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‘It’s like a bereavement’: Bertram founder on business’ collapse

PUBLISHED: 09:59 08 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:45 10 August 2020

Kip Bertrum who founded Bertrum Books alongside his mother Elsie with daughter Fliss Bertram who is now asset manager for Bertram Property Management. Picture: Fliss Bertram

Kip Bertrum who founded Bertrum Books alongside his mother Elsie with daughter Fliss Bertram who is now asset manager for Bertram Property Management. Picture: Fliss Bertram

Fliss Bertram

The founder of Norwich’s Bertram Books has said the collapse of the company is akin to a “bereavement” for him following the company’s collapse after more than 50 years.

Salvage operations after flood at Bertram Books on Guardian Rd. Date: aug 1 1972. Picture: Local Recall localrecall.co.ukSalvage operations after flood at Bertram Books on Guardian Rd. Date: aug 1 1972. Picture: Local Recall localrecall.co.uk

Kip Bertram, 76, founded Bertram Books alongside his mother Elsie, from two large chicken sheds in Earlham Road after the pair had spent a number of years working for Pan Paperbacks.

However it was a series of turns – from a diabetes diagnosis to a broken leg – that lead the business to go from a behemoth employing 750 people to its assets being sold to Mr Bertram’s former number one competitor.

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Mr Bertram said: “I was at Norwich School and dropped out following a diabetes diagnosis. I went to City College Norwich and then had a student job with Pan Paperbacks which took me to London.

Bertram Books warehouse opens 1999. Picture: Local Recall, localrecall.co.ukBertram Books warehouse opens 1999. Picture: Local Recall, localrecall.co.uk

“As a teenager I then moved back to Norwich and hired my mother into the role I had originally done. She became my assistant and from there we launched C P and E Bertram Books in 1968.”

Over the coming years Mr Bertram expanded the company buying a large section of land at the old Norwich City ground for a warehouse in 1972.

By 1998 the company was turning over in the region of £70m and it was in this year that Mr Bertram broke his leg in a skiing accident.

“I was in hospital and had a call for an offer from a business in Scotland to buy Bertram. I hadn’t even considered selling the business, so spoke to my lawyer,” he said.

Book sale at Bertram Books. Picture: Local RecallBook sale at Bertram Books. Picture: Local Recall

“He said we could get more than that and in the end it was doubled. A library supplier bought it and probably paid more than they should. At the time I was in my 50s and it seemed like a very good deal – putting me on the Sunday Times rich list.”

As part of the deal Mr Bertram bought 11 acres of land at Broadland Business Park to house Bertram Books, including 17,500 square feet of office space which now lies empty.

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A number of buyouts later, the company collapsed with its assets bought by Gardners.

“It was a string of mismanagement that brought the company to administration and it’s like a bereavement now that it’s gone. It’s strange that it was bought by Gardners – once my biggest competition and a name I used to grind out as I smacked tennis balls across the court.

“That doesn’t upset me, it’s just strange how they went from being Bertram’s biggest competition to its best friend.

“It is brilliant to see it warehouse back being run as a family business. We wish Jonathan Little, the owner of Gardner’s, and his team the best if luck,” he said.

- For enquiries about the tenancy of the office space at Broadland Business Park contact flissbertram@googlemail.com


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