Finding the right packaging for your product can be a minefield but fifth generation family business Colton Packaging are on hand to help. The Colton family has been helping customers to take control of their packaging for over 150 years, so they know a thing or two about business needs and the importance of packaging as part of the overall process.
Paul Andrews spoke to fifth generation Managing Director, Laura Colton-Smith and her husband, Director, Duncan Smith, who are the latest generation in charge of the next stages in this family firm’s journey.
Laura has plenty of experience of the business as she reaches the 20 year service milestone in 2023, a journey that has seen her working very closely with her father who has stepped down from the leadership role and she is taking up the gauntlet.
As Laura explains, “To be honest becoming Managing Director was not a big event as Dad and I had been working closely together for many years and his knowledge remains incredibly important as guidance for me. Dad is still involved, despite being semi-retired and an active ambassador/promoter of the business. I stepped up from the Operations Director role and was well placed to take the business forward.”
The Colton legacy began in Rearsby back in 1670, where Laura’s ancestors were flax dressers by trade, which continued until William Colton took over his aunt’s retail rope and sack business in the 1850’s, with the first offices being built in 1865 in Belgrave Gate, Leicester. In 1906, upon William’s death, Caroline Colton took over the running of the business and she was followed into the business by her sons, William, Edmund and youngest son John in 1918.
Business continued to evolve until the 1940’s when World War II saw the cessation of twine manufacturing. Like many long-standing family firms the business had to take a new direction and having ceased manufacturing, it became a distributorship selling wrapping papers, parcelling twines and pattern papers, mainly to the textile industry. Corrugated boxes were also added to the product portfolio.
Grandson John Colton, a civil engineer, oversaw the business following his father John’s retirement and then, in 1987 the company began to manufacture corrugated boxes. Great grandson Jonathan Colton became managing partner and continued growth of the business occurred through acquisitions.
It was back in 2003 when great, great grand-daughter, Laura Colton, joined the business. Her journey has seen continued growth, with husband Duncan joining in 2019 and then the relocation of the business to a new home.
Back in 2021 Colton Packaging refurbished and moved into a 55,000 square foot warehouse in Loughborough and then Laura became Managing Director following the semi-retirement of her father, Jonathan.
Today the business is all corrugated packaging, outer packaging, shelf-ready protective packaging, as well as branded packaging and point of sale materials.
Laura has taken the business under her wing and is thriving on the challenge whilst being keen to ensure that the team is focused on the future. As she explains, “The business has always had a clear focus on what we do but I wanted to further develop our culture and build the team for the next stage in our evolution, and clearly share our vision and values as part of the process.”
“We are committed to looking after our staff because they are our biggest asset and many of them have worked with us for many years,” she continues.
“Kevin has just reached 45 years service with us and was actually employed by my Grandfather and reflects the very essence of who we are as a business, a business that cares. I am keen that despite growing and looking to the future that we don’t have too much of a hierarchy and that our doors are always open to people,“ adds Laura.
The transfer of leadership from her father happened over time and unlike many family firms the succession process was pretty open and straightforward. “We had worked together for such a long time and with ongoing, open conversations so it was not an issue for us. My title changed when I became Managing Director but I had essentially been doing the job for a while,” explains Laura.
Laura and Duncan work well together, bringing more formal structures and procedures to the business whilst maintaining their family business culture an ethos in the way they work. They recognised the need to remove barriers to communication and the Warehouse Logistics Manager was moved into the office from the warehouse to create more of a team, a small gesture that has proven real dividends as it removes any potential for misunderstanding and built comradery among the team.
Like many young business leaders, Laura has a real passion for what she does and lives and breathes the world of packaging. They hold stock for clients to maintain supply and are always looking at new ways to be innovative. They pride themselves on developing creative solutions for customers and like to think ‘outside of the box’.
Laura and Duncan are both aware of the need to maintain boundaries and work hard to ensure that everyday life is not all about the business, something they both appreciate that they need to work on going forward. Juggling all of the hats associated with running a successful business and supporting a young family is never easy, but they continue to drive the business with a smile, a determination to succeed and a real passion to build on the work of the generations that have gone before them.
Balancing work and family life can be tricky but empowering the team and creating a culture of open communication, underpinned by family values and a true sense of purpose stands them in good stead for the next chapter in their journey.
We look forward to seeing how the journey continues.
Find out more at visit their website at www.coltonpackaging.co.uk.