Luxury printer Benwells has been bought out of administration by Reflections Print Finishing Services in a pre-pack sale after it was hit by a slump in sales.
According to managing director and owner Paul Haslam, the past 18 months hit the South London-based litho printer and stationery specialist hard, culminating in a “sparse summer” and a reduction in turnover.
Despite what Haslam described as a “buoyant autumn”, the firm struggled to make up the lost ground and also learned its premises were to be sold on, which meant they would need to relocate in the new year.
Andrew Duncan and Neil Bennett of Leonard Curtis Business Solutions, who had previously been working on Benwells' finances, were appointed joint administrators on Friday (14 December).
Haslam said: “For the last 13 years it has been my privilege to own and manage a company employing a wonderful team of people doing amazing work for fantastic clients. I appreciate this news has shocked people, particularly as Benwells has 'always been there'.
“I very much offer my apologies to all the suppliers of the business who feel let down and am very much thankful to those who have been extremely gracious and supportive at this time also.”
On the same day it went into administration, Benwells – which is officially registered as Benwell Sebard Ltd – was sold as a going concern to Reflections Print Finishing Services in Sidcup for £60,000. All 14 staff have transferred under the new ownership, including Haslam.
“Benwells has a great heritage in the industry and it was of real importance to me to find a way of stewarding the company and its staff through this difficult time and delivering it into a safe position with new owners that recognise the value in what we do,” Haslam added.
“Personally, I look forward to returning to a role focusing on Benwell clients and developing our own product range further.”
Having marketed Benwells to potential buyers, Duncan and Bennett found Reflections to be the most “suitable” candidate.
Duncan said: “While we are still working to find out how much debt is owed, our next steps will be to tidy things up and collect back some debts. Once this is realised, we can pay off secured creditors and a bank overdraft. After this, we expect there to be a distribution to unsecured creditors.
“We are pleased to be able to get this sale as it is in the best interest of all.”
Reflections had been in the market for acquisitions since the start of the year, with the purchase of a print finisher falling through months earlier. The opportunity to acquire Benwells came through in an unsolicited email and an agreement was met ahead of the administration.
“From our perspective, the whole deal was put together and executed in just a couple of days. In this instance there wasn’t time for any significant due diligence to occur and we had no information on who the potential creditors to the business might be,” said Reflections managing director Luke Hastings.
“We did know, however, that the debtor book was unencumbered meaning that when collected there would be a significant sum available for distribution to creditors. We were also comfortable in the knowledge that the money we were paying to buy the business would ultimately maximise potential creditor dividends, not to mention that we had also agreed to fund the staff's Christmas payroll in full.
“Personally, I believe there are companies in the sector that, despite struggling in the modern environment, undertake such niche work that they are worth preserving. Benwells to me is a great example of this; letterpress printing on fine wedding stationery, foil blocked and duplexed invitations, and their rope-handled gift bags are made to such precise quality that this skill alone deserves a future.”
In March next year, Benwells will relocate in its entirety to Reflections' Sidcup premises. It will retain its brand and the business will continue to be managed by Haslam.
Established in 1966, Benwells had annual sales of around £1.25m at the time of administration. Some of its equipment, which was leased, is expected to be returned, though the majority of kit will remain onsite for now.
Reflections, which has a secondary operation in Basildon, Essex, bills itself as “the largest speciality print finisher in the south of England” and offers laminating, UV varnishing, spot UV, foil blocking, die cutting and creasing on a 24/7 schedule.