The light fantastic

The light fantastic

Laura and Rebecca Pagan shine a light on what it’s like for a mother and daughter to work so closely together, writes BQ Scotland editor Peter Ranscombe.

Walk into a room where Laura and Rebecca Pagan are sitting and it’s almost guaranteed to be full of laughter. Smiles are seldom far from the faces of the mother-and-daughter team behind Pagazzi Lighting, the Newton Mearns-based business that has a network of 14 shops throughout Scotland and the North of England.

“If we’re getting on each other’s nerves then we just come out and say it,” smiles Rebecca, 28. “I think that’s the secret to why we get along so well.”

Honesty like that certainly appears to have been the best policy for the pair, who travel the world together to visit their suppliers and to source lights, lamps and mirrors for their shops and for their thriving website. Their family business now has around 150 staff and turns over some £12m a year. It’s come a long way since Laura founded the company in 1980.

Laura was brought up at Muirend on the Southside of Glasgow and joined the Royal Bank of Scotland when she left school at 16. She met her future husband, Alan Pagan, the following year and, after they got married, the pair soon knew that they wanted to launch their own company.

“We had decided that we wanted to have our own business but we didn’t know what kind of business,” explains Laura, now 58.  “Then we got the site for our first shop in the city centre on West George Street in Glasgow and it was just around the corner from the Greeting Card Centre on Hope Street, which had banked with us. It was run by such a lovely couple that I couldn’t have set up in competition with them, so I decided to go into lighting. It was as simple as that.”

With the products chosen, all that there was left to do was to come up with a name. The snazzy-sounding “Pagazzi” came from an amalgamation of Laura and Alan’s surname and that of their business partner, Emilio Fazzi, part of the Scots-Italian family that ran the famous Fazzi delicatessen shops in Glasgow. The Pagans bought out Fazzi after two years, but the name lives on.

Pagazzi’s city centre branch moved to Glasgow’s landmark Sauchiehall Street after the Royal Bank decided to knock down the building on West George Street and the company soon opened a branch in nearby Hamilton. A big change came in 2002, when Laura detected the winds of change blowing through Scotland’s city centres.

“I felt there wasn’t much for retailers on the high street,” remembers Laura. “In the city centre, there were traffic wardens galore, you couldn’t park, and you couldn’t get space to take goods out to customers’ cars. So I decided that retail parks were the way to go.

“So we opened our first out-of-town store, in Uddingston, in 2002 and it took off really well. Alan was still working in the computer industry, but I couldn’t get out of the lease on my shop on Sauchiehall Street until the following year. So Alan came into the business for three months to help me with the transition and here he is, still with me 13 years later.”

Alan joining the company was a real turning point. With his experience from the corporate world, he has had a keen eye on business development and investment. His involvement has seen the firm grow from having just ten staff back in 2002 to the present complement of about 150 workers.

Pagazzi’s growth was accelerated by external finance that was brought into the business in February 2006 from Ashleybank Investments, Douglas Needham joined the lighting company’s board to offer advice on further developing the business. Scottish Enterprise’s Co-Investment Fund also pumped £100,000 into the business alongside Ashleybank.

Needham’s isn’t the only experienced brain that the Pagans can pick. Vince Gunn, who took over as chief executive of in October, is also a shareholder and director at Pagazzi. “Vince has been a friend of my family for a long time,” explains Laura. He invested money for some shares and so he’s now a non-executive director and comes to all of our board meetings.

“We’re very structured for the size of business that we are. I could open the diary and show you the dates for all of next year’s board meetings. I’m the only female amongst all these men.”

“Don’t worry – she gets her voice heard,” chips in Rebecca. Laura’s other daughter, Lyndsay, is a fashion designer and helps out at Pagazzi each Monday to process the weekend’s orders. While Lyndsay has pursued her own career in the arts, Rebecca always knew that business was the right area for her.

“Because my dad had always been in the computer industry and my mum had always been in business, I knew that I wanted to work in business but I didn’t know what aspect of business,” she explains. “I was quite young when I went to university, I was 17, and I knew I didn’t want to work with numbers or accountancy, so I chose marketing.”

After graduating with a marketing degree in 2008 from the University of Strathclyde, Rebecca flew out to British Columbia in Canada to work for a ski season in Whistler. “The economy was booming then, so there was no sense of urgency to immediately go out and get a job,” she remembers. “I thought I’d spend a season out there and then perhaps join a graduate training scheme when I got back.”

But then a telephone call home changed Rebecca’s plans. “I phoned my mum one day and she told me ‘Don’t bother coming home anytime soon – the recession’s kicked in and everyone’s losing their jobs, so just stay there and enjoy yourself for a few more months’.

“When I came back in September 2009, I started working in the office at Pagazzi, just doing whatever needed to be done.

“Then in 2011, I managed the project to get our e-commerce website up-and-running, which involved four of us sitting in our boardroom and working on nothing else. We were uploading stock and getting it all under control. I ran the website for a couple of years and then, through conversations with my mum and dad, we decided that we would get someone else in to run the website and I would become a buyer and work alongside mum.”

While it’s far from unusual for children to follow their parents into the family business, did existing members of staff resent Rebecca for simply walking into a job with the company? “We have a lot of people in the office who have been working for us for a long time, so they’ve seen me grow up,” explains Rebecca. “So they knew me anyway.” Laura adds: “At first, I think a lot of the staff were a bit apprehensive, because Rebecca sat out in the main office, and so I don’t think they wanted to say anything negative in front of her.”

“But in fact I was the one who was making all the noise and being a distraction,” laughs Rebecca. “When I worked in the main office, if my mum was being demanding and a pain then I would make sure that I said so, because I wanted people to know it was ok to think that she was being a pain that day.”

Having such a loyal and supportive team is one of the hallmarks of many family businesses. Members of staff at Pagazzi receive a bottle of Champagne as a gift to mark ten years’ service and Alan has just been out to buy seven bottles of Moët & Chandon for just such occasions. Some workers have been with the firm for more than 20 years.

“I think some of my friends from university probably were jealous when I first started working here, but it wasn’t until I became a buyer that my job became more important – up until that point I was really just doing a normal day job,” says Rebecca. “On the other hand, some of my friends who didn’t go travelling after uni walked into graduate training schemes and I was jealous of them to begin with, because they got to move to London and work for big corporates and have the fancy salaries. But looking back I’m so thankful that I didn’t go down that route.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to work here and I love working with my mum and dad. Working with my mum is the best bit of the job because we get to spend time together.

“I also enjoy the amount of responsibility that I get. I wouldn’t be given access to the information I have or be involved in the decisions that I make if I was just another person working for just another company.

“The hardest part is that you never get to have a day off. We go out for family dinners and we end up talking about Pagazzi. In fact, we were driving down to Birmingham together the other day and by eight o’clock in the morning we’d already had 12 really important business conversations – so I said ‘Dad, can we have an hour’s break’. My boyfriend tells me all the time that I’m turning into my mum.”

Spending so much time with her daughter and having someone to travel with to the Far East are among the highlights for Laura. “Seeing Rebecca mature has been the best thing about working together,” she adds. “She’s always been very confident but over the past year she’s really matured and now handles business meetings really well. I know that she’s not going to leave – she’s going to stay and hopefully I’ll be able to go part-time one day, even just five days a week would be great.”

One of the biggest challenges for family businesses is making the transition in ownership from one generation to the next. While Pagazzi is different to many family enterprises – having already brought on board external investment to accelerate its growth – could Rebecca see herself taking over the business one day?

“If you’d asked me that six years ago then I would definitely have said ‘No’,” she says emphatically. “I never, ever wanted to work for my parents when I was younger. I never wanted to be in lighting, I never wanted to be part of the lighting industry.

“But now it feels so natural – it’s feels like I was supposed to do it all along. If that’s the path that the company goes down then I could certainly see myself running the business one day – but I’ve got a long way to go yet.

“The lighting industry is full of family businesses, including the suppliers and the manufacturers. So, when I go into meetings with the directors of some of the biggest lighting businesses in the UK, I think they like the fact that I’m part of the family and they know I’m here for the long-haul.”