Grafenia hits M&A trail with first signage acquisition

By Max Goldbart, Monday 16 January 2017

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Grafenia has acquired Liverpool-based signage company ADD Signs, marking the start of a new acquisition strategy in the signage sector.

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Gunning (left) with Eccleston celebrating the deal

The deal was completed for an undisclosed sum on 13 January and could be the first of a number of similarly sized acquisitions this year. 

In June last year, Peter Gunning, who took over as Grafenia chief executive in October 2015, told PrintWeek that the company was looking for acquisition targets.

Gunning said the company is currently in talks with a number of Merseyside and North West-based companies of a similar size to ADD looking to be acquired. 

“The announcement in the summer was to signal that we’re going to do something. Although this acquisition is fairly small and materially won’t change our earnings, it really is a signal of intent. We do have a pipeline now and since the summer we’ve had a number of people under non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and are working through the different stages of the acquisition cycle.

“It’s difficult to put a figure on this because these things take time, you kiss 100 frogs before you find the prince and we’re still kissing frogs. I don’t think it’s going to be 50 this year but I’d like it to be a handful."

Gunning first struck up a relationship with ADD after it carried out some design and install work for one of Grafenia's Nettl web studios. He said he liked its client-focused approach and “can-do” attitude. 

Eight-staff ADD’s managing director Mark Eccleston will continue in his role while also becoming a Grafenia regional director. The £375,000-turnover outfit will continue operating under the ADD banner from its Liverpool premises for the time being but the eventual plan is to transfer it to a “Nettl business store format”.

The Nettl network now includes around 80 partners

Gunning said: “The sign industry reminds us of what print shops looked like when we started Printing.com back in 2000. It is fragmented but there has been a convergence and I think as a graphics business we are all expected to just be able to do everything for a client now, whether it’s e-shots, e-commerce, flyers or signage.

“Our vision is to have somewhere you can drive your vehicle in, have it wrapped, have a coffee, and maybe we will talk with you about the other things that we do,” he added. 

Last year, Grafenia invested in equipment to tap into the soft signage market, including a DGen Teleios Grande direct-to-garment (DTG) printer, which is being used to produce printed fabrics that will be on show at Grafenia’s Expoganza event in London on 8 February.

In the six months to 30 September 2016, Grafenia, which has around 130 staff, saw its sales slip by 2.6% to £5.14m, while its operating loss more than doubled to £418,000. Tough competition and a new lower pricing strategy launched last year were cited for a slight drop in print revenues. 

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