After seven years of successful growth in private equity ownership, access to long-term capital available through public markets became a compelling proposition for Pebble Group in 2019.

A strategy to promote growth

A successful promotional product is one that gets noticed. Since its IPO in late 2019, Manchester-based Pebble Group, which provides products, services and technology to this particular market, is now itself in a welcome spotlight.

The company comprises two very different businesses – Brand Addition and Facilisgroup - both of which are focused on specific areas of the promotional products market.

The original business, Brand Addition, started as a seller of products such as branded umbrellas, mugs and pens. It evolved into a provider of services to meet the complex promotional product requirements of large international corporates – from design, sourcing and delivery. “There are not many companies of our size in this industry,” says CEO Chris Lee. “There are lots of creative, sales-led, lifestyle businesses around but we go where the requirements are large, complex and international.”

In 2018, the company bought the US company Facilisgroup, which provides subscription-based SaaS technology and services to SME distributors in the promotional products market in North America. It was at this point that Pebble Group was created to be the parent company, encompassing products, services and technology. “Facilisgroup has the potential to grow very fast,” says Lee.

“We have developed and maintained a focused strategy,” says Lee. “Our constant evolution has been to stand apart from the competition.”

"There are lots of creative, sales-led, lifestyle businesses around but we go where the requirements are large, complex and international."

Chris Lee

The Pebble Group

From private equity to public market

After the initial buy-out in 2012, a secondary buy-out took place in 2017. The private equity investors and debt providers were very supportive, says Lee, but another refinancing of the business would have been required in order to power further acquisitive growth. In itself, that was not a problem but raising two rounds of private equity money was sufficient. For Lee, the attraction of the permanent money of the public markets was compelling.

“As a public company, we can now take a longer-term view,” he says. “There is not another sales process in the offing and, now that we no longer carry debt, we can fund future acquisitions in whatever form that will be best for the business.”

"As a public company, we can now take a long-term view"

Learning from the IPO process

The mechanics of the IPO process were fascinating for Lee and his team, who held 80 investor meetings over a 12-day period. “From having a single shareholder with an opinion, you start to hear many different views and opinions about your business from potential investors. Everyone sees your business differently.

“You get a lot of good feedback but it can be hard to hear criticism when, after all, you have built up the business over many years. But after you have heard all of these views – and you are being put under pressure by some clever people - you can distil them and turn all that knowledge into your own. And then you can put your own stamp on it.

“The process helped me understand our business better, how to strengthen it and where our growth potential lay.”


Estimated worth of the promotional products market worldwide

Clarity and transparency

It has been quite a journey for Lee, who joined the company in 2000 in what he describes as “a relatively junior finance role” before rising up the ranks to become CEO in 2008.

“I have gone from running a division of a UK business to be the CEO of an international business. The level of support I have received along the way has been humbling and motivating.”

Life as a CEO on AIM has changed his diary, he adds. “I’m learning about how we communicate with our external shareholders on our progress. It is interesting and motivating, rather than distracting.”

As markets and customers look harder at factors such as corporate governance and sustainability, Lee says he is relishing “the clarity and transparency” that comes with being a public company. “You have to be clear about your finances, your strategy, your directors and their role. I want Pebble Group to be known for its depth, not just its veneer.”

But if there’s one thing that won’t change, he says, “it’s our culture. We have a strong results mentality.”

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