Business inspection: Top-drawer output for the chic set

By Jo Francis, Monday 02 June 2014

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The go-to print outlet for the upper-crust relies on traditional skills and discreet service.

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Is this print’s poshest postcode? Mount Street Printers is based on the street of that name in Mayfair in central London, where the W1 location between Oxford Street and Piccadilly results in some of the most expensive real estate in the country. 

Indeed, Mount Street was recently described as ‘the new Bond Street’ following a swathe of luxury store openings. The eponymous print shop is right next door to a Porsche showroom and counts stellar fashion names including Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga and Celine among its neighbours. 

It begs the question, what on earth is a printer doing in such an upmarket location? The answer is both fascinating and prosaic. There has actually been a printer on the site since 1899, when the venerable Henningham & Hollis took up residence. 

Fast forward the best part of a century, to when Peter and Fridette Cain, were looking for a site some 33 years ago and the empty print shop caught their attention. 

“My parents were looking for a shop to start up a print franchise,” explains director Alex Cain. “But they soon realised that the quickprint type of offering wasn’t quite right for the catchment area.”

“We realised we could take it to another dimension,” recalls Fridette. “We bought our first two die-stamping presses and named them Bertha and Mildred. We loved the type of printing they could produce and it took off from there.”

Incredibly, at the time Mount Street was [comparatively] run down. “There were 17 empty shops and it was mostly antique dealers. We really stuck our necks out. Then the hairdressers took over, now it’s fashion,” says Peter.

There are, of course, other upmarket stationery shops in central London, but what makes Mount Street Printers unique is the array of printing services it offers on site. 

A further two die-stamping machines – Gladys and Ebony – eventually joined Bertha and Mildred, and the company expanded its range of other print services.

Somehow, the company has shoe-horned in an enormous range of processes over the 325m2 of space over two floors it occupies in the six story building – die-stamping (of course), litho, letterpress, thermography, gilt-edging, die-cutting, foiling... even digital printing. It’s an astonishing array of production options.

“We can show people what goes into a job. They can see the skills and processes involved and they’re converted,” enthuses Alex. 

“If we’re printing for an art dealer they want to see it on press and sign off every page,” adds Peter.

Some 30% of the firm’s work is engraved stationery of one form or another, and the exquisite results achievable via the process mean it’s a growing area for the company, which recently took on a further 10 machines after acquiring the assets of two stationery firms that were closing down. It plans to set up a satellite unit to house the new kit. 

“Once you’ve seen the results with engraving, you don’t want anything else. It’s a kind of rejection of things that are mass made,” says Alex. 

And it is results such as the exquisite five-colour engraved crest for a foreign embassy client that is attractive to Mount Street’s customers. 

Some of its projects can take weeks to complete, but, astonishing as it may sound for such a complex and venerable process, the firm actually offers a next-day engraved stationery service. 

“We deal with a lot of rush jobs, where people need the impossible usually by the next day. If people want engraving done for tomorrow, they can have it.”

The firm has a bay window shopfront at street level and changes its window display according to the season or major upcoming events. 

Walk-in business

A range of items such as correspondence cards featuring a combination of classic and quirky designs is available off-the-shelf, but a lot of the firm’s work involves bespoke orders and the shop’s large display counters showcase some of the many options.

It also sells online via its website and its correspondence cards are stocked by Fortnum & Mason.

“We’ve had orders come in from as far away as Singapore and Australia. Sometimes people will pop into the shop while they’re visiting London, and then order online when they get home,” explains Alex.

When it comes to the shop, the rich and famous can, and do, pop in just like any other customer. 

“One of our first clients was a lady who wanted some more engraved writing paper with the initials IB,” recalls Peter. “It was Ingrid Bergman. She just walked in off the street.”

More recently, supermodel Kate Moss has been snapped by the paparazzi clutching one of the firm’s elegant, rope-handled navy bags. But you won’t find Mount Street’s staff discussing the details of its clientele. 

“It’s very important to be discreet with famous customers. Some people deal with us via their assistants, some just come into the shop. We treat them normally no matter who they are.”

Thus, the company could be producing a complete suite of printed items for the sort of wedding that involves hundreds of guests, a pre-wedding event, a post-wedding event, and a total price tag of more than £10m. Or it could taking an order from someone with a rather more down-to-earth budget. Both clients will receive the same service and attention to detail.

“A young woman came in on Friday, having travelled especially from Paris. She wanted 50 wedding invitations and wanted to go over all the details of exactly how she wanted things,” says Alex. 

“It’s quite usual for us to spend a lot of time with the customer, to go over everything. There is a lot of value in that. In a normal print environment that’s just not possible.”

Indeed, Fridette says that the firm has been printing for some of its customers, and their families, for 30 years. “They become friends. We even get invited to their weddings sometimes.”

The firm also holds a Royal Warrant as a supplier of printing to HRH The Prince of Wales, another area where its discreet service and attention to detail comes to the fore. 

Christmas is the firm’s busiest time of year, but other events, such as London Fashion Week, can also result in an influx of work due to the numerous associated catwalk shows and parties, all requiring a suitably luxe invitation. 

Mount Street employs 10 typesetters who have a front-of-house role and take ownership of an entire job, in terms of customer service and explaining the various print and finishing options to clients. 

“They are very knowledgeable about the different printing processes so they can advise clients on how best to achieve the desired result, while heading off any potential problems at the pass. Because printing is here on site we can always get the printer involved as well, and ask whether something is going to work or not,” explains Alex. 

“A job could involve a combination of many processes, be it engraving, letterpress, foiling or litho. You have to be aware what order things have to happen in, and the likely impact on things like wastage.”

That’s one of the reasons why the company is keen on having production in-house. “As soon as you send something out to a third party you’ve lost control. The registration might be different, and the turnaround time can be affected,” notes Peter. 

Hand finishing is an important aspect of its offering. Visitors to the shop might well spot Peter patiently making a batch of tissue-lined envelopes, or Fridette putting the finishing touches to some invitations bound with ribbons.

Mount Street Printers is also determined to keep the many traditional skills it employs alive. Veteran die-stamping expert Ken May is passing on his skills to a fresh crop of young printers. This knowledge base will be further enlarged when the firm sets up its new satellite production site, something Alex is immensely proud of as the business looks ahead to the next 30 years: “We are taking on young people and teaching them these specialist skills. It’s great to see them producing beautiful work and they are so proud.”

“The most important thing for us, is that the customer is happy. It could be a packet of envelopes or a huge stationery order – everyone is treated with the same respect.” 


Mount Street Printers

Vital statistics

Location Mayfair, London

Inspection host Alex Cain, director

Size Turnover: circa £3m; staff: 25 

Established 1981

Products Luxury stationery items including business cards, letterheads, notecards, correspondence cards, notebooks, wedding invitations, event invitations, heraldic stationery, and other top-notch print products such as ribboned menus and tissue-lined envelopes

Kit Four die-stamping presses, a Pearl letterpress, three two-colour Speedmasters, a four-colour GTO, a Linoprint digital press, three foiling machines, die-cutting platen, custom-made gilt edging machine, specialist pre-press set-up and hand finishing 

Inspection focus Serving a high-end clientele


DO IT YOURSELF

Following suit

It’s fair to say that premises such as that occupied by Mount Street Printers are unlikely to fall within the budget of most printers, and the firm’s set-up is highly unusual in terms of its location and combination of walk-in shop and such a huge breadth of print production options on site. 

Alternatively, for those aiming for a bricks and mortar retail presence, local knowledge of a town or city and its up-and-coming areas could result in the opportunity to find a site that will subsequently be in a trendy or upmarket area.

It is probably more realistic for firms targeting the luxury print market to sell online and/or form agreements with suitably high-end retailers. 

An example is online print specialist Moo, which has expanded its range into luxe business cards with a 600gsm ‘Quadplex’ option. And the firm has also set up a Moo Shop in trendy Shoreditch in east London. So it can be done. 

Potential pitfalls

With something as specialist as engraved stationery, the scarcity of equipment and a lack of people with the skills to operate it represent major barriers to entry. The Mount Street Printers team has built up its skills base in this and other specialist areas, along with a reputation for quality and service, over the course of more than 30 years. 

Top tips

Choose your employees carefully. Pick people with the right skills and attitude, and an appropriate manner if there is to be ‘front of house’ interaction with customers who may be rich and famous

Cherish employees with traditional skills, and make sure those skills are passed on to young workers coming through

Keep as many processes as possible in-house, so you have complete control of quality and turnaround times

Treat all customers with the same care and respect, whether they are celebrities or not. Be patient with them

Have a passion for what you do and employ others who share it

Alex Cain’s top tip

“The most important thing for us, is that the customer is happy. It could be a packet of envelopes or a huge stationery order – everyone is treated with the same respect.”

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