Pre-2020, Cult Pens was occasionally treated to the whirlwind that is Paul Sacki. He'd arrive sometime during the morning in a taxi from the train station, laden with what looked like all his worldly possessions, and proceed to drag an enormous suitcase up the stairs and into the meeting room, calling out greetings as he went.
Paul is the Managing Director of Jakar International, a family business founded in 1949 that has been supplying retailers with art materials, stationery and craft products throughout the UK and Ireland for over 70 years. At the moment, Paul's visits are virtual, which are less exhausting perhaps but not quite as much fun! We miss the suitcase… During the most recent one we seized the opportunity to catch up with him to chat art... Caran d'Ache... and music!
Cult Pens: Paul, Jakar has remained a family business throughout its years but how did it all start? Paul: In 1939 my grandmother Lydia Sacki fled Nazi Germany to come to the UK. Arriving penniless, she was helped by the Quakers and was able to start a boarding house for paying guests. One such guest, fellow German Jew Julius Kaufmann, had contacts in Germany and it wasn’t long before he and Lydia started a business in the kitchen of the house, importing drawing instruments and cuckoo clocks. Over the years, stationery was added to the range and in 1959 the Swiss house of Caran d'Ache approached the company and Jakar became their UK distributors in 1960, thus expanding their art and stationery ranges and moving into craft. Lydia's son Kenneth (my father) was by then involved with the business and it was he who developed sales, primarily to retailers. I myself joined the family business in 1979, marking three generations of Sacki family involvement.
CP: When did Jakar move out of the kitchen? Or are you still there? ;) PS: No, we're not still there! The business soon outgrew its kitchen top origins and in the 1950s, we moved to premises in nearby Hertfordshire. Then in the early 1960s we were on the move again with the whole family upping sticks to North London and new premises. In 2015, Hertfordshire beckoned again, and Jakar is now settled in Elstree.
CP: What are the core products and ranges that Jakar sell? Paul: Art, craft and stationery products.
CP: What have been the greatest industry changes that you have seen over the years? Paul: The move to more online consumer buying.
CP: What are your own personal favourites that you sell? Paul: The Caran d'Ache range of colouring products, artists' knives, cutting mats, telescopic tubes and the vast range of pencil sharpeners!
CP: Telescopic tubes..? Paul: Yes! Telescopic postal tubes. Wonderful things.
CP: What plans does Jakar have in the pipeline for 2021? Paul: Whilst most of this year will be spent consolidating, we do plan to launch some new products later in the year once the current climate improves.
CP: What are you most proud of? Paul: That Jakar remains an independent family business.
CP: If you hadn't taken over at the helm at Jakar, what career would you have followed? Paul: I'm very keen on music so it would have to be something in sales and marketing in the music industry, possibly concert promotions.
CP: What's the mantra that you live by? Paul: Having started at the bottom in our organisation and worked my way up, it would have to be 'Hard work (and perseverance) pays off'
CP: Do you have any artistic talent yourself? Paul: Sadly not, but that doesn’t stop me appreciating good art products. Certainly I have friends and colleagues who are creative and do very much appreciate our arts products.
CP: What do you most enjoy about your work? Paul: I'm surrounded by an incredibly good, loyal team and going out and meeting our customers in their own settings is really pleasurable. It's just a really great industry to be in.