Acquisitive Hobs aims to double turnover by 2020

By Hannah Jordan, Tuesday 20 December 2016

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Hobs Repro has acquired the Face Creative Services brand, after it fell into administration earlier this month, and plans further acquisitions as part of an ambitious growth strategy to near £70m turnover by 2020.

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Duckenfield: "I am looking for businesses that can add revenue, new capability and new geographic territory."

Hot on the heels of appointing new chief executive James Duckenfield, Hobs Group has bought the brand name of the north London digital print and pre-press operation along with its two Xeikon 5000s, a number of pieces of finishing kit and employed eight members of its staff. Its three directors have been offered consultancy roles for the business. 

Islington-based Face Creative, who sub-contracted for Hobs Repro, called in administrators Duff & Phelps on 7 December

“Face has had a couple of tough years and its directors are also reaching retirement age so they approached us and we could see the fit with Hobs,” said Duckenfield. “It’s always sad when printers go, but in this case we have been able to look after the customers and employ some of the staff so it’s better than nothing.”

He added: “The digital hub for Hobs London is in Marylebone Lane and we get a lot of retail clients in the area and Face really fit in there – we used to use their Xeikons for certain work and this was an opportunity to acquire that technology.”

Duckenfield said that Face Creative’s client-base, which includes businesses in the financial and medical sectors and design agencies, complemented Hobs’ own and that the company could offer a more extensive service to its customers. 

It is currently undecided where the Xeikons will be moved to but Duckenfield, who until his appointment as chief executive this month was group managing director within Xerox Human Resources Services, said that as part of an ambitious growth plan to almost double Hobs’ £35m-turnover by 2020 the business was looking for a new production hub in London.

“As property prices increase in London some printers have to simply move out of town but that’s not our strategy,” Duckenfield explained. “We will keep a local presence because we believe clients want to sit down and touch stock, look at quality and talk to us in person. When opportunities arise we plan to reduce the size of our six existing London properties but will ultimately have a nearby hub where more of the production will be.

The new hub, which Duckenfield is hoping to sign for in January, will incorporate production from Hobs Repro and Hobs Studio – its 3D printing arm. 

Hobs Group comprises four divisions including print, display graphics and content management business Hobs Repro; managed print and digital mailroom business Hobs On-Site; legal reprographics and digital forensics operation Anexsys; and Hobs Studio, its fast-growing 3D, 4D and visualisation section working with architects, engineers and construction businesses. 

As part of its growth strategy Duckenfield said the company was on the lookout for more acquisitions across each of these four divisions and that Hobs Repro’s contribution to the group’s annual £35m-turnover, would likely shift from around 50% to a third as other parts of the company began to grow faster.

“Anexsys, Hobs On-Site and Hobs Studio are in double-digit growth,” he said. “The 3D business already prints architectural models for 82 out of the top 100 architects in the country so we are in a very dominant position there. We also have the largest 3D printer in Europe. That side of things is going to grow extremely fast, which is why we are looking for another space because we need to buy more equipment – which is big and expensive - to fulfill demand,” he added.  

Duckenfield said investment in technology would continue across Hobs Repro hubs in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Reading and that the group was also looking to grow the print division through acquisitions that could close “geographical gaps” in the network.  

He said: “We have 22 sites around the UK. We have gaps in Cambridge and Newcastle, but outside of that we have very good national coverage. I’m looking for businesses that can add revenue, new capability and new geographic territory to Hobs Repro.”

After extensive testing of various technologies since November, decisions on new software and hardware were imminent, according to Duckenfield, who said the company would decide on new web-to-print technology next week and new presses in January. 

“Our strategy for growth involves a hub and spoke system and we want to make sure we get the right equipment in the hubs and that we keep hold of all the spokes.

"We need to make sure we’re choosing technology that is going to give us a good return for the level of quality that we need to deliver to our clients. I’m not going to invest in a ridiculously expensive piece of B2 or B1 equipment to then continue to work primarily on SRA3 for example. It’s not a linear relationship between sheet size and cost unfortunately,” he said. 

Duckenfield has recently taken over the 420-staff firm from predecessor Kieran O’Brien who has become a non-executive director. He said that people were a core part of the company’s growth plan and that "significant headcount increase" across the group was forecasted as part of the 2020 target. 

“Kieran has done an amazing job to get the business to where it is. What was a copy shop in 1969 he’s built it into a really diverse business and now he's handed me the reins to take the next step. 

“There is so much potential for the business, which is very exciting and we have now got our 2020 plan that the MDs and I have come up with. We’ve asked ‘Where do we want to be? And how do we want to get there?’ and we’ve realised if we are going to get there, we need to get a move on so there’s a sense of urgency to get what needs to be done, done.”


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