Sad story at Stones

By Jo Francis, Friday 16 March 2018

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Jo Francis observes that optimism is not enough. Today's printing industry requires astute business people running the show.

In the months since the debacle that was Stones Ashford unfolded, I’ve been wondering what the future would hold for Stones in Banbury.

Now we know. Unless a white-knight bidder emerges to take the business on this venerable printing firm will not be bringing out the bunting to celebrate its 200th anniversary. Instead, it will be consigned to history as another name on the roll-call of failed printing companies.

Not long after the business was acquired from its collapsed parent Polestar in 2016, I visited the Banbury site. I was struck by the positivity emanating from the Stones team – many of them long-standing employees with decades of service – as they contemplated a future free from Polestar's shackles.

The subsequent ill-fated foray into web offset at the old Headley Brothers site in Kent raised many eyebrows, including mine, and as things turned out understandably so.

It has all gone horribly wrong and those cheery people I met in Banbury were all made redundant yesterday.

Just a few days ago I spoke with an employee at Stones who said the factory was full of work, and the firm had just experienced its two busiest months to date.

Unfortunately, if you’re busy but not making a decent profit or generating sufficient cash, it’s only going to go one way. And so it has proved.

Ultimately this has to be down to a failure of management. Again.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the work. As one wise print boss pointed out this morning, if it is placed elsewhere at the same price as Stones were offering, the next printer will just end up going exactly the same way at some point down the line.

Now is the time for sheetfed printers to hold their ground and be crystal clear about what a sustainable price looks like.

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