Ambitious investors buy Ancient House

Jo Francis
Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ancient House Printing Group has been acquired by an investment group that has ambitions to become the largest private company in the UK.

Ancient House: print firm's history dates back to 1845
Ancient House: print firm's history dates back to 1845

The purchaser, RDCP Group, was founded in 2015 by Sameer Rizvi and Iryna Dubylovska who were both previously investment bankers at RBS. 

Since then, the group has made 15 acquisitions that have been consolidated into four businesses spanning care homes, construction engineering, the Chilango Mexican restaurant chain, and real estate. 

The Ancient House buy, for an undisclosed sum, takes its number of operations up to five, and increases RDCP’s enterprise value up to £140m. 

The Ipswich-based web and sheetfed printer was owned by joint managing directors Allison Berry and Michael Underdown, with the Underdown family having owned the company for 50 years since it was taken over by their father, Peter Underdown. 

The firm’s history dates back to 1845 when Frederick Pawsey established a book selling and printing business at the famous ‘Ancient House’ in Ipswich. 

Berry and Underdown will remain with the company for an unspecified period as part of the deal. 

In a message to customers announcing the change of ownership, they said: “The challenges of the pandemic both personally and professionally has made us all pause and consider the future. We have done this with respect to Ancient House Printing Group. We are both very passionate about the business, after all, it has been our lives work. We want the business to flourish, to develop further, and move forward into a new and very exciting period.

“It will be business as usual for Ancient House Printing Group. All staff, including ourselves, will remain with the business. We will continue to operate from our factories in Ipswich producing high quality printing services across both web and sheet, and supporting our clients with our usual excellent customer service.”

Ancient House operates from a 11,150sqm site and employs around 100 staff. In its most recent results, for the year to 29 February 2020, the business was impacted by Brexit disruption and bad debts. 

Sales fell from £16.9m to £15.6m, and it made a pre-tax loss of £176,114 compared to a profit of £258,918 the prior year. The business also had net assets of £2.8m. 

RDCP’s Rizvi praised the business for its “terrific reputation in the print media sector”.

He told Printweek that at the EBITDA level, Ancient House had made £1m, which meant it satisfied RDCP’s investment criteria. This is sector-agnostic and includes a minimum EBITDA of £1m, repeat or recurring revenues, and a defendable “moat-like” business model. 

“Besides their history of profitable growth, what truly attracted us to the business was their high-profile client list, state-of-the-art factory space, and their ambitious management team whose industry experience really stands out,” he said. 

“Despite operating through a pandemic environment, the business has shown resilience and is now primed for its next stage of growth. We are thrilled to be working with Michael Underdown and Allison Berry, and their senior management team.”

Ancient House prints for a raft of blue-chip customers including Marks & Spencer, Bauer Media, Immediate Media, John Brown, Sainsbury’s Group and Next. 

It runs two Komori System 38S five-unit 16pp web presses, with the option for sheeting, inline spine gluing and rotary trimming. Its sheetfed setup includes two B1 long perfectors: an RMGT [Mitsubishi] Diamond 3000 12-colour perfector with Mabeg reel sheeter, and a Komori GL40P ten-colour convertible perfector, also with Mabeg reel sheeter.

The firm’s in-house finishing kit includes a Kolbus KM473 perfect binder, Muller Martini Prima Plus and Primera stitching lines, and a range of MBO folders. 

Core products include brochures, leaflets and magazines that can be press-finished or finished offline. It also prints calendars, posters and booklets, and claims a unique offering in the production of press-finished 8pp undersized A5 booklets. 

RDCP has acquired 95% of the shares in Ancient House, and also has an option to buy the property, which is owned by Berry and Underdown, at a later date. 

It also plans to help the business grow by “investing in new print equipment and technologies in the coming years”.

RDCP’s businesses employ some 675 staff. The group said that all of its subsidiaries are wholly owned by the founders, “and all of RDCP Group's investment capital comes from surplus profits, i.e. internally generated permanent capital”. 

Ancient House was a top 200 company in last year's Printweek Top 500. Compilation of the 2021 survey is currently underway. 

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