Entering the Mazda MX5 racing circuit in 2015, at the age of 38, and going on to achieve a vice champion title at the Ginetta GT4 Supercup in 2021, the chief executive of print, direct and digital marketing agency Telescope keeps things moving in business too.
With a background at organisations including Blackburns, St Ives and Garnett Dickinson, he went solo in 2013, launching direct-marketing agency and managed print firm, Absolute DM.
Five years later he acquired digital design and asset management specialist Telescope Studios, with whom he’d partnered during his GD days, honing the combined businesses into a 15-strong team offering website design and build, direct marketing, and design for print services under the brand, Telescope.
Acquisition, he says, is a key part of his long-term growth strategy for Telescope, and by the end of 2021 he was once again on the lookout for an opportunity. Just a few months later it fell into his lap.
The business had been supplying services for marketing and PR agency Clearsilver for around 10 years fulfilling their various print, direct marketing and website design requirements predominantly for the mother and baby, education, and health and wellness sectors.
With Clearsilver co-founder Ian Leach having stepped into the managing director role at Telescope in 2016 and Leach still retaining his shareholding in the company, the two businesses had maintained a very close working relationship.
So when Clearsilver’s director decided to step back from day-to-day operations, Garnett saw an opportunity for another acquisition, a mutually beneficial move that he felt would truly cement their relationship.
“The two fit quite well in that Clearsilver is very much about brand management and strategy and Telescope provides the marketing and delivery side. We can take the ideas, the planning and proposition and make it into reality, whether that’s physical print, direct mail or POS,” he explains.
Furthermore, Garnett says, he admired Clearsilver’s business ethos, a key consideration for him.
“The way they treat their staff - wellbeing is a high priority - and how they manage their clients aligns with our values. They are very service oriented, working with clients to develop their brand and business and offering deeper expertise, particularly in the sectors that Clearsilver works in. Their values really linked to mine. It was a great fit from that perspective,” he states.
Garnett was a vice champion at the Ginetta GT4 Supercup in 2021
Informal discussions began around 18 months ago, explains Garnett, building towards a due diligence process and from there legal formalities were put in place.
“It takes a lot of time to go through this sort of process. If lawyers didn’t have to be involved that would be great but there’s got to be the legal process and a level of diligence that’s sufficient and we obviously did that,” he says. “I would like for it to have been completed quicker but it’s just how these deals operate,” he adds.
The deal was finalised in July and Garnett says the process was smooth from beginning to end with clients being made aware and a focus on “business as usual”.
“We had an existing relationship and we had a mutual understanding of where we wanted to get to and I think that was key,” he notes.
Once the deal was done, Garnett took the decision to move Clearsilver’s five staff together with his team of 15 into a new 170sqm facility on the riverside in Leeds. Previously Clearsilver had occupied smaller offices in Leeds city centre, while the Telescope team was based in Morley on the outskirts. Garnett had wanted to be more central for some time, both for business and staff well-being reasons.
He explains: “We were in a soulless commercial unit before and the new location is walking distance to the train station, which offers our staff more options to get in and out. We offer flexible working so it’s easier in terms of getting their day-to-day business done if they need to do things in town or if they’re meeting people. Otherwise they can work from home. It enhances that overall flexibility, which is an important part of our ethos.”
Despite sharing a space and operating as one business, both companies have retained separate brand identities because Garnett felt their individual reputations were so strong with Clearsilver having particular presence in the education, charity, wellbeing and mother and baby marketplaces.
“It was one of the attractions of the business for me. We’ll monitor it as we move forward but I don’t see any reason to restrict our sales ability based on a brand. I’m happy with both brands as they are. If we can successfully work the two together and cross-sell and provide all of the services with two brands, that’s what we’ll do. If it makes more sense to move to one brand or the other then that’s also not off the table in the future. We’ll just see how it goes,” Garnett says.
With both teams already very much used to working with one another, Garnett says the move has not been a massive culture shock but has put more emphasis on employees getting to know one another, with some team building and staff outings taking place.
In terms of day-to-day business, Garnett says there has been a lot of positive feedback in response to the PR that has been put out about the acquisition.
“We’ve started to generate new business off the back of that and we’re letting our existing clients know about the additional services we now offer and how they can utilise those.
“We’ve also managed to get the teams together for a more group-aligned marketing strategy – Clearsilver are obviously very good at that so we’ve utilised it for our internal purposes as well to help develop our outbound communications,” he explains.
Not only that but, using his keen eye for an opportunity, Garnett is harnessing his motorsport connections to offer Telescope customers some unique experiences for themselves and their clients through access to events and special track days.
“People can sit in a car and I’ll take them around and show them what it’s all about. It’s nice to be able to offer it and of course I love driving fast cars,” Garnett says.
“It ties in with the business quite well as it gives us an offering that’s a bit unique. It’s a great networking environment generally, it’s great for forging relationships because you’re in a non-pressure environment,” he adds.
Clearsilver’s acquisition has added £400,000 to Telescope’s existing £5m turnover with a forecast for the first year of £5.5m, Garnett says. Working in such a dynamic environment where budgets change daily and Royal Mail prices fluctuating, he feels that while the aim is to grow the combined businesses, they have to be realistic about how that can happen with the services they offer and how they are being utilised.
“People are producing smaller catalogues, less direct mail and more targeted direct mail but that’s not a bad thing. If we can help them to do it better, to target properly and to utilise efficient formats and postal methods, that’s kind of what we’re there to do. You have to be realistic,” he explains.
Reflecting on the merging of the businesses Garnett says it’s good to see a job through from concept to fruition as one entity rather than as a third party.
“It gives us the opportunity to be more involved in the overall discussion from the start and then providing that right through to the end. It’s a nice proposition,” he adds.
Looking ahead, Garnett says he wants to focus on bedding the two businesses in for the foreseeable future, to make sure “they are singing properly” and that the proposition is correct. Then, if an opportunity comes up for further acquisitions in a two- to five-year timeframe, he says, it’s certainly a consideration.
Garnett adds: “It’s part of my ongoing strategy to grow the group and the services and sectors we operate in in a way that fits with the existing business, so if something comes up and it’s an opportune moment, as a business person you have to take them when they arise.”
Garnett would have wanted the process to take less time, he reflects, but following the correct legal process and due diligence is something that has to be done correctly to ensure a smooth outcome, so it’s useful to be aware of anticipated timings and manage expectations on the length of the process, he says.
Openness, honesty and simplicity are key to achieving a smooth transition, according to Garnett. “It’s very easy to get hung up on the legal speak but when you actually have the same goal and are in agreement, it’s really about keeping that in mind when you’re going through the more minute terms of a deal,” he comments.
Sticking with the communication theme, Garnett says it’s essential not to let things build up on email but to sit down at the table and deal with all issues as they arise so that everyone is clear. He adds: “You need to discuss and agree an action and move on from there and get the deal done in an efficient, positive and professional way.”
Company profiles: Telescope and Clearsilver
Inspection host Carl Garnett
Established Telescope Studios founded in 2002, it was acquired by Absolute DM in 2018, though it kept its own branding; Clearsilver founded 2013
Services Telescope: Print, direct marketing, creative design and web design. Clearsilver: marketing, PR and strategic marketing services
Inspection focus Acquiring and merging a business to enhance services