Business interview: Laura Pagan, Pagazzi Lighting
After striking out on her own, Laura Pagan is enjoying a new phase for her firm after her daughter joined the team
After more than three decades in business, Laura Pagan knows what people want to brighten up their home.
Regarded as one of the most experienced lighting buyers in the UK, she designs and sources more than 3,000 products sold through a network of 14 Pagazzi Lighting retail outlets located from Aberdeen to Doncaster.
It survived the recession that took out so many others reliant on the housing market by trimming its sails and changing tack, and as the economic seas have calmed, turnover has recovered to about £12 million in the latest financial year.
With daughter Rebecca now on board as well, the family-owned company is marking this month’s 35th anniversary with renewed expansion plans both online and offline. Pagan says: “We are working on two or three possible new locations that will hopefully open within the next year or so. We’ll also be re-launching our website by the year-end, which has been a six-figure investment.”
But it could have been a rather different story. After finishing up at Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow, Pagan joined Royal Bank of Scotland as a teller. During her seven years at the bank she met and married husband Alan, a professional within the computer industry. Although both had steady jobs, the couple became increasingly drawn to the idea of setting up their own enterprise.
“Working at the bank, I would see people who had their own businesses, and they appeared to have a good life,” Pagan recalls. “They worked hard, and they were rewarded for it.”
Alan sold his car to top up the couple’s savings to about £10,000 to get a business off the ground – but for a twist of fate they might have opted to go into greeting cards as opposed to selling lighting fixtures. When a 2,500sq ft unit became available on West George Street, there was already a card shop nearby, and the decision was made.
“I didn’t know a single thing about lighting,” Pagan says. “At that time, we just felt there was a gap in the market for either greeting cards or lighting. It was all dependent on where a shop became available.”
Pagazzi remained a “lifestyle” business throughout many of the early years, with Pagan taking primary responsibility for the operation while Alan continued in the computer industry. A second shop opened in Hamilton and the Glasgow store eventually relocated to Sauchiehall Street, but the first retail park outlet didn’t come until 2002 with an opening Birkenshaw in Uddingston.
It was around this time that Alan joined Pagazzi full-time as managing director, allowing his wife to concentrate solely on the buying expertise she’d developed through years of hard-won experience. It was a “colossal move” but one that paid off as the company went on to self-finance its way to five outlets.
External investment then came into play in the form of Ashleybank Investments, which took a 22 per cent stake that allowed Pagazzi to open two further 10,000sq ft stores. The investment vehicle, controlled by the former owners of Edinburgh Woollen Mill, would go on to play a key role through the economic downturn.
“We managed to come out of it when other people were losing their businesses,” Pagan says. “We watched every single penny, and to be fair, Ashleybank were very supportive through all of that.”
With virtually no-one moving home – a major driver of business for Pagazzi – Pagan decided to broaden the retail offering. This kicked off an ongoing series of trips to China, where she visits factories to help design what has become a range of 1,600 Pagazzi-branded lighting fixtures, pictures and mirrors for owners seeking an affordable new look for their home.
In addition to this successful new line of business, the downturn also paved the way for daughter Rebecca to join the company.
“It definitely wasn’t her plan at all, but again that was recession-led,” Pagan says.
After graduating in marketing in 2008 from the University of Strathclyde, Rebecca’s initial aim was to forge a digital career for herself in London. The plan was to spend the ski season working in Canada before returning to the UK, but by the time she was ready to head back, there were no jobs to be had.
She took on what was meant to be a temporary administrative job at Pagazzi and discovered both an affinity and aptitude for the sector. From the post of marketing manager that she took over in 2010, Rebecca’s duties have expanded as she now also works as a buyer.
Mother and daughter are making their second joint trip to China, which makes the extended stretch away from home much more pleasant for Pagan.
“Once she decided she was enjoying it and wanted to stay, that was great,” she says. “What could be better than getting to travel the world with your daughter?
Born: Glasgow, 1957
Education: Holyrood Secondary School
First job: Teller with Royal Bank of Scotland
Ambition at school: “To do something with arithmetic and business.”
Can’t live without: “My children and husband.”
Kindle or book: “A book. I have got books on my iPad, but my iPad for me is just work, so if I have a book it is relaxation.”
Favourite place: Barbados
Favourite mode of transport: “A four-wheel drive, just because I do a lot of driving, and I like the visibility and the safeness of the car.”
What car do you drive: Porsche Cayenne
What makes you angry: “The stupidity of MPs. The decisions they make at high level often don’t reflect reality at street level.”
What inspires you: “To have a good life.”
Best thing about your job: “That I can make my own decisions, and I am my own boss.”