First Colour lives up to its name

Darryl Danielli
Friday, October 29, 2021

As it looks to capitalise on bounce-back growth, on-demand specialist First Colour has secured a UK first with its first significant spend since merging with a London rival last year.

Arizona takes centre stage in First Colour's wide-format ‘showroom’
Arizona takes centre stage in First Colour's wide-format ‘showroom’

The Soho-based business installed the UK’s first Canon Arizona 135 GT flatbed earlier this month, along with a new Summa flatbed cutter. Both machines were supplied by reseller Adapt, which Finn said had been “brilliant throughout" the double install.

“I have to say the Arizona has been just a dream, we’re no strangers to buying kit, after 25 years in the business… but the support from Canon has been absolutely brilliant, they just can’t help us enough,” said Cliff Finn, owner and managing director.

Launched in the summer, the new entry level 34.2sqm/hr Arizona 135 GT runs a fixed CMYK plus white colourset and can handle 1.25x2.5m boards up to 50.8mm thick.

While First Colour’s machine is a dedicated flatbed, the Arizona does come with the option of a field retrofittable roll-to-roll unit that can handle 2.2m wide reels up to 50kg, including thin and heat sensitive media.

Finn said he hoped the new machine, once bedded in, would allow the business to target further growth across its rigid signage offering, as it looks to cross sell to many of its existing clients.

“At the end of the day, the same people that buy small format are also responsible for things like office signage.”

First Colour’s new machine replaced a hybrid flatbed from Mutoh that had reached the end of its working life, Finn said that the new Arizona represented a step-change for the business.

He said that the business had always hankered after a Canon machine, partly due to the technology and partly due to the service support “and now they’ve introduced a machine that comes in at the same price point as the Mimakis, the Epsons and Ricohs we can.”

To support the new flatbed, the 14 staff business simultaneously invested in a Summa F1612 flatbed cutter, to bring its previously outsourced cutting inhouse.

“To get to where we wanted to be with both soft and hard signage, it was the ultimate set-up,” said Finn, who added the Summa had been chock-a-block since its arrival.

The new Summa has variable vacuum zones and can handle media up to just over 1.6m wide, to match the Arizona, and a working area of 1.6x1.2m.

The total combined spend was around £140,000.

“Basically, we had all this lined up before the pandemic [the wide-format reequip], but obviously we took a proper tumble during the period and bought our competitor which helped save our bacon coming out of this thing.”

The recent reequip to capitalise on wide-format growth followed the business’s merger with PrintroomSoho last autumn.

As a result of the businesses joining forces, PrintroomSoho relocated to First Colour’s facility just behind London’s iconic Oxford Street, which as well as a street-level ‘store-front’ has a 420sqm basement production facility.

Finn said that after some initial challenges the merger has essentially bedded in.

“It’s all about systems, systems, systems and we’re pretty much there now.”

The business, which runs 24-hours Monday to Saturday, specialises in lower volume, rapid turnaround on demand projects for major retailers, corporates and SMEs in and around central London. And according to Finn, business has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels with some areas of the business significantly ahead with an influx of new business.

“80% of our business is same day or next day and it [the on-demand ethos] goes right through the business with everything we buy, it’s about bringing things in-house – having to send work out blows us out of the water and now we have the flatbed and the cutter, we’re pretty much self-contained,” said Finn.

The business moved into wide-format print around four years ago, as part of a strategy to diversify its offering from its previous focus on small-format commercial print.

“We identified wide-format print as having positive growth – and in Central London, 24-hour operators like us providing a fast turnaround wide-format service just didn’t exist,” Finn added.

The new Arizona and Summa actually led the business to reconfigure its operation, moving all of the small format kit into the basement and establishing a wide-format ‘showroom’ at street level.

The business runs small format litho and digital kit and a suite of post-press devices from a range of vendors as well as roll-to-roll wide-format, and now rigid. And its on demand offering encompasses general commercial, from business stationery to brochures and flyers, to wide-format, from commercial signage to instore and event graphics.

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