MBO at Blackwell Print

(L-R) new owners Aaron “AJ” Watson, Ryan Holt and Tom Davison
(L-R) new owners Aaron “AJ” Watson, Ryan Holt and Tom Davison

A Norfolk printing company with a history stretching back to 1870 has changed ownership via a management buyout.

Paperwave Group, which owns Bendart Ltd, was acquired last month in the deal after the previous owners Graham Gooda, Keith Moore, and Aaron and Joanne Hodges decided to move on. Moore and Gooda have retired while the Hodges are exploring new career opportunities.

Blackwell Print, Advantage Media, and Paperwave, which all sit under the Bendart umbrella of brands, will be taken forward by buyers managing director Tom Davison, sales director Ryan Holt, and operations director Aaron “AJ” Watson, who between the three of them self-funded the MBO and now own 100% of the shareholding of the Paperwave Group.

The Great Yarmouth-based business operates both locally and nationally as Blackwell Print along with its online brand Advantage Media, which offers next-day printing when ordering before 1pm.

The group also runs Paperwave, an online photo printing business that has attracted more than 50,000 customers globally to date.

Davison commented: “We are excited to have acquired the print group and look forward to building upon the success and foundations that have been achieved over the years with our team.”

Holt told Printweek that the opportunity to buy the group came about following “a mutual discussion”.

“I’ve been a previous employee of the business for five years between 2016 and 2021 and then left and moved on to something else but stayed in touch with everyone, and the opportunity was floated because the owners wanted to retire and were keen that someone took it forward that had the same passion, drive and energy.”

Davison has worked for the business for nearly 19 years, having started in 2004 as an apprentice bindery operator, while Watson has been with the company for over four years.

“We as the new owners are quite young – I’m 29, AJ is 28 and Tom is 34, and combined we felt it was something we wanted to take forward. We’ve hopefully got some good plans in the pipeline to develop the company,” Holt added.

Since the buyout took place, the group has also just launched its own publishing brand, Paperwave Publishing, which will sit under the Bendart umbrella and see it produce a range of monthly titles, including its flagship publication Live Local, that was started up by the group earlier this year.

The bi-monthly title is written by Paperwave staff and local contributors, and then designed and printed in-house, with a run length of just under 100,000 copies. Earlier this year the group took on an ex-Archant employee to oversee advertising sales for the publication.

Holt said future publications from the new publishing arm could include theatre and ‘what’s on’ guides.

“I’ve always had a keen passion for publishing – when I was young, I used to do design and print from my bedroom at the age of 13 and was selling print via print brokers all over the country. I’ve also done work experience at Archant and worked on the Lowestoft Journal, so it’s always been in my blood and this is quite an exciting chapter for the business.”

Operating from its 1,050sqm production site in the heart of Great Yarmouth, the group currently employs 15 staff with a turnover of £1.3m, and runs Heidelberg B2 litho and Xerox digital kit, plus HP Latex on the wide-format side and a comprehensive range of in-house finishing.

Holt said the company, which serves predominantly B2B clients, as well as B2C customers via its online brands, is now looking to the future, which is likely to include taking on apprentices to help futureproof the industry.