Mum owned business celebrates 50 years
Dodo Pad’s 50 years as the best-loved diary specialist
Dodo Pad diaries burst on to the scene back in 1966; to put that into contest, it’s the year England won the World Cup. With it’s unusual, witty and family oriented theme, the Dodo Pad diary immediately became the must-have organiser. Those of you who have had the pleasure of a Dodo Pad will already know what that means…
Fast forward 50 years and, now with Mum of one Rebecca Jay at the helm, the quirky organisation specialist is still making waves and we’re delighted to see the unveiling of its decadent gold and purple 2016 jubilee collection to mark this milestone anniversary.
The 50 year old story of the Dodo Pad is fascinating, packed with business tips that we could all learn from such as how Rebecca saved the company from extinction, and how she lengthened the typically seasonal diary sales with the creation of a new, innovative product. Rebecca has a great new-mum-entrepreneur story so grab a coffee and read all about this marvellous brand.
Dodo Pad was launched back in the mid 1960s by writer, painter and illustrator Sir John Verney. He had a family of seven children and he was looking for a way to help organise and keep track of the comings and goings of the family.
He came up with the idea of a grid format so that everyone’s activities and appointments could be easily seen at a glance and, as an artist and incredibly witty man, embellished this with illustrations and anecdotes. The story goes that he was having a conversation with his publisher William Collins, who asked him about the topic of his next book. He told him that he was done with writing books and would now be spending his time creating the Dodo Pad. The notion was that it would be a tool to ensure family time would not become extinct because of the pressures of daily life, hence the name.
Publisher Harper Collins saw the commercial opportunity there because the Dodo Pad was a product that would be printed every year and hopefully engender repeat purchase. The original 1966 Dodo Pad was born and it was initially hugely successful, with more than 25,000 copies being produced each year by the mid-1970s. It was the first ever family planner – and remains the best-loved to this day.
Rebecca Jay entered the Dodo Pad picture in 1995 – 30 years after its launch and at a time when production had reduced to a tiny print run of 4,000 a year. Harper Collins was selling its stationery and diary division, and Dodo Pad was not to be included in the sale.
Despite huge commercial success in the 1960s and 70s, the Dodo Pad suffered in the 80s and early 90s for a number of reasons, amongst them VAT rules and the fact that Sir John Verney was getting older; he passed away in 1993 and the annual production was only just kept going.
Rebecca says: “My involvement came in 1996. I had been working as CEO in Eastern Europe for (global communications and advertising agency) Saatchi & Saatchi in Prague.
“In early 1995 the business started to really fall into decline following moves by a US-based investment analyst to remove chairman Maurice Saatchi from the board. The company was in turmoil and I found out, quite unexpectedly, that I was pregnant. I decided to take redundancy and move back to the UK.
“Here I was, back in the UK and pregnant – very happily so, but I should add that at the age of 40 I knew I had a big decision to make. I had been offered the chance to work for the newly-formed M&C Saatchi agency in London, knowing it would be 14/15-hour days, as is the way with new ad agencies! Up until then I had enjoyed a great career but I didn’t know if I could cope with the hours and the inevitable pressure with a tiny new baby – and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.”
By chance, just after Rebecca’s son James was born in early 1996, she received a phone call from a good friend asking if she would give some marketing advice to a mutual friend – Bee Peak – about Dodo Pad. With fond memories of receiving a Dodo Pad diary as a Christmas gift as a teenager, she was intrigued.
“I remembered the Dodo Pad very fondly and all those years later it was almost unchanged. This was a family diary and I was a new mum. All my experience to date had been in branding development and advertising and I saw a brand with heritage and humour that I felt had relevance.
“At that point I genuinely believed I would just be having a 30-minute conversation! However when I spoke to Bee she told me about her plans to save Dodo Pad from extinction and asked if I would be prepared to help.
“Thanks to my redundancy package, I had the luxury of not needing to get straight back to work so thought it would be an interesting project to keep my brain working in the early days of motherhood. I remember having my son James – just weeks old at the time – on my lap, and a pen in the other hand, as we launched our bid to save the Dodo Pad. Bee had been to uni with one of Sir John’s daughters and had a very similar sense of humour and artistic talent and, with my professional background, it was a brilliant team effort.”
Rebecca and Bee published the 1997 Dodo Pad edition entirely independently, raising money from their own savings. Initially a total of 5,000 copies were printed and, by December 1996, they had completely sold out and had to do another print run to fulfil the huge demand.
“We started from scratch to build a retail customer base and by the autumn we had more than 70 outlets including Fortnum & Mason, the John Lewis Partnership and Selfridges,” says Rebecca, who now lives with her family in Cornwall.
“We had no computers in our converted sitting room office and our first edition was definitely a triumph of belief over experience because, as first time publishers, we had none!”
In early 1997, at a ‘wash-up’ meeting to review how things had gone, Rebecca suggested that Dodo Pad was a business that should be developed and she subsequently became a 50% shareholder in the newly formed limited company, and devising a five-year plan for the future. The brand was initially developed into other areas of life such as recipe, gardening and travel planners. The atrocities of September 11, 2001 altered proposals at the time to sell the company as the world market stood still and potential buyers pulled out of deals.
Rebecca, who is now Managing Director of Dodo Pad, says: “Due to manufacturing costs, production had to move from the UK to China and we were able to develop the range of niche organiser products, such as our wedding book. Bee stood down in 2004 and Naomi McBride, a very talented artist, designer came on board. Naomi has been the compiler and illustrator of the Dodo Pad since then and over 10 years later remains an integral part of today’s creative and development team.
“At that time I also looked at how we could develop better cash flow for the business, as our income was hugely skewed towards the second half of the year. We came up with the idea of the Acad-Pad, a mid-year planner (August-August), predominantly aimed at students and academics. It has the benefit of sharing much of its creative content with the calendar year Dodo Pad and so is perfectly ‘on brand’.
“More importantly, as well as helping with year round cash flow, this product was aimed at a new generation. We had been incredibly popular in the 60s and 70s and we were now on to the third generation of families using the Dodo Pad. The Acad-Pad has proved incredibly popular in the 10 years since it was launched and is used by thousands of younger customers who buy it alongside the Dodo Pad and not instead of it.”
Over the past five years both Dodo Pad and Acad-Pad have has been developed into a variety of size formats to suit every organisational style and more recently the company has branched into ‘everyday stationery’, including jotters and reminder pads, which have so far been a runaway success.
From its roots as a family planner, Dodo Pad now offers products to organise every single aspect of life. As well as the original Dodo Pad diaries and planners, there are now monthly calendars, wedding planners for brides-to-be, dinner party planners, wall planners, jotter pads, an organiser for mums-to-be, house moves, household chores and wellbeing – and everything in between.
Rebecca believes the reason for Dodo Pad’s ongoing success is simple.
“The brand really does have a personality and people relate to it,” she says. “It’s funny, it’s witty and it’s quirky and creative. The thing with branding is that brands have to be distinctive and stand out from the crowd. You take something like Marmite for example – whether you love it or loathe it – it is an iconic brand and instantly recognisable, not just for its jar shape and labelling or distinctive taste and texture, but also for the way of talking about itself in its advertising and marketing.
“Dodo Pad is a unique brand that people love. What other diary brand have you ever heard people say they ‘love’? Dodo Pad has also been a leader in its field. There may be a number of planners available now that uses the grid format in some shape or form – but all of them are based on the original Dodo Pad.”
Each Dodo Pad planner and organiser is still packed with quirky illustrations, witty phrases and funny anecdotes and the brand still features the eponymous Lord Dodo character, who has been featured from the very beginning.
The 2016 edition marks a special occasion for Dodo Pad, being its 50th year in production. The jubilee collection of diaries and planners features a striking gold and purple cover and is filled with a selection of some of the best doodles and anecdotes from previous diaries over the past 50 years as well as dozens of brand new ones.
Congratulations to Dodo Pad for 50 successful years, it’s a shame we can’t congratulate the England footie team for the same really 😉