The new owners of WirralCo have pledged to do their utmost to get the business back on an even keel and have urged the industry to “give us a chance”.
Chris Riley and Kevin Hickey officially became co-owners of the Merseyside trade printer on 16 October.
They acquired Wirral Continuous, which trades as WirralCo, from former Callprint managing director Steve Cheek, whose brief under-the-radar ownership of the business became mired in controversy.
Riley and Hickey have spent all their working lives in print, and previously worked together at Callprint subsidiary Redwood Press in Liverpool, where Riley was general manager and Hickey was production manager.
Redwood Press was not included in the trade and assets of Callprint acquired by Hobs Group at the end of August.
Hickey said the duo were facing unemployment as the scale of Callprint’s problems became clear. “Within the space of 15 minutes we went from thinking we were being kept on, to being told we had to get off the premises,” he said. “That was it, we didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to some of our colleagues.”
Subsequently, he was contacted by Steve Cheek in early September. “He wanted to talk to me about WirralCo as he needed to sell it on because the paper companies wouldn’t touch him. I said I might be interested if it could be me and Chris. There are not a whole lot of other jobs out there and this [printing] is what we know – we are printers.”
Finalising the deal then took more than a month.
Hickey and Riley have acquired WirralCo from Kastorex, a shell company that was taken over by Steve Cheek and his brother Gary in June. Their father Alan Cheek is also a shareholder.
“We had to make sure every ‘t’ was crossed and ‘i’ dotted, and every penny accounted for or we wouldn’t go ahead. We had to protect ourselves and our families,” Hickey explained.
He said the Cheek family no longer had any involvement with the ownership of WirralCo.
Riley and Hickey have provided personal guarantees and have taken on the invoice financing deal that had previously been agreed with Close Brothers.
Hickey thanked WirralCo’s former managing director and co-owner Dennis Graham, and his wife Lesley who headed up sales and marketing, for keeping the business going while the ownership issue was resolved.
“They are lovely people and I can’t praise them enough. This place was running perfectly for 30 years, then in the space of a few weeks it was like having a stick of dynamite under it. Clients have stayed true and loyal and that’s down to Dennis and Lesley and their reputation.”
The business has been operating on pro forma terms with paper suppliers during the hiatus.
“We are drawing a line in the sand and putting those horrible weeks that people here have had to endure behind us. We want to get the paper suppliers onside and restore confidence. People know us and hopefully our reputation will mean something,” he added.
“We can only say to people, this is the truth, give us a chance and don’t crush us by association from the very start,” Hickey stated. “We are two printers, this is what we do. We are finding our feet and hoping to get the paper companies back on board.”
Although Dennis Graham is retiring, Hickey said Lesley Graham would continue to work for the business as sales and marketing manager for up to 12 months to help with the transition.
WirralCo employs 26 staff and has sales of around £1.6m-£1.7m. It runs litho, digital, and large-format equipment and prints a wide range of products from continuous stationery to roller banners.
Steve Cheek had not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.