'Growth triggered an unworkable working capital position'

JDP and Culverlands Press shortfall revealed

Thirlby and Rae: duo plan to capitalise on their know-how and networks
Thirlby and Rae: ambitious growth plans have ended in failure

Creditors of Venn Holdings’ trading subsidiaries JDP and Culverlands Press are owed more than £8.8m with the two businesses showing an estimated total deficiency of £4.4m – and major creditors have mobilised to appoint a liquidator of their choosing.

A virtual meeting of creditors for John Dollin Printing Services – which trades as JDP – and sister company Culverlands Press was held yesterday (16 January).

The liquidators nominated by JDP and Culverlands director Anthony Thirlby were Chris Tate and Duncan Swift of Azets.

However, a majority of creditors by value opposed the appointment of Azets and have instead appointed Evelyn Partners to handle the case.

A SIP16 report and Statement of Affairs for the two companies were circulated by Azets prior to the meeting, and have been seen by Printweek.

The reports reveal that as the companies experienced a cashflow crisis Azets attempted an accelerated sale process last year “which did not materialise”.

According to unaudited accounts, JDP had sales of nearly £3.9m in the year to 30 April 2023 but made a net loss of £317,311; while sales at Culverlands Press for the same period were £2.64m with a net loss of £44,966.

Both companies had been profitable the prior year.

“The two companies operated in two distinctly different sectors, with JDP producing multiple orders for four leading online commerce platforms and Nationwide Building Society and Culverlands Press producing for the cruising, aviation and education sectors,” the report stated.

In the SIP16 report, directors Thirlby and Andy Rae – who is still a director despite leaving the business last year – stated that the reason for the failure involved a number of factors including interest repayments, rising electricity and raw material costs, machinery breakdown and the loss of a £1m contract with biggest customer Carnival UK.

“In October the business delivered its highest sales and profit moth [SIC] since inception but also experienced over £260k of disallowed funds from the Invoice Discounting provider, this was compounded when one of the larger customers were taken from a £200k limit to £0 overnight,” the directors stated.

“Ultimately growth has trigged [SIC] an unworkable working capital position for the business and every viable option to keep the business trading as required has been evaluated to every level, unfortunately, with no cash available to facilitate a continuation of the business, there is no option other than to cease trading and place the companies into voluntary liquidation.”

The invoice discounting facility with Skipton Business Finance was based on a drawdown availability of £600,000 at 85%. This was increased over the trading period “due to growth” to £1.4m.

Thirlby and Rae have combined personal guarantees with Skipton of £250,000.

Skipton is owed £554,421 by Culverlands and £465,142 by JDP according to the Statement of Affairs.

The JDP report also includes an outstanding CBILS loan of £49,602 with Skipton.

The Culverlands filing includes a £161,724 CBILS loan with Funding Circle and Bounce Back Loan of £21,616 with HSBC.

JDP was acquired in March 2021 for £3.4m repayable over 84 months via a CBILS loan, including £1.65m for the property. Culverlands Press was acquired in December of the same year for £1.4m of which more than £1.2m has been repaid.

Finance companies, equipment suppliers and paper merchants are among the biggest creditors along with brothers Ian and Nigel Dollin who have an outstanding charge over the Whitchurch factory units occupied by both businesses.

The Dollin brothers could appoint a Law of Property Act (LPA) receiver regarding the property.

Separately, two creditors have told Printweek that the values referenced against their businesses are incorrect. Unusually, some of the 'estimated to realise' amounts against assets subject to fixed charge are also greater than the book value.

Industry sources have expressed astonishment at the amounts that have been racked up. One commented: “Everything is on finance and the repayments must have been huge. That model doesn’t work anymore, the margins on the work they were doing are just not high enough.”

Creditors have also criticised Thirlby and his wife Christina for jetting off on holiday to Abu Dhabi earlier this month, with copies of social media posts of the couple enjoying themselves widely circulating in the industry.

One SME creditor whose company is owed a five-figure sum described the posts as “shameless and astonishingly inappropriate.”

Around 30 employees have been laid off across the two companies.

Evelyn Partners told Printweek: “Kevin Ley and Adam Stephens of Evelyn Partners LLP were appointed joint liquidators of Culverlands Press Limited and John Dollin Printing Services Limited following a meeting of creditors on 16 January 2024. 

“The joint liquidators, having only recently taken office, will now be taking steps to deal with all assets, liaise with creditors and undertake their statutory investigations into the reasons for the failure of the companies.”