Trophex Talks To ...

John-Paul Cowan, Managing Director, Trendsetting Awards.

How and when did you start working in the industry?

Trophies have been part of my world for the majority of my life, from assembling trophies as a six year old for pocket money to accompanying my father (John Cowan) on sales trips around the UK in the mid to late eighties.

Before embarking on my degree in business studies at university I had already worked in all parts of the family business and gained valuable knowledge and experience which was a real bonus when it came to my studies.

Having completed my degree I ventured to London and worked in the banking sector before returning to Newcastle to again work for the family business and plan my Fathers succession.

In June 2008, almost ten years ago we went through a Management Buy Out where I became owner and Managing Director of Trendsetting Awards. So, you could say that in my 42 years that I have actively been working in the Trophy industry for 36 of those. I feel that I definitely deserve a medal. 

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

There are a number of highlights that come to mind. Firstly and within six months of taking the business on from my father we assembled a new management team. In turn we quickly developed our supervisors and staff and to date 95% of our core staff have remained with the business. We have enjoyed year on year growth consecutively for ten years. 

This is testament to the great people we have working here at Trendsetting Awards and I am extremely proud to have watched the team flourish and experience success in a growing company.

Secondly, one of our key aims back in 2008 was to develop a design team to develop new innovative products, catalogue production and general marketing. We now have a team of five designers with fantastic creative flair which gives us a real edge and the new 2018 catalogue and product is our most innovative to date. It gives me a real buzz to work with such creative people with everyday bringing something new and exciting.

Lastly, it was great to see my Father being recognised for his contribution to the Trophy industry at Trophex Live 2018 after receiving the Russel Greening Award. He has worked extremely hard to keep Trend at the forefront of innovation in the industry for 40 years and thoroughly deserved this award and recognition. Well done dad!  

What changes have you seen over the years that have had an impact on the industry?

In my opinion the two biggest changes that have impacted the industry in the UK in last twenty years would be the emergence and growth of online shopping and the internet and the rise of polyresin and heavyweight plastics. 

Another negative factor which has had an impact on the industry was the decline in the working men’s clubs and pubs which drove the market for pool, darts, adult football etc. The fall in demand for trophies within these sports has been offset by changing culture and the emergence of new sports and pastimes that require trophies.

How do you think your organisation has contributed to or influenced the industry?

We are not afraid to push the boundaries and try new ideas and you can see this in the products and catalogues going back over 40 years. We now have an experienced design team and we are really pushing ourselves to innovate and develop plastics, resins, cups, bases, crystal and medals for our 2019 catalogue. The UK market is extremely competitive with a lot of good companies working hard to offer innovative product. I would like to think that we are up there, keeping the standard high and offering the most innovative products at great prices. I think a lot of companies both home and abroad look at what we do and I see our influence in catalogues and product each year which can only be taken as a compliment.

How do you think the UK leaving the European Union will impact the future of business?

Until we have more information and detail on the ‘divorce’ it is impossible to predict the general impact of Brexit. There are so many variables and contributing factors. However, I do feel there will be little impact on our core UK trading business in that we buy directly from China and supply to UK retail.  We may even end up with a more favourable trade deal which would allow us to offer better value within the UK. 

The main issue will be our exports to Europe including Eire, although this only accounts for a fraction of turnover. We would need a free trade deal with the minimum necessary bureaucracy on shipping goods. There may be a bigger issue if the UK agrees a trade deal with China and we end up paying lower tariffs on imports from China than our EU counterparts. We may end up having to pay a compensatory tariff to the EU on exporting to any EU country. This is easy to deal with and I would expect us to register as a “trusted trader”. This means we would promise to declare things honestly and pay any tariffs due.

It is also likely that the UK customs system will undergo a huger overhaul and this will reduce costs and delays of importing goods from the Far East.

Do you think 3D printing will become a cost effective way to create Trophies and Awards in the future?

In my opinion we are a long way from 3D printing becoming a cost effective option to buy trophies. Currently you pay anything between £100 and £150 for a 3D model of acceptable quality and this does not include the design cost or paint finish. 

It may work for bespoke trophies with a high budget but for volume, thankfully it is currently out of the question. 

What role in your opinion does the internet play in the industry?

The internet, as in most industries is changing the way we all do business. Consumers want to buy online in increasing numbers.  However, in the trophy industry and because of the complexity and variables in the personalisation element there is still a need to visit premises. Consumers still want to hold and feel the product and make sometimes complicated personalisation choices. This makes for a more complicated purchase than buying a pair of trainers for example and with that, businesses with premises will always be in demand. 

That said, I do feel that a large proportion of the market has migrated towards the online option when the purchase quantities are in the main lower. There are ever increasing numbers of amazing online retail websites where big investment has been made across the entire business and these businesses are experiencing year on year growth.

Do you feel an online presence is essential to increase profitability and product range awareness for suppliers and retailers alike?

Undoubtedly an online presence is essential for product and brand awareness at all levels of the industry. It allows for a 24 hour, 7 days week, 365 days per year shopping experience both for retailers and consumers.  The modern age demands this. 

This summer we will launch the new website which we have spent the last 18 months developing.  The new site will have much more to offer in terms of ease of use and useful information.  It’s a big investment and demonstrates the need not only to have a presence but a relevant and strong presence aimed at improving massively the customer experience when using the site. 

How important is brand exposure in addition to product sales?

Brand exposure and brand awareness is extremely important and in the last number of years it is obvious that more businesses in the trophy industry are taking this more seriously either by investing in re-brands and/or brand evolution. Obviously, product sales is number one and is everybody’s ‘now’, however brand exposure and awareness is both ‘now’ and ‘future’.

Trendsetting Awards is our sole brand and whilst we have evolved the brand over the years it has largely remained the same and is synonymous with our core values of our customers are number one, leading through innovation and great service. 

Where do you think the industry will be in 10 years’ time?

The trophy industry and structure of the industry is changing at a rapid pace and with recent developments it’s difficult to say where the industry will be in 3 years let alone 10 years. The certainty without doubt is that the internet will continue to dictate change and the movement away from traditional shopping to online shopping will continue albeit at a slower pace in the trophy industry comparable to other industries. There will always be a need for the consumer to visit, look and feel trophies and decide on personalisation, certainly for clubs and associations. However, at what point does the loss of business to online really start to affect businesses with premises to the point where they cannot go on?

The changes that are in play now will be good for some and not others. In my opinion those who react well and develop a successful online presence to complement their premises, add additional revenue streams will be the ones that grow, flourish and ultimately survive.

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 268 2000