The Attleborough, Norfolk-based firm, said that the transition, which was completed on 14 November, would provide a succession plan for the business, help increase prosperity for its employees and make it an inspiration for other businesses in East Anglia.
Founder Philip Colchester, who will remain as chief executive, said: “Print is a tough industry and for years I’ve been trying to find a way forward for the business. I looked at the normal routes but in the end I thought that I’ve got a very good bunch of people here and they deserve a better future.
“The move into employee ownership is a very good way of securing the future of the business for generations to come.”
The move comes after three years of research and the firm has opted for a structure similar to the business model favoured by employee-owned retailer John Lewis.
Colchester's employee ownership structure uses an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) with an additional facility that enables employees to invest directly in their own name.
“Last year and the early part of this year I spent a lot of time going round employee-owned companies in and around the UK, looking at different business models. The John Lewis Partnership has been very open and willing to share the workings of their unique model,” said Colchester.
“I’ve transferred 56% of our shares into an Employee Ownership Trust. The best performing companies I think are the ones where employees have a direct shareholding. So we’re going for a hybrid scheme; the bulk of the shares and the ownership is with the EOT, of which all of the employees are members, so therefore they have a vote.
“Management are still managing the business but they have to make sure it’s done in the best interest of the shareholders; the employees.”
Employee owned companies currently contribute 4% of GDP to the UK economy. The Employee Ownership Association (EOA) hopes to see this increase to 10% by 2020.
Director of membership at the EOA Deb Oxley said: “We’ve worked very closely with Philip and the team at the Colchester Print Group throughout their transition to employee ownership.”
“The business is now part of a growing sector that contributes £30bn annually to the UK economy. Employee-owned businesses achieve higher productivity and greater levels of innovation and are more resilient to economic turbulence. They also have more engaged, more fulfilled and less stressed workforces.”
Colchester Print Group, which was established in 1976, employs 40 staff across two sites in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Attleborough, and has a turnover of £3.5m.
It produces a range of general print using five- and 10-colour Komori litho presses and Konica Minolta digital kit. It also has Presstek 34DI direct imaging press and an in-house studio and operates a range of finishing equipment.
“It has reinvigorated and repurposed the business and it’s nice to see people changing. It’s a long haul and it will take us years to get there but there’s something in it for everybody now,” said Colchester.