieved annual sales growth of 104.4 per cent over the five years to 1994, has been identified by the fifth annual Independent 100 listing compiled by the Independent on Sunday in collaboration with Price Waterhouse, the accountants. It ranks companies by their rise in turnover over five years. The Middle Market 50 Award, now in its third year and designed to mark the achievement of companies that expand from a base of at least £5m sales in the first year of the period, is headed by the computer systems company, Morse Group.

Merlin publishes albums, and stickers to place in them, for children aged between two and 14. The idea is that the children buy the albums and then collect the stickers, swapping doubles for ones they do not have. Peter Warsop, the managing director, attributed the success of the company, which last year had sales of more than £20m, to its people and dedication to sales and marketing. "We've realised our people are important, and we put a great deal of effort into each project," he said.

Merlin was founded five years

ago, when two senior executives from the Italian publisher Panini broke away from the Maxwell organisation, which had recently bought the company. They joined with Mr Warsop, who had worked on distributing Panini products at WH Smith for several years, and set about building a British company with plans to move on to the world stage.

"We wanted to be the largest UK company [in our field] by the end of three years," said Mr Warsop. "In fact, we did it within two years."

Despite early attentions from Mr Maxwell's company, designed to halt the newcomer's rise, Merlin now accounts for 80 per cent of the UK market and is making serious inroads in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, France, Spain and the United States. It trades in 30 countries.

Mr Warsop says the sticker concept - similar to cigarette cards of old - is so popular that an Easter tour of sports centres at big cities by many of the company's employees attracted crowds of 20,000 youngsters. The events, which included swapping children's duplicate stickers free of charge, was a sign that the company went to a lot of trouble "not just for the licensor, but the collector," he added.

This is not just altruism. Mr Warsop regards it as good business sense.

Pointing out that most of the senior managers had been in the business for 20 years, he said: "We want to be doing the same job in another 20 years. We take a very long view of the trade. Some of the companies take a shorter view."

With its Panini roots, the company, based in Milton Keynes, is probably best known for football albums and stickers. But Mr Warsop says that it will publish anything that appeals to the children who buy its wares. It is involved in a number of film and television tie-ins.

As part of continuous attempts to improve the quality of production and the value to the youngsters, the albums are filled with ever more information. It is a policy that appears to be paying off.

In key markets, such as Britain and Germany, about a dozen sticker collections are launched each year and as many as 80 million packets can be sold in each territory.

Sales in the financial year just ended were up to about £35m and profits almost doubled to about £3.8m.

This year, sales are 90 per cent ahead of the same period last year, with profits in line.

In the face of this growth, Mr Warsop and his colleagues are concerned to keep control of the development of the company. Although confident in the experience and ability of the top managers, they have started putting in place a strong second tier.

In addition, Stephen Willcox, another former colleague of Mr Warsop from WH Smith, has joined the board as finance director to bring in international expertise.

Nor are the executives afraid to cede equity in the interests of building long-term relationships. Very early on Gieves Group, the company that owns the Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes, took a 7 per cent interest in the company through its printing and book distribution business.

More recently, they raised cash for themselves - the company itself is self-financing - by selling 40 per cent of the company to Patricia Kluge, the socialite and ex-wife of John Kluge, the US media millionaire who last week sold his Mar Lodge Estate in the Scottish Highlands.

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

PMO Analyst - London - Banking - £350 - £400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Banking - London - £350 -£400 per d...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

Test Lead - London - Investment Banking

£475 - £525 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Investment Banking, Technical ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game