Print’s biggest stories of 2020
Friday, December 18, 2020
At the time of writing, during the course of 2020 Printweek.com generated 3,443,024 page impressions and counting, with the vast majority of the 1,255 articles we wrote over the period celebrating the good news coming from a sector that was undeniably enduring one of the most challenging periods in its modern history.
However, in light of the turmoil impacting the country and the economy it should perhaps come as no surprise that the biggest 20 stories of the year were dominated by what we could euphemistically describe as perhaps not exactly the rosiest. So, pour yourself a drink, relax and let us remind you of some of the biggest headlines of the year. And while you struggle to comprehend that all of these happenings are really from 2020, gently remind yourself that this is the tip of an iceberg that is floating on a far greater mass of good news from an industry well versed in dramatic change.
1 Sad end for Taylor Bloxham
Despite closing its doors before the pandemic really took hold, the collapse of the £30m turnover Leicester print group Taylor Bloxham was the highest profile print failure of 2020. The group comprised print wing Taylor Bloxham with sales of around £14m, storage and distribution business Fastant, point-of-sale design and production operation Instore, and direct mail business Mailbox. The long-standing family business was established in 1938 and at the time of its collapse employed around 190 people. It had been struggling for some time and after various attempts to reinvigorate the business, centred largely on diversification, it called in administrators in February after attempts to sell the business failed and it ran out of cash. In the end, only the 21-staff Mailbox division was sold. It later emerged that the business was insolvent on a cashflow and balance sheet basis and had just £20,000 in the bank at the time of its administration, with the unfortunate creditors of the business owed more than £7m.
- Taylor Bloxham in crisis: staff sent home 19,223 clicks
- Taylor Bloxham: admins close most of business 12,476 clicks
- Taylor Bloxham creditors count cost of group’s collapse 6,862 clicks
2 Drupa bows to the inevitable
Few industries have been as badly impacted by the coronavirus crisis as the live event sector, and Drupa has been no exception. While the Messe Düsselforf moved quickly to reschedule this year’s event to next April, in the end it wasn’t enough. A number of significant exhibitors stated that they would not be able to exhibit due to concerns that international travel would still not be back to normal by next spring. Ultimately this domino effect of withdrawals led the organiser to make the painful decision this month to cancel the show and opt for a four-day virtual event instead in 2021, with the next real Drupa scheduled for 2024.
- Blow for Drupa as two large exhibitors cancel 7,938 clicks
- Bombshell for Drupa as Heidelberg pulls out 7,914 clicks
- Blow for Drupa as HP pulls out 6,603 clicks
- Messe Düsseldorf cancels its March expos 4,445 clicks
- Drupa 2021 cancelled: show to return in 2024 4,347 clicks
3 Paragon swoops on SPOT
While it too had faced challenges prior to the lockdown, unlike Taylor Bloxham, Spicers Office Team (SPOT) was ultimately bought down by the pandemic after its private equity owners lost patience with trying to secure a solvent sale and called in administrators to the £281m group, which it later emerged owed £81m to creditors. On the same day administrators from EY were appointed the highly-acquisitive Paragon Group acquired the group’s £146m turnover OfficeTeam and £15m ZenOffice businesses to boost its Workplace Solutions and Business Services divisions. OfficeTeam is a nationwide distributor of stationery and office supplies and its supplementary business services include print management, while ZenOffice focuses on SME customers and offers managed print services (MPS), mail and fulfilment, signage and exhibition, workwear and PPE and business interiors.
- Spicers Office Team heads towards administration 11,347 clicks
- Future ownership of Spicers Office Team in question 7,196 clicks
- SPOT: Paragon Group buys two businesses 7,093 clicks
- SPOT suppliers owed millions at time of admin 2,480 clicks
- Paragon adds Spicers Ireland in latest buy 1,570 clicks
4 Westdale Press calls in administrators
While a story of an family-run SME, albeit an award-winning one, being felled by the double whammy of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic wouldn’t usually get into five figures, clearly the lengths the management team went to try and save the business that resonated with a lot of readers. The 85-staff business, which closed in October, had sales of £13m at its peak, but had been limping along at about £8m this year and in the end managing director Alan Padbury decided to pull the plug rather than continue to try to trade out of trouble to minimise the impact on suppliers and staff.
5 Anton directors in the dock
It’s not often that print ends up in the dock, but that’s what happened to five former directors of Anton Group, which collapsed in 2017, who were sentenced in January for their parts in a reported £3.1m, eight-year tax fraud that centred on payments related to waste paper. Stephen Knight, John Knight, Brian Thomas, Paul Murphy, and Philip Sach, who were 67, 74, 70, 57, and 53 respectively at the time of sentencing all received jail terms ranging from three and a half years to 12 months, although Murphy and Sach’s sentences were suspended.
- Breaking: Anton directors sentenced for fraud 7,985 clicks
- Exclusive: Anton directors evaded tax ‘to help ailing company’ 7,128 clicks
6 Coronavirus impact intensifies across print
In March we wrote about how the coronavirus outbreak was impacting every corner of the print industry, little did we know at the time how long and deep that impact would be felt for – something perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Printweek has written more than 500 Covid-19 related articles this year!
7 Large groups begin consulting on job cuts
Like many businesses across all sectors, some of the UK’s biggest print businesses started to make redundancies in summer, as the industry began to reshape for the post-Corona economy. The article highlighted that publication printers had been particularly impacted by the effects of the lockdown.
8 Precision, Prime and ProCo join forces
At the end of August, Precision Printing, Prime Group and ProCo formally joined forces to create a £45m, 360 staff multisite commercial and online print group with ambitions to nudge £100m sales in three years. The merger involved the creation of a new holding company, Precision Proco Group headed by Precision Printing CEO Gary Peeling as the new group’s CEO. The Precision and ProCo businesses rebranded as Precision Proco, while Prime, along with Precision’s Where the Trade Buys (WTTB) online print arm, retained its name. The merger also included Climb, a Gateshead-based digital marketing and e-commerce platform developer and the group was further bolstered by fine art printer WKG Print, formerly Witherbys, which it acquired in November.
- Precision, Prime and ProCo merge and unveil £100m target 8,884 clicks
- Precision Proco acquires fine art specialist WKG 1,985 clicks
9 Royal Mail: parcels boom, letters tank
A lot has been written about Royal Mail in 2020, ranging from the swift exit of its controversial CEO Rico Back, suggestions to cut the universal service to five-days from six, and significant cost-cutting initiatives, including the loss of 2,000 management roles. However, the fact the postal provider’s letter volumes were down by almost 800m items during the three months to the end of June was the most read individual article by a long way. While we reported that letters fell by a third during lockdown parcel deliveries jumped 38% as the UK became a nation of online shoppers – to the point that in November we revealed that parcels revenue overtook letters for the first time in Royal Mail’s history.
10 Thieves target vans at vehicle wrapper
In November we reported that a vehicle graphics specialist suffered a major theft with parts stripped from several brand new Mercedes vans belonging to a client. Nick Wintle, managing director of Marlow-based Globe Print, posted an appeal on Facebook following the theft, which took place in the early hours of a Sunday morning. And with thousands of Printweek readers subsequently aware of the nefarious tactic, hopefully the culprits won’t find the sector such easy prey next time.
11 End of the line for historic print firm
Printweek reported in January that long-established Thomas Loughlin (Liverpool) shut down after almost 130 years in business. The 20-staff firm closed after being hit by bad debt, a significant decline in sales as printer customers bought services in-house and as a result of the impending retirement of owner managing director Tony Aspey with no succession plan in place for the Merseyside trade finisher. Comments from former staff prompted Aspey to pen an open letter to Printweek.
12 Fox MC shuttered after virus ‘killer blow’
Fox Marketing Services MC was one of the pandemic’s first print casualties in April after it was placed into voluntary liquidation after being hit with an unexpected property lease issue just as the coronavirus crisis resulted in a dramatic 85% drop-off in order levels. The 60-staff Tunbridge Wells company was the litho printing wing of the £13m-turnover Fox Group, and had sales of around £9m. In a letter to employees, managing director Kevin Stanton described the situation as “the saddest moment in my working life”.
13 Clays boss defends decision to stay open
Clays boss Paul Hulley appeared on BBC News in March to defend the firm’s decision to stay open during the pandemic, pointing out that it was “fundamentally important” to preserve livelihoods during the crisis. The Bungay-based book printer – the biggest book printing site in the UK – had come under fire on social media after TV host Piers Morgan tweeted a call to his 7.2m followers asking people to tell him about companies that were “remaining open with no good public health reason to”.
14 Helloprint bounces back from the brink
Helloprint asked its print suppliers to accept deferred or reduced payments in May as the fast-growing print platform battled to stay afloat and secure fresh investment after a massive drop in sales of up to 80% caused by the pandemic. However, by the end of the September CEO Hans Scheffer said the business was back on track after securing €5m (£4.5m) of fresh funding and having “fought day and night to survive”.
- Helloprint: most suppliers supporting survival plan 6,551 clicks
- Helloprint back on-track, makes pricing pledge 2,619 clicks
15 Print doesn’t slay Dragons
In April, fans of TV show print featured on Dragons’ Den as Talking Print founder and managing director David Hyams appeared on the TV programme, making his pitch for investment to dragons Sara Davies, Tej Lalvani, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Touker Suleyman. Sadly he came away empty handed, but this month he said that his talking greetings cards business had doubled sales in 2020.
- Print pitch coming up on Dragons’ Den 5,135 clicks
- Dragons cool on print pitch 2,782 clicks
16 Former Polestar execs reunited at new venture
In April, Printweek revealed that Former Polestar chief executive Barry Hibbert and chief operating officer Peter Andreou were two of the three directors behind newly formed company Alpha Financial Investments. The investment focus of the new venture was not clear.
17 HP Indigo boss departs
HP Indigo chief Alon Bar-Shany announced his shock departure from the manufacturer in June, drawing tributes from its UK customers as well as from around the world. According to a report in Israeli business and technology news site CTech, Bar-Shany’s departure was related to a reorganisation of the Indigo business that he opposed. He was replaced by HP veteran Haim Levit as general manager of HP Indigo.
18 Sheetfed printers reshape
At the end of June, sheetfed printers began to take action to reshape their businesses as customers emerged from lockdown with hundreds of jobs lost as printers braced themselves for what, at the time, they thought was the looming changes to the furlough scheme.
19 Account manager jailed for fraud at Glasgow printers
A woman was sentenced to 22 months in prison in April after pleading guilty to embezzling more than a quarter of a million pounds from Glasgow printing company James McVicar Printers between January 2013 and July 2019. Sarah Cockburn, 33, worked as an account manager at the business and used the company’s systems to make 799 payments totalling £239,207.28 to bank accounts in her name.
20 Sales manager’s fraud results in jail sentence
A former sales manager at trade printer Quinnstheprinters.com was jailed in September after being pleading guilty at Belfast Crown Court to a six-figure fraud. Former Quinns sales manager Sean Patrick O’Neill admitted three offences – fraud by abuse of position and two counts of fraud by false representation and was handed an 18 month sentence. The court heard that the loss to Quinns amounted to between £122,000 and £154,000.