Bureau was launched back in 1995 as a reaction to the lack of good quality, stylish everyday stationery here in the UK. A quick trip over to France was enough to see how stationery didn’t have to be a trade off between style and function. Stationery was sourced from across Europe, notably France, Switzerland and Germany, and the hunt for a suitable shop was on.
After searching London for suitable premises, a site was found and the decision was taken. Bureau would open in the heart of the West End, on a little side street between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Great Newport Street may have been small but it had its place in history and the shop with offices in the basement below was the site of a former jazz club in the 1950’s and 60’s. Frequented by many it has links to The Beatles, The Stones and is allegedly where Eric Clapton played hi first gig. Above all it is known for Ken Colyer and his band, and the blue plaque commemorates this.
Bureau first opened its doors on Saturday 2 December 1995. A mini stationery revolution was taking place in the heart of London, based around stylish and colourful stationery imported from across Europe. And the first item sold in this new temple to all things great about stationery? A roll of sellotape. Clearly this would be a slow revolution…
“A gorgeous hall of temptation”
Press coverage was very positive, recognising that something quietly revolutionary was happening.
At last, Bureau appeared online. It felt like we were very late to the party but now it feels like we are old-timers. The iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – all yet to come. Our first steps online were surprisingly low-tech. In fact the first edition of Bureau’s website was coded by hand in the wee small hours. Whilst a little homespun, it was nevertheless a milestone in our history. Just a catalogue site at first, so no online ordering yet. The website was also originally launched as www.bureau-online.co.uk by the way.
And so another milestone. We left behind Covent Garden for good and relocated to the backstreets of Camden Lock in a railway arch unit. Camden felt like a quiet village compared to Covent Garden – ironic considering where we would then move to. But it was home, with the trains rumbling overhead for company. Cold, but home, for the next eight years.
After a lot of persuasive tactics we finally got an exclusive agreement to be the sole outlet to sell the Lamy ABC fountain pen. Why is this even worth mentioning? Because back then the ABC wasn’t available in the UK because it wasn’t felt that the market was right over here, and that it wouldn’t be used in the manner it was designed for. As a mark of our progress we felt that being chosen as the exclusive outlet to trial the ABC was a mark of how far we had come.
By now our B2B business was thriving, and as a result in 2011 we gave it its own website – bureaubusiness.co.uk
Our main site was also upgraded, and it all felt quite grown up at the time. Less of the home-coding from now on.
Sometime in early 2012 we made a big decision to move back closer to our roots – sourcing stationery that really excited us, and that we could share with you. And it worked – I think this little pen-&ink set kicked it all off and it is still a best-seller today. It has the honour of being Bureau Compilation No.1 – the original.
Another milestone around the same time occured – Stationery Wednesday was born. A quick trawl through the archives showed that on 21 March 2012 the first email sent out under the name of Stationery Wednesday was delivered – and so a weekly legend was born.
After eight years in Camden Town it was time to move. We had seriously outgrown our little railway arch, and with our neighbours Ottolenghi looking to take over our arch as they expanded we set off on our travels once again. We missed their food, but quickly settled into the very different world of Acton.
We also decided to shout a bit louder about what we were doing, and to our surprise we won an award at the first attempt, for outstanding customer service. A glitzy event with Dermot Murnaghan handing out the gongs and the gags.
After just two years in Acton, and just as we got used to falafels and haloumi, we were rudely asked to leave. With business properties turning into flats overnight there was little choice but to find a new home nearby. And so we moved to Willesden. Or Harlesden. Or White City. In fact it is an area that has no name, but it’s quirky. And the bridge theme can be continued.
Up for a hat-trick of awards, we turned to our customers this year to vote for us in the ‘Reader’s Award’ and you did us proud as we went up to shake Dermot’s hand again.
And for the 4th year in a row we picked up an ECMOD award, this time for Outstanding Customer Service. Again. Back where we started. Hopefully Dermot remembers us by now..