Creative Lives — Paper from birth: Meet G . F Smith’s long-standing sales executive, Jane Crowther

Posted 30 November 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

“Somebody once asked me, ‘If we cut you, do you bleed paper?’ I said, ‘Yes, I probably do.’” Jane Crowther was born into a family of paper merchants – specifically, ‘Crowther’s, the paper business started by her great great grandfather. Growing up with a father who had a knack for identifying paper at a mere glance – although initially horrified with embarrassment – it seemed inevitable that she, too, would catch the paper bug. Having known G . F Smith as a previous supplier to the family business, she soon swapped one historic institution for another, and joined the Hull-based paper maker aged 24. Working from her home in Manchester, and now in her nineteenth year at the company, Jane oversees sales across the North West of England. Today, she credits her father with teaching her lessons she continues to use on a day-to-day basis as G . F Smith’s sales executive – from having a belief in your product to prioritising honesty and forming lasting relationships with clients.

Jane Crowther

Job Title

Sales Executive, G . F Smith (1998–present)

Based

Manchester

Previous Employment

Samuel Crowther’s Paper Merchants 

Education

A Levels, Poynton High School

Jane Crowther

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
My job is to form relationships with clients; and to educate advise and encourage them. Often we will get sample requests from clients regarding projects that they’re working on. It’s my job to discuss this with them and then offer solutions as to how to realise that, as well as advising them on print and manufacturing. Even though a lot of my clients have been in the industry a long time, they still aren’t aware of all aspects of our papers.

I do a lot of educational work with universities as well. I give talks about G . F Smith, focussing on the importance of paper in design, print techniques, binding and things like that. From start to finish it can be quite an educational experience. 

What does a typical working day look like?
I work from home in Manchester, but I’ll also visit our main office in Hull every couple of months. On a typical day, I’ll have appointments already arranged so I’ll spend the day visiting clients. A customer will phone you or email you and ask your advice and if you’re in the area. My day is filled with visiting everyone from students and universities to graphic designers, art galleries, printers who use our paper, and paper merchants who buy our paper to then sell to printers. It’s a really broad customer base. 

How did you land your current job? 
My great great grandfather started a paper merchants, (Crowther’s) in Salford, Manchester, which remained in the family…paper from birth! After completing my A Levels, I worked a summer job in fashion export for four years before joining the paper business on inside and outside sales. If anything, it was harder being the boss’ daughter than it was just being anybody that joined the company. It was never an easy job and it was never something that was just handed to me. 

G . F Smith was one of our suppliers. When I left Crowther’s it was no longer my dad's company, he’d sold it and the company unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. I'd worked on a few projects with the G . F Smith team, and we used to sell a lot of their products. So I was made aware by some of their internal team that there was a job going in the northwest area. I applied for it and 19 years later, I’m still here. There’s so much to G . F Smith that you don’t know or see from the outside. We’re like a beautiful swan. All very calm and beautiful on the surface but with a lot going on underneath.

“I remember sitting in restaurants with my dad when I was little. He would pick up the menu and be able to tell me exactly what paper it was.”

Inside the Show Space

How collaborative is your role? 
Very collaborative, both internally and externally. I work with everyone who fits under the creative banner. I think that’s the difference between being a sales consultant and being a paper consultant, which is what we call ourselves. We changed the title about five or six years ago because, although we are in a sales position, very little of our job would be classed as standard selling, which is what I was doing for my dad’s company. You don’t walk in and expect an order, the role is more about forming relationships where clients feel like they can come to you.

We also like to support our communities and work on various events and projects. A lot of my agencies put on talks, and sometimes, I’ll run paper and letterpress workshops alongside these events. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
I love my customers and the products I sell. Seeing the end results of projects that you've worked on from start to finish is really enjoyable. 

Work and life cross over quite a lot for me. Because I’ve made so many connections over such a long time, a lot of clients have become really good friends as well. Your job does become quite a big part of your life, so you might as well enjoy it. 

Work for printing foil maker Foilco and StudioDBD

Work for printing foil maker Foilco and StudioDBD

Work for printing foil maker Foilco and StudioDBD

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Work for Sedgwick

Work for Sedgwick

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
I had the opportunity to support Manchester Art Gallery on their New Order promotion and I also secured all the paper for the Molton Brown Christmas campaign this year. 

We’ve had a really strong relationship with Manchester Art Gallery for at least a decade. This year, they decided to put on a large exhibition about New Order and the design work behind the album sleeve. They asked if we would work in conjunction with them to produce the programme book and catalogue for the event. One of the lead designers at the art gallery is a massive New Order fan. He’d put his whole heart into collating the material, so he wanted that to be on the right paper. 

Molton Brown weren’t originally one one of my clients, because I’m specific to the northwest of England. But over the years I’ve worked quite closely on various projects with Helen Musselwhite who did all the paper cuts, and who always used our stocks. Now, their Christmas campaign, (“A Show of Stars”) is all made using Colorplan paper. It just shows how the main brands don’t necessarily have to be London-based. You never know who's actually doing the background work. Helen is working on these amazing paper cuts in her own studio in South Manchester!

“There’s so much to G . F Smith that you don’t know or see from the outside. We’re like a beautiful swan. Calm and beautiful on the surface but with a lot going on underneath.”

What skills are essential to your job? 
Honesty and a belief in my product. There’s an old style of selling which you get in car showrooms and things like that, but people don't want to be pressured. They want someone who knows what they’re talking about and isn’t just telling them what they want to hear. The relationships you form with people thrive off the honesty. It forms a stronger working relationship. My clients know that if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find the answer. If you can’t do something, admit that. 

What tools do you use most for your work? 
My car and all my amazing G . F Smith promotions. My role covers quite a large area; everything from North Staffordshire up to the edge of the Lake District and over to Liverpool. So I actually wouldn’t be able to get anywhere without my car. It’s kind of like my office – from when I leave work in the morning to coming home at night. Whatever doesn’t happen in a client’s office has to happen in my car. I couldn’t do my job without a car. That’s really my biggest tool. I’m also quite traditional, so I’ll always use a paper notebook and pen.

Jane at work

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? 
A hairdresser.

What influence has your upbringing had on your work? 
Somebody once asked me, "If we cut you, do you bleed paper?" I said, "In all fairness, yes, I probably do." I always remember sitting in restaurants with my dad when I was little. He would pick up the menu and be able to tell me exactly what paper it was. What weight it was, where it had come from and all the rest of it. I used to sit there and I used to be horrified, like it was the most embarrassing thing he could do to me. 

Now I’ve got a daughter of my own, and when she was a similar age I used to do the same to her. We’d walk into a supermarket, and I’d see something that was made with our products. I’d be able to tell her who’d done it, who’d designed it, what paper it was and she’d just sit there looking horrified at me. I’m passing this on generationally.

Paper’s not just paper. I can walk into a student lecture with 40 students, and by the end of it, 25 out of the 40 are really excited about paper. Then you’ll get questions coming back via email from perhaps another 10. Anybody that’s not in the creative industry, will probably look and go, ‘Oh, my god. Is that actually a job? You sell paper?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, I do, but do you know what? It’s pretty cool.’

“Your job does become quite a big part of your life, so you might as well enjoy it.”

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role? 
Not at all. I look back on it now, and I don’t think I missed out on going to university. My first job in the paper business was learning basic office skills. Then, eventually, you start learning customer skills and then you learn your products. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of it, I know you don’t want somebody phoning you demanding what you’re doing. You want somebody that will talk to you and ask. My dad always said, "Always treat people as you expect to be treated." I think that’s probably the most educational thing I’ve ever been taught

What were your first jobs? 
I worked in pubs and restaurants in sixth form. They were my first jobs, but I’ve always worked. There's never been a time when I’ve not had a job. I’m 43 now and I’ve only ever had three full time jobs. It was never a plan to get to this stage, but now I’m here, I don’t think I’d change anything.

What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
Having the belief in myself to leave what used to be a family business when it was no longer owned by the family. I struggled to keep working there with people who didn’t share the same beliefs as the people who started it. It sort of moved all the goal posts. 

Molton Brown’s A Show Of Stars Christmas campaign with Helen Musselwhite and made with Colorplan paper

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
People skills. People buy from people – I think it’s the nature of the job. Also, having confidence. Meeting new clients used to be quite a nerve-racking experience for me. I used to feel quite intimidated by designers, because they’re all cool and edgy, and I was never like that. But if you have knowledge and confidence in yourself and in what you’re selling, it doesn’t matter who they are.

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
It’s hard to be self-motivated when you’re working at home. That’s probably the hardest thing of not working in a day-to-day environment. It can also be quite a lonely job sometimes. 

Is your job what you thought it would be?  
My job gets better the older I get, and the longer I am at G . F Smith. I joined Smiths when I was 24, so I didn’t really know what I was expecting. I don’t think I realised the vastness of the area I was covering; the difference in clients, their different needs, be it whether they’re at a university or a printer, or a merchant. I don’t think I appreciated that. 

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing. I know that G . F Smith and my clients believe in me, and I believe in them. I don't think you can get much better than that. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, but hopefully continuing to improve.

Although I'm doing the same job, it’s never the same. The opportunities that Smiths offers you, the clients you get to meet and the work they’re working on is never the same. So my role is constantly evolving. And Smiths is constantly evolving, too. But we’re staying true to our initial beliefs and philosophies, while bringing in new amazing products that motivate and encourage people.

Could you do this job forever? 
YES.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to get into your line of work?
Research your product and always ask questions of your team. We’ve got so many people who’ve been with the company for so long, and the guys who work in the factory, for example, who make envelopes are always really excited to tell you what they do and how they do it. I think that’s the only way you learn – by asking questions. There is never a bad question.


This article is part of a studio feature on G . F Smith.

Posted 30 November 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Sophie Stafford
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design
Mentions: Jane Crowther, G.F Smith, Molton Brown, Manchester Art Gallery
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