Brother’s springboard to new markets

Jo Francis
Monday, March 23, 2015

It’s 30 years since Domino Printing Sciences floated on the stock market. As it happens, the year of this anniversary will also involve the company being de-listed – assuming all goes to plan with Brother’s £1bn recommended bid for the group.

From humble beginnings in 1978, when the business was spun off from Cambridge Consultants by engineer Graeme Minto, Domino has developed into a global business employing thousands and one of UK print’s star performers. 

Yet, despite an impressive track record of growth, it seems Domino just wasn’t quite big enough in a world market increasingly dominated by truly huge players. 

So who is Brother? The company is headquartered in Nagoya, Japan, employs more than 33,000 people worldwide, and reported sales of £3.4bn for the year ended 31 March 2014. It makes inkjet and laser printers for home and office use, and label printers for the SoHo market. 

While it doesn’t, yet, have much of a profile in commercial printing Brother’s direct-to-garment devices will be familiar to Fespa visitors. Its other products include domestic and industrial sewing machines. 

Brother plans to use Domino as a springboard for the creation of a substantial industrial printing division. It highlighted the “stable and strong cash flow stream based on long-term customer relationships” of Domino’s coding & marking business, although it appears most interested in Domino’s relatively new digital printing wing.

Brother’s 915p per share cash offer values the Cambridge-headquartered coding, marking and inkjet print equipment manufacturer at £1.03bn. 

The share price rose above the offer price after the deal was announced, leading to speculation that Brother’s offer could spark a bidding war with other interested parties – the $19bn turnover US conglomerate Danaher, which owns Linx, Videojet, Esko and Pantone among other interests – was mooted as a potential rival bidder. 

All, though, has been quiet on that front thus far. 

Toshikazu Koike, representative director and president of Brother, says: “The combination of Brother and Domino will represent a unique value proposition in industrial printing with significant growth potential.

“The combined global platform will help us accelerate both companies’ growth strategy. We have been strongly impressed by the achievement of the incumbent management team and employees of Domino and we are looking forward to working with them.”

Industry experts believe Brother has made a smart move. “For its investment, Brother is getting a gem of a company from the industrial digital print world. Domino will give Brother a presence in industrial marking and label converting, and Domino could well have a role some day in other industrial uses of digital print, such as textiles or laminates or printed electronics,” notes Bob Leahey, associate director at Infotrends. 

“Notably, Domino has also over the last few years established itself as a supplier of full-colour digital presses for label printing, a market quite apart from coding and most commercial printing. Its N-Series presses are in the big iron category of digital label presses, printing a 13in web at up to 250 feet per minute,” Leahey adds.

Digital printing is a tough market, though, and Domino chairman Peter Byrom acknowledges that the increasing adoption of digital technology is attracting larger and wealthier competitors.

“It has become clear that maintaining its position in the enlarged markets will require Domino to find the appropriate partner that brings complementary skills and strengths in digital printing,” he adds.

While Domino’s track record of growth (it posted 32 consecutive years of increased sales through to 2011) is impressive, recently, factors such as the slowdown in China and the return of more normal GDP +2%-3% growth rate in the coding & marking sector (after a surge of catch-up investment around the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014) have meant a less buoyant market for the group’s products.

It also stumbled with its ill-fated $50m investment in US egg coding venture Ten Media, which it ended up having to write off in its entirety in 2013. Although the know-how gained via the investment could still come to fruition in the future. 

In the fast-moving inkjet market, Domino also recognised that the cash investment required to remain at the leading edge was going to be a potential strain for the business. 

“The competition, both established and new entrants, is defined by players of significantly greater scale and financial firepower than Domino, and the board of Domino believes it will be increasingly difficult as a standalone business to optimise and maintain the leading position it has created,” the company stated. 

Brother anticipates Domino will become a standalone division run by its existing management team, with no changes to its major locations or redeployment of fixed assets.

So while the Domino name is set to disappear from the FTSE listings, at least it won’t disappear from the industry altogether. 

Domino history

1978 Domino formed by engineer Graeme Minto, who had developed an inkjet printing system while at research centre Cambridge Consultants

1979 Sells first commercial product, a Unijet printer, to a bingo ticket printer

1980 EEC directive requiring printing of sell-by dates comes into force

1984 Ships 1,000th printer

1985 Company is floated on London Stock Exchange

1988 Hits 5,000 installs. Minto retires

1991 JetArray launched for address printing

1998 A-Series continuous inkjet launched

2000 Bitjet launched

2005 Launch of K-Series

2008 Enters FTSE 250 and ships 100,000th A-Series printer

2009 Joins FTSE4Good Index

2010 Launches first full-colour inkjet press, the N600 label press. Wins Company of the Year at the PLC Awards 

2011 Achieves 32nd consecutive year of sales growth

2012 Acquires inkjet integrator Graph-Tech. Wins Queen’s Award for International Trade

2014 Acquires a further 20 acres of land for new manufacturing facility adjacent to Cambridge HQ. Posts sales of £350.2m. Group now operates in 120 countries and employ around 2,300 employees worldwide

2015 Japanese printing and sewing machine equipment giant Brother makes recommended cash offer of £1.03bn for Domino

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