Finding the right premises close to home has enabled a labels expert to plan a big expansion in a major industrial area.
It is only half a mile away, but it has taken Print-Leeds more than two years to get there. Managing a move from one part of a major industrial city undergoing large-scale regeneration can throw up problems – especially for a company keen to expand. One of the biggest is finding the right space in a place that is on the up and where property of all types is hard to come by.
It inevitably costs a premium, because the stakes are so high. The right location, after all, can be critical for attracting customers and employees, while the premises themselves can – and should – significantly influence productivity. This was especially important for a company with the ambition and track record of Print-Leeds, run by managing director Rod Fisher.
VITAL STATISTICS Print-Leeds
Location Leeds, West Yorkshire
Inspection host Managing director Rod Fisher
Size Turnover: £5m; Staff: 38
Products Paper labels and plastic POS materials for leading brands in the
Kit Seven-colour-plus-coater Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106, seven-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster CX 102, Screen Truepress Jet W3200UV HS wide-format flatbed printer, DYSS X7-1630C digital cutter
Inspection focus Managing a move and further investment
Expansion and acquisition have been key stepping stones for the company. Print-Leeds launched in 2001 as a reprographics business and moved into print on plastics when long-established local firm Jackson Wilson went into liquidation. According to Fisher, it seemed a “good idea to take it over and start a print company”. Repro in the age of Apple was undergoing massive upheaval.
“What was a very lucrative, established repro business, started to lose ground and we had to look at other ventures,”recalls Fisher, whose next move pushed him into the wet-glue-label market with the takeover of S&C Labels five years ago – another canny buy that trebled company turnover. There it continued to grow at its old premises in Pudsey, a few miles west of the city centre.
“However, we could only grow so far. The old premises was 1,672sqm, spread over two floors, meaning that we had to move large weights up and down stairs. I was keen to get another litho printing press, but was not prepared to do so until we had enough space to fit it in. This was back in 2015 and there followed a long search for an appropriate new home for Print-Leeds.”
The machine that he wanted was a Heidelberg seven-colour-plus-coater Speedmaster XL 106, for running alongside a Speedmaster CX 102. This rolls out plastic POS materials and labels for breweries and major drinks brands in the UK. The XL is a big enough investment; the relocation is set to double the outlay to around £5m.
“I’d been looking for a new premises for a couple of years. Without that new site, I could not buy another press. The problem wasn’t helped by the fact that much of Leeds was being regenerated, which was pushing up the cost of many business properties. I was almost at the point of giving up in despair when a man walked into my office and asked for a job. It was a strange turning point,” says Fisher.
That man was an engineer who had been laid off following the collapse of a 97-year-old business half a mile away in the suburb of Bramley. Fisher jumped into his car and drove to the company’s premises, recalling how sad it was to see such a long-established business fall silent and still. He could nevertheless see new life for a line of work other than engineering.
Tanda Works is a 1.6 hectare site in Swinnow Lane and not one but two premises, each one covering about 2,973sqm, fronted by a huge car park. It was March 2017 and Fisher made an immediate offer on the site: “Like buying a house, it was accepted. From here things happened quickly.
I had to sell my building and did so to a print management company within one week,” he says.
Two months later, he was on a plane to Germany to look at the Speedmaster XL 106. Fisher ordered the kit on 17 June last year on the condition that it was delivered to Swinnow Lane and installed over the Christmas period.
This left enough time to renovate one building for letting out, a process which is ongoing. However, the real challenge was improving the other factory for Print-Leeds, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds and taking four months.
Floors were dug up for power lines and relaid with concrete and resin surfacing; air conditioning and humidification kit went in, as did suspended ceilings, and the entire space was redecorated. Fisher quips that it was like the British television series Grand Designs, with up to 30 tradespeople on site at any one time.
Another major challenge was moving from the old to the new base and minimising downtime. Fisher’s team managed to keep this to three days by running the older Heidelberg CX from the existing base in Pudsey. Meanwhile, the new Heidelberg XL from Germany was trucked in five lorries to the new premises in Bramley and installed over Christmas and the New Year.
“We didn’t really keep our clients in the loop; we just timed the move as quickly and efficiently as we could. I went in person to some of our clients in December to tell them what we had done, but we weren’t overly worried because we knew we were still producing work at our old base. The beauty of what we do is that it is fairly repetitive, so we took a bit of a gamble and printed more labels than we normally would in case we were caught short,” he says.
Monday 8 January was the first day on which both presses were running flat out in their new home, producing millions of labels – average runs top one million. The property cost about £2m, renovation £500,000, and the Speedmaster XL with the new power cabling £2.5m. Print-Leeds borrowed heavily, but is profitable and finance has been “surprisingly straightforward” to tee up, says Fisher.
“Interest rates are better than they were five years ago and manufacturers are telling us that more and more people are coming to them because financing is a little easier than in the past. Brexit doesn’t seem to have bothered people too much except on paper prices, which have gone up.”
While he did take advice from accountants on tax efficiency, that was the only professional help needed by Fisher, whose background in finance steadied the nerves. The spending has not stopped and he is looking at investing up to £1m-plus on pressure-sensitive label (PSL) technology during the third quarter of this year.
“Everything is in place – the power is in, and the hall is ready – it’s just a matter of plonking it in. We are ready for further expansion. Meanwhile, a new customer suite enables clients to relax between jobs and press passes. It is an outstanding site – a bit like a car showroom – and what they will see in two years’ time, I hope, is the biggest producer of plastic and paper labels in the UK,” he says.
The new Speedmaster XL is 40% faster than the CX and can take larger sheet sizes, so in the next two years, Fisher hopes to double turnover to £10m and nearly double staff headcount to around 70 people.
“The biggest challenge is not the growth; it’s finding the right premises because so few people know your needs or can help you. So it’s worth taking your time. Embarking on such a sizeable expansion is not for everyone, but I’m not an out-and-out printer. I’m more on the finance side, and I have found the experience quite enjoyable,” says Fisher.
- Seek financing, analyse your financial situation and the need to borrow, and take advice on tax efficiency
- Buy the right technology to suit your new premises as well as to stay competitive and to help your business grow
- Hire a project manager or appoint a member of staff to handle a large site relocation
- Invest in people, not just to achieve revenue and profit
- You could find that training and development of staff is key to growth and productivity