Charlesworth completes CVA as personalised books transforms fortunes


Charlesworth Press has completed its Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and completed a £3m round of investment in new kit to support its growing demand for the personalised children’s books market, which has helped to turn around its fortunes.

Gray (right with Hewitt): "We've had to transform the business from bottom to top, inside and out"
Gray (right with Hewitt): "We've had to transform the business from bottom to top, inside and out"

The Wakefield, Yorkshire-based printer entered the CVA in March 2016. At the end of that year the company's existing management exited the business and Mark Gray, who bought Charlesworth in 2010, took over as its managing director, while Lee Hewitt, who joined the company in 2013 as operations manager, took over as operations director.

The business, which now employs just over 50 staff, subsequently came to an arrangement with creditors to exit the CVA process early and completion took place two months ago.

“We successfully navigated the CVA and we're free of that constraint now,” Gray told Printweek.

“We've had to make a lot of changes to the business in terms of where we get sales from, and we had to address staff issues that we had as well. We've had to transform the business from bottom to top, inside and out.”

Hewitt added: “We formed a completely new management team and drove the business forward with people who are passionate and cared about the business.”

Gray said the company is currently turning over £6m and that its 2019 accounts will show that it is now making a profit.

“And we're hoping to grow from that with the right type of business,” he added.

The company has achieved its turnaround by diversifying into personalised books for publishers including Wonderbly, Mrs Wordsmith and Hooray Heroes.

“Wonderbly, when they were previously called Lost My Name, came to us around five years ago. We've seen them grow with their sales and we've grown with them on that side of things,” said Gray.

“And we're now being sought out by customers from all over the world to help with their personalised products and also short-run print-on-demand work. It's a case of if you want 50 books or one book, it makes no difference to us with the equipment that we've got now.”

Last week the company produced 20,000 one-off books per day thanks to Black Friday related orders and it has also recently been commissioned by Wonderbly to produce Keys and Curios, a new journal for the Harry Potter fan club.

“Charlesworth had previously been a journal printer so the knowledge of digital aspects just wasn't there and it's something the business has had to learn and embrace. We've come to realise that there are a lot of printers who are fighting for a shrinking marketplace,” said Gray.

Hewitt added: “We were just fed up with doing everything for nothing with the commercial, traditional print that we did.

“The print-on-demand side of the business grew without us realising it. We started doing development work with Wonderbly and one day we realised that we'd learned a lot from it and were quite good at it. Most of the business we now have has basically grown from word-of-mouth.”

18 months ago the company took on an HP Indigo 12000 and during 2019 it has invested around £3m in a raft of additional kit to grow its personalised print and print-on-demand services.

This included the installations in August and September of a DA 260 casemaker and a casing-in machine from Kolbus plus a Muller Martini Vareo perfect binder with inline InfiniTrim three-knife trimmer, an inline end papering unit, and a variable book-of-one PUR system.

In October the company then took on a second HP Indigo 12000, joining the first 12000 as well as an existing Indigo 7800 and a Heidelberg Speedmaster at its 4,180sqm premises.

“We had to improve to keep up with the finishing equipment,” said Gray.

Charlesworth now has the capability to produce 1,800 individual or short-run books per hour.

It can produce short-run/personalised books in such large capacity because the personalisation is received direct from its customers in files from their websites. These files are sent automatically to the firm, which then prints off batches of hardback or softbound books.

The business has also gained eight new customers this year, from countries including Australia, South Africa, the US, Switzerland and Slovenia, and it is producing a third more books than this time last year.

Charlesworth operates 24/7 during the Q4 peak season, with Christmas gifting the focus, and on a 24/6 basis throughout the rest of the year.

The company is next looking to expand its services in the US market.

“We've been told by our customers that they find it very difficult to get the level of service, pricing and quality that they can achieve in the UK,” said Gray.

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