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A squeeze of lemon with lunch leads to fruitful new venture; TonyMcDonough meets DEREKBELL-JONES, chairmanofDevaDesigns.

Byline: TonyMcDonough

A TRUE entrepreneur never retires - no matter what he or she might say.

QS

Last year, Derek Bell-Jones took a major step back from the business he founded in 1992 - Chester-based Deva Designs.

At 71, he decided it was time to take some well-earned leisure time with his wife, Helen, a portrait artist.

But it wasn't long before the entrepreneurial spirit stirred again. "Last year, Helen and I were on holiday in the south of France and one day we went into a restaurant," said Bell-Jones.

"We ordered the fish and instead of giving us the usual quarter of lemon to squeeze with our fingers, they brought out a little holder that contained a slice of lemon.

"It allowed you to squeeze lemon juice onto your meal without making a mess."

Bell-Jones was so impressed he immediately set about finding out more about the product - the PressArt lemon squeezer.

He added: "I found out the manufacturer was a Frenchman operating out of Switzerland - I spoke to him on the phone and then went out to see him.

"I said I was prepared to be his distributor in the British Isles and he was delighted and so I have now set up another company to do that - Epicurio."

However, despite his new venture, Bell-Jones remains passionate about Deva Designs, where he remains non-executive chairman.

The firm, based in Sealand Road, supplies upmarket gift-wrapping paper and other associated products to top UK retailers including Harrods, John Lewis and Selfridges. It also exports to Ireland and other countries across the world.

Twice a year, Deva launches a totally new range of designs - this includes more than 70 gift wraps, 15 gift bag designs, 15 roll wraps and colour coordinated gift wrapping accessories.

Earlier this month, Deva launched a new range designed by top TV designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who agreed to work with Deva following a chance meeting with managing director, Andrew Maddock, at a trade show last year.

The firm also carries a range designed by the internationally-renowned London-based Designers Guild, started by Tricia Guild. Bell-Jones said: "She will show us her latest collection and we decide which of her designs we will use.

"About a third of our range is created by our design manager, Helene Gilmour (who designs under the pseudonym, Felicity Faye).

"And the managing director Andrew Maddock, who was formererly the creative director, also pitches in with some designs. His style is very different to Helene's, so it means we get a variety.

"Putting a design on a gift wrap is not an expensive thing to do, so that means we can experiment."

Bell-Jones, who turns 72 next month, was born in Ipswich in 1939 and became an engineering apprentice before attending Durham University to study for a BSc in production engineering. After graduating in 1962, a generous relative agreed to pay for him to study in the US for a year.

So Bell-Jones successfully applied to study at what he thought was a bog-standard technical college in Boston, but was in fact the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world's most famous universities.

"I only applied there because of the sailing opportunities in the nearby river (sailing has been one of his passions since he was a teenager)," he said.

"They had people there when I was there working on the US space programme."

On his return to the UK, Bell-Jones started working for his mother's paper products company, Deeko.

In 1971, he became the firm's managing director.

He said: "When I took over we had a pounds 1.5m annual turnover with profits of around pounds 40,000.

"In 1987, we sold the company to Nokia (now a mobile phone giant, the company at that time was also involved in paper products) and by then we had grown the turnover to pounds 15m with a pounds 1.1m profit."

He stayed with the company for four years before the entrepreneur within him decided it was time to strike out alone.

"I was 52 at the time and I decided that, if I was going to do my own thing, then I needed to do it now, so I left on good terms," he said.

After taking a three-month sabbatical to consider a number of offers, Bell-Jones then agreed to set up a UK subsidiary of a German gift-wrap company called Danway, in Chester.

In the early 1990s, the UK gift wrap market was pretty staid and was dominated by the major greetings cards suppliers.

Bell-Jones said: "They were more interested in selling cards than paper, so the designs were pretty ordinary.

"We brought in some of the more beautiful German designs. We were the pioneers in the UK of high quality gift wrapping.

"We were the first to develop the quality finishes. If the product is right, then people are happy to pay for quality."

In 1996, Danway went bust. Bell-Jones bought out the remains of the UK business but was not able to use the name. So he changed it to Deva Designs. He handed over the reins to Andrew Maddock in May last year and has been quite happy to give his successor as much freedom as possible.

He added: "At the time, Andrew was the creative director of the company.

I agreed that I would not come into Deva for a few months because the company needed to move on and I wanted him to feel free to make the changes.

"It is all about trust. I have said I would be his sound box and that I would meet him off-site every few weeks. That is how it has worked ever since."

Bell-Jones relaxes by sailing, skiing and playing in his own croquet team. And the lemon squeezer venture has allowed him to keep at least one foot in the business world.

"I work about two to three days a week.

"A doctor once told me that once you are past 65, it is as important to exercise the brain as it is the body."

q&a Age: 71 Highest educational qualification: BSc in production engineering Biggest achievement in business: Running companies for 40 years and never making anyone redundant Biggest regret: Two years ago, John Lewis wanted to put all their accessories with one company and we were beaten on price Best advice received: Turn every problem into an opportunity Main unfulfilled ambition: Never had the time to train to represent Britain in sailing at the Olympics

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Derek Bell-Jones has raised the quality of the gift-wrap market in the UK through his Chester-based company, Deva Designs
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 23, 2011
Words:1099
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