A family business which started as a tomato grower before switching to screen printing has reached its 60th year.
Ashfield Screen Printing was established by Rolls Royce jet engine engineer Terrence Henry as a horticulture sideline in 1953.
Despite his good job, Henry had six children and wanted a second income, so he invested in a plot of land in Borrowash, Derbyshire, and built himself several greenhouses to house his fruit crop.
However, after discovering that tomato growing was not as easy as expected, he decided to put his skills to use as a printer and designed and built his first semi-automatic screen printing machine. Soon his greenhouse was an operational print shop producing waterslide and dry stick transfers.
In November 1955, Henry went into partnership with professional printer Arthur Wasselland and limited company Ashfield Screen Printing was born. In 1974, Henry’s son Michael took over and in 1994, his son Charles Henry took the reigns, around 15 years earlier than he was expecting to.
“I was 24 and on a sales and marketing graduate traineeship with Avon when Dad died suddenly when on a walking holiday in Nepal. He was only 55. I always thought I would take over but later, when I was about 40. I thought I would go out and make a name for myself first,” he said.
But for the young Charles it was now or never, and after his mother and grandmother both asked him to step in, he took the plunge.
“We could have sold it but I thought I’d like to give it a go. I have very few regrets about doing it. It’s gone fine most of the time.
We’ve got a good team and it’s wonderful to produce things, that’s one of the things I missed at Avon is you didn’t see a product, it was just all numbers and statistics. Making good products is very rewarding.”
Despite his 21 years with the company, Henry’s stint is still dwarfed by studio manager Anthony Birkinshaw, who started in 1972 aged 16.
Screen print is now 35-40% of Ashfield’s business, a further 30% is flatbed and reel digital print, with the rest litho.
It was an early adopter of wide-format digital, buying a Mimaki JV3 in 2000 following up with a Mimaki JF1631 flatbed in 2008, the second in the country at the time.
Henry said the experience taught him the lesson to be cautious about buying new kit. In 2010 he replaced it with a 550 GT Océ Arizona, “a phenomenal bit of kit” still in use. He followed up with a JV33 Mimaki, a Presstek 34DI-X litho press in 2009 and an Océ Colorwave in 2010 for poster printing. Ashfield also runs a Svecia Printmaster, an Argon screen printer and Duplo finishing kit.
Terrence Henry’s bespoke machines were still going strong well into the 1970s and Charles Henry said he had fond memories of seeing them in action as a child.
In 2000 the business moved from its greenhouse home to its current industrial unit in Spondon, near Derby. It is still 100% family owned. Henry’s wife Katherine is the firm’s accountant.
Henry said he departed from his predecessors’ inclination to run Ashfield as “a lifestyle business” with a handful of employees and the managing director taking a very active role. He steadily grew turnover to just over £1m by the start of the recession. He said sales have been steady since and the 17-staff business is now at £1.1m turnover.
He said he plans to do more web-to-print and evolve the business based on customer needs in the next decade.
“The last eight years have been difficult for print, to come through that and survive 60 years and to continue to invest, I like to think that’s the legacy my grandfather, father and myself have created,” Henry said. “I am extremely proud to be part of the company my granddad founded 60 years ago and I am looking forward to seeing how far we can take the company in the next 60 years."
With three Henry children in the next generation, the business could well remain in the family for a century, and beyond.