Historic printer Stones in administration after cash crisis

By Jo Francis, Friday 16 March 2018

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Henry Stone has gone into administration just four months after the collapse of its ill-fated venture into web offset at Stones Ashford, and will be wound down immediately.

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Henry Stone: 101 employees laid off immediately

The Banbury-based sheetfed printer is known in the trade as Stones and has a history dating back almost 200 years, to 1826. The current owners acquired the business from the administrators of the failed Polestar group in an MBO backed by Thames Valley Capital in the summer of 2016.

Administrators Geoff Rowley and Phil Armstrong from FRP Advisory were appointed on Thursday afternoon (15 March), with all of the firm’s 101 staff made redundant immediately.

In a statement, the administrators said that a combination of trading challenges and financial difficulties had led to Stones entering administration.

Rowley said: “Henry Stone Limited has suffered as a result of a tough trading environment over the past couple of years. The directors are grateful to all staff, customers and suppliers who have supported them over this period, but severe cash flow problems have resulted in the company entering administration today.

“The financial position of the Company means that we will have to begin winding down the business. Unfortunately all members of staff have been made redundant and we are providing every support during this challenging time.”

One industry expert said that the decision to wind the business down immediately was indicative of the parlous state of the firm’s finances.

“If all the people have already gone it suggests the financial problem is really serious, otherwise you’d continue to operate and clear the work-in-progress to get a better result for creditors,” he said.

"It suggests that things are pretty dire and there is no money at all.”

Thames Valley Capital had a majority stake in the company with the management team of Richard Walsh, Mark Scurr, Steve Ottley holding the rest, according to filings at Companies House.

There has been speculation about Henry Stone’s future for some weeks.

Stones suffered reputational damage due to the circumstances surrounding the abrupt collapse of another acquisition, the former Headley Brothers web offset business in Kent. It went bust last November eight months after the Stones team took over the business.

Sister book printing operation Wheatons of Exeter, acquired from the Polestar administrators at the same time as Stones, had already shut down after being put into administration in May 2017.

The appointment of administrators at Banbury means that all three associated companies have failed within the space of a year.

Stones runs three long-perfecting sheetfed presses with reel-sheeters, including a new ten-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 106 with CutStar that was installed last summer.

It also has Muller Martini perfect binding and stitching lines, two Steinemann UV coaters, and an Autobond laminator.

At least one Stones employee had been holding out hope for a rescue deal, and said: “We’ve got the newest XL in the country and we were packed out with work. Perhaps the business could trade on as part of someone else’s empire.”

A number of printers had previously been mooted as being potentially interested in the site or some of its assets, with various print bosses spotted at the factory in recent weeks.

Sheetfed magazine printing specialist Buxton Press was one of the companies named. Chairman Bernard Galloway told PrintWeek: “We’ll talk to the administrators and take a look at it and see if there’s anything there that’s of interest to us.”

YM Group had also looked at the business at the time of Polestar’s collapse, when it was interested in buying Polestar Bicester.

Chief executive Stephen Goodman said: “As a standalone it doesn’t have the same appeal. We’ll have to see what happens with the business.”

Acquisitive Walstead, the owner of Wyndeham Group, had also run the rule over the company previously. However, this week chief executive Paul Utting said the group was “unlikely to be interested in buying the business”.

Stephens & George managing director Andrew Jones also ruled his business out. 

Stones prints magazines, catalogues and brochures for a range of clients, with customers scrambling in recent days to place work elsewhere. One rival printer described Stones’ prices as “crazily low”.

“The big question is, do you want to pick up very low-price work from fairly desperate publishers. Few people would want to go down to that level,” the rival said. "This will create a mini storm for publishers trying to find new homes for their titles and used to operating with unsustainable print prices."

PrintWeek understands that the cashflow issues resulted in some employees being paid late last month, with the only paper on-site at the factory belonged to publishing customers. 

One paper supplier commented: “We couldn’t get credit on them even 18 months after they started so we didn’t deal with them. What a godforsaken mess, with Wheatons, Ashford and now Banbury.”

Henry Stone had not yet filed maiden accounts. Its results to 31 March 2017 are overdue at Companies House.

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