Transformative times

Jo Francis
Friday, December 18, 2020

While the word ‘pandemic’ has dominated our lives in 2020, another p-word ‘pivot’ has also come to the fore as print businesses switched up their offering

1 Bluetree Group Mask Box

Many print businesses have got into mask making in one way or another this year, but Yorkshire-based Bluetree made the boldest move of all with a £2m investment in setting up a dedicated mask making facility in a factory space that had originally been earmarked for the expansion of its exhibition and events range. Its Mask Box offering is sold via a clever subscription scheme targeted at dentists, vets, opticians and similar businesses, and that guarantees a certain level of business. Bluetree then topped that by winning a £64m government contract for the supply of 352 million masks for the Department of Health & Social Care, and has since brought manufacturing of the special meltblown material used to make the masks in-house, as well. The initial £2m spend increased to £12m for the total project, with Bluetree also taking on hundreds of new workers.

2 Prime Group visors

Nottinghamshire-based Prime Group (now part of Precision Proco Group), provided inspiration for many when the firm swung into action back into March, making much-needed protective visors for NHS workers left without the necessary PPE materials. Managing director Jon Tolley’s wife is a critical care practitioner, and within days Prime was making visors to plug the sourcing gap. It shared its visor design, which went on to be made all over the world in an extraordinary act of collaboration between disparate printers and manufacturers. Prime also went on to win a well-deserved £6m-plus contract with the Department of Health & Social Care for the supply of visors.

3 Precision/Proco/Prime merger

Precision Printing, Prime Group and Proco joined forces in September to create a £45m commercial and online print group that has ambitions to achieve sales of £100m in the next few years.

Precision Printing CEO Gary Peeling became CEO of the group, Proco CEO Jon Bailey is now group COO, and Prime managing director Jon Tolley, group CIO. The trio stressed that the merger was a long-held ambition driven through strength and was “fundamentally about building a business that thrives and leads the market”.

Peeling stated: “Even before Covid what we were looking to do was move to a position of optimism, to be optimistic about what we can do with this industry and what we can do with our business.

“We see ourselves in the future as a technology business that also delivers print products, not the other way around.”

The 360 staff multi-site business then went on to acquire London fine art specialist WKG Print, formerly Witherbys, in November.

4 Solopress production revamp

Over the summer Solopress installed the world’s first HP PageWide T250 HD inkjet web press with HP’s new Brilliant inks, in a radical departure from its traditional sheetfed litho and cut-sheet digital production. The Southend- on-Sea company is using the inkjet web for aggregating commercial print jobs as part of a major £3.3m revamp of its production setup. It also plans to target publishing clients with the new offering.

Managing director Simon Cooper said he had “an epiphany” in the autumn of 2019 when he realised that inkjet web production could work for the fast turnaround web-to-print specialist – once the quality was right. “We expect massive reductions in waste and huge efficiency gains,” he stated.

5 Paragon CC testing kits fulfilment

Paragon Customer Communications leveraged its abilities across multiple UK sites to scoop a huge contract to partner with Royal Mail on the delivery of Covid-19 home testing kits. The multimillion-pound contract was procured via the new Crown Commercial Service postal services framework. Royal Mail will deliver the kits for the Department of Health & Social Care seven days a week. Paragon CC has set up a fulfilment service via six sites across the UK, to “provide an agile and responsive supply chain”. Dave Reynolds, chief operating officer for Transactional & Service Divisions at Paragon CC, described it as “a great achievement and fantastic news for our business”, as well as being a great example of “cross-business and cross-team collaboration”. The Paragon sites involved are in Sunderland, Dagenham, Bristol, Belfast, Glasgow and Birmingham. After a member of the public requests a home testing kit via the NHS, Paragon adds a unique barcode to each kit before it is sent out.

6 Micropress: proud to shine

Micropress director Rob Cross said it was “time for strong businesses to shine”, as the firm completed a multimillion-pound investment round that it began last summer. The Suffolk firm spent £1.4m on expanding into a new unit to create a 1,500sqm paper warehouse that can hold more than £1m-worth of stock, which has freed up additional production space at its 6,500sqm factory. It brought laminating and die-cutting in-house, and went on to make a further £250,000 spend on embellishment with the first Autobond Mini 53 TH-SUV-F-S B2 landscape-format laminator with high-build inkjet spot UV and foiling.

7 Integrity Print ups hybrid mail

Hybrid mail services came into their own this year with so many people working from home, and Integrity Group used the Covid-19 hiatus to complete a major revamp of its Lasermail offering with a £1.2m spend and a new brand. “We made the decision to go to the next level, and lockdown has accelerated the process,” explained group sales and marketing director Andrew Law. Integrity revamped working patterns, strengthened its IT team with in-house developers, and installed Canon inkjet kit to replace an ageing toner fleet. The new brand for the firm’s expanded offering is Integrity Connect. This encompasses web-to-print services, secure hybrid mail via Clarity Mail, inbound services and document automation, and outbound options including print, email and SMS. “We are helping our customers connect with end-users and partners by whatever channel is appropriate,” Law added.

8 Central Mailing Services: massive spend to change model

Birmingham-based mailing house CMS has made a raft of significant investments this year, to change its business model and position the business for the post-Covid landscape. The company looked to replace people power with highly automated technology with a host of equipment from CMC, Sitma, Kern, Norpack, Buhrs, and Domino. While much of the spend was focused on increasing automation so the operation can run as lean as possible, which enabled the business to slim headcount to around 65 from a peak of 100 while simultaneously increasing capacity, in recent weeks it has also started to recruit. “Pre-Covid, a good month for us was £1m in sales. We’re going over that at the moment and at a time when one of our biggest sectors, theatres, still hasn’t returned,” said managing director Mitesh Chouhan.

9 H&H Reeds acquires to enter new business areas

Commercial and signage printer H&H Reeds expanded its offering and acquired a web development company as it moved to accelerate out of lockdown and pivot to the “new normal”. The deal to buy Dotcom Associates completed in May, following a speculative approach by H&H Reeds managing director Andy Jackson late last summer. “We’re going into a new world now, there’s going to be a new normal and this helps us prepare for that and gives clients and staff confidence, which is important,” he said. Pictured (from left) are H&H Group CEO Richard Rankin, Jackson and previous Dotcom owner Allan Bewley.

10 Grafenia opens up

Grafenia opened up its network to third-party providers of niche products with a new ‘Works Makers’ option, providing specialist supplies with an additional route to market in the process. Its Nettl wing also launched a new fully funded online training programme for designers and salespeople who have been made redundant, in the hopes that successful applicants will become Nettl partners following the completion of their training.

11 Delga Group adds labels

Over the summer Kent’s Delga Group pushed ahead with plans to launch its digital labels business, which joined its existing print and packaging companies. Ian Conetta, group managing director, said: “We are really excited to further extend our service offering within the group and introduce Delga Labels. The manufacturing of labels was the final piece in our jigsaw, and further enhances our value-added services.”

12 Paul Bristow switches up

Printed textiles manufacturer Paul Bristow Associates bought an HP Stitch S300 to enable it to produce face masks adorned with its customers’ favourite artworks. While the Wrexham firm’s product offering typically includes t-shirts, tote bags and home accessories for museums’ gift shops, this summer it pivoted to start printing face masks featuring artworks as a reaction to the impact of coronavirus restrictions.

13 InPrint Colour adds packaging kit

Commercial and wide-format printer InPrint Colour installed a folder-gluer, which will be followed by a die-cutter, as part of a £500,000 future-proofing expansion into packaging. The move into packaging is not the first time the Yorkshire business has pivoted to achieve growth, having previously added wide-format and then direct-to-garment printing to its product mix. Managing director Paul Coulson said the business had been looking at boosting its packaging offering for a while.

14 KNP Litho reinvests to reinvent

Bury St Edmunds-based KNP had predominantly served the events sector prior to the pandemic but managing director Dave Gibbons said the business had had to reinvent itself, and moved into doing floor vinyls after taking on a Zünd cutter earlier this year.

15 Severn

Severn became the first UK company to install Canon’s new VarioPrint iX-series B3 sheetfed inkjet press as the Gloucester book printer looked to return to growth out of lockdown. “You need to brave to invest in the current climate, we had the option to delay, but we’re a bold business,” said managing director Ian Smith.

16 Curtis Packaging pushes ahead

Curtis Packaging began 2020 by installing a new Bobst die-cutter, ordering a new mezzanine floor, a new laminator and a new hot foil stamping machine. Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic the Surrey business pressed ahead with its investment plans to improve its services and bring more processes in-house. “We’re still very much paddling our own canoe,” said managing director James Williams.

17 Document Despatch

Document Despatch brought previously outsourced work in-house and revamped its print setup after installing the UK’s first Kyocera TASKalfa Pro 15000c inkjet press – the Basingstoke company’s first production inkjet device. “It’s been great for us and has brought in profitable growth,” said managing director Leigh Foster.

18 Henosis aiming for ‘green’ mask

Yorkshire-based mask making start-up Henosis Masks aims to produce a fully compostable disposable mask, with optional printing for branding or security purposes. The firm was co-founded by Mark Bennett, who spent years in print manufacturing with senior roles at Polestar, Garnett Dickinson and YM Group. Bennett said that Henosis aimed to make masks with integral ear loops made of the same material, which would allow the product to be fully compostable. One of its material suppliers is Ahlstrom-Munksjö, which has a mill in Scotland and makes sustainable fibre-based materials for applications including tea bags and coffee pods, and also for medical applications including face masks.

19 Sherwood Group adds masks

Nottingham-based Sherwood Group has just become the latest industry firm to make a big investment in specialist mask making equipment. The masks are being packaged in boxes that emphasise their provenance as ‘Made in the UK’ amid on- going concerns about the poor quality of some imported masks. It is currently making masks suitable for consumer and business use, but plans to produce medical grade masks in the future.

20 EverythingBranded goes B2C

EverythingBranded launched spin-off B2C venture EverythingPrinted. See Business Inspection here.



© MA Business Limited 2021. Published by MA Business Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 06779864. MA Business is part of the Mark Allen Group .