By Simon Creasey, Monday 27 November 2017
Changing demands have always driven investment at Cliftons and growing requests for foiling prompted this very successful purchase.
Ever since it was founded 22 years ago London-based trade finishing company Cliftons has moved with the times. It’s continually responded to client demand by embracing emerging technology and it’s mothballed service lines when demand has fallen off. This willingness to adapt to changing market conditions is reflected in how the £1.5m-turnover business’s annual revenue breaks down today.
When the company first started out, it was predominantly what managing director Tim Clifton describes as a “die-cutting, fold, stitch, trim outfit”.
Today, however, Cliftons is a print finishing and book binding company specialising in hard- and soft-cover books and layflat binding. This shift came about just over a decade ago when Cliftons bought a book binding business called Books Abound.
“When we bought Books Abound it accounted for about 10% of our business, but today it accounts for more than 90%,” says Clifton.
A couple of years ago Clifton noticed that a growing part of the company’s business offer was foil blocking on covers. Around 70% of Clifton’s work comes from printing companies – “from web printers all the way down to digital printers across the UK” – and their demand for foil blocking was causing the company to outsource around £7,000 of foiling work a month.
“We had an Opus hand foiling machine that could do 20 to 30 copies, which got us out of trouble and saved us putting some work out,” says Clifton.
Although the quality of work the Opus produced was fine, Clifton knew the company could be better and he also knew that the whole process could be run much more efficiently – especially given his ambitions for this growing part of the business.
“We wanted to branch out into offering trade foiling and we knew that we needed a high-quality machine that would allow us to do short-run, quick-turnaround foil blocking and give our existing customers a one stop shop,” explains Clifton.
So he started weighing up all of the options on the market. “We looked at converted cylinders, we looked at other bits of kit from Opus and we also looked at some Chinese kit at Drupa when we first started dipping our toe in market.
“However, we weren’t looking to do ‘stack it high, sell it cheap’ foiling so when we saw the Yawa we knew it was the right machine for us in terms of what we wanted to produce.”
The model that caught Clifton’s eye was the Yawa TDS-750 automatic foil-stamping, die-cutting and embossing machine supplied by Terry Cooper Services (TCS). He says that in the past the company had owned a die-cutting machine from Saroglia, which operationally was very similar (in fact, the Yawa machine is based on A Saroglia platen), so he was confident that his team would have the necessary skill set to deal with the new machine.
“We really wanted a machine that we could put in place and not have to undergo a huge learning curve on it. Also we had an existing relationship with Terry Cooper so we knew the machinery would be good.”
A tight squeeze
The company took delivery of the Yawa TDS-750 in May this year and the new arrival required a reconfiguration of the factory floor to accommodate it.
“The machine is 16ft by 9ft and the one we were using before would probably have sat next to your kettle so we had to move some kit around,” recalls Clifton. “We sold a reinforced tabbing machine because it was part of the business that was slowing down and that created a bit of space.”
The installation went incredibly smoothly and his team were up and running on the machine in no time.
“Thanks to the speed of makeready and the fact that we already had the right skillset as we had used the similar bit of kit in the past, after the machine had been dropped off we were producing ‘live’ work on it within three hours. That’s because we did our homework. If we had put in a machine that we didn’t know anything about we would have still been pulling our hair out four months down the track.”
The Yawa TDS-750 has a maximum speed of 2,500sph and can handle a maximum sheet size of 560x750mm. It has
four independent heating zones and two cross foil pulls and is suitable for running paper, cardboard, corrugated board and plastic sheets.
Clifton says that since installation the machine has exceeded his expectations and the quality of work it’s produced has been impressive. He admits that as with all big new pieces of kit there has been one or two teething problems, but not from a running point of view.
“We knew there would be a settling-in period and there were a few little things on the build quality that have had to be adjusted to tweak it and make it better,” says Clifton.
“We employed someone who had operated the machine elsewhere and because he’d already worked with it he knew what needed to be changed pretty quickly when the machine was dropped.”
Dean Stayne, sales manager at TCS, says that the issue Clifton refers to was a pipe, which was part of the machine’s lubrication system, that had been over tightened. “As soon as he told us about it we went straight in and sorted it out for him,” explains Stayne, who says that Clifton’s Yawa is the second UK install and there has been strong interest in the machine from other businesses.
This small issue aside Clifton says the machinery has run smoothly. As for the level of support and service offered by TCS, Clifton says that it’s been good. “If we’ve got a problem we just ring them up and they come and sort it out.”
However, the company has rarely had to pick up the phone since the installation and as a result, Clifton struggles to find fault with it.
“I haven’t come across anything that has annoyed me or the operator and I haven’t thought ‘I’m really disappointed that it hasn’t got x or y’. Not yet anyway.”
Speed and flexibility
He doesn’t struggle when it comes to listing the key attractions of the Yawa. “I love the speed of makeready and the flexibility of the machine. If you have a short-run job of 50-60 cases you don’t have to set the auto-feeder unit up because it has a semi-manual operation. On short-run jobs you save yourself 25 minutes on each makeready.”
In addition to time savings, the machine has also saved the company a lot of money and it has boosted turnover, although Clifton hasn’t worked out exact figures yet.
“We were paying £7,000 a month to outsource work and we’ve now brought that cost in-house and probably increased it substantially. We’ve also saved on having to transport goods to other firms to do the work. But just as importantly the machine has allowed us to provide a better quality product and offer another service to our customers, which was a key thing for us.”
It’s clear the investment has worked out well for Clifton, who over the past two years has invested more than £1m on new kit, including a Perfecta Premium Line N 115 guillotine and a Horizon BQ-470 perfect binder. But don’t expect him to put away the chequebook just yet.
“This is an area of business that’s new to us and we are trying to grow it so if it takes off like we hope it will – and it certainly looks like it’s taking off – then we would look to put a second one in. We did the same thing with the layflat. We put our first machine in and within 18 months we had put a second one in. Space is an issue for us, but we are always looking to diversify and add value to the business and if an element of the business is growing massively we are prepared to chuck investment at it,” says Clifton.
Max mechanical speed
Min sheet size
Max sheet size
Max stamping area
Max pressure applied
Transverse (two foil draw rollers, servo foil drive, ‘complex’ foil advance programme)
from 100gsm (up to 5mm when using semi-auto feed)
Terry Cooper Services 0115 970 2248 www.terrycooper services.co.uk
London-based trade finishing outfit Cliftons has an annual turnover of around £1.5m and employs 18 people. It is owned and managed by Tim Clifton and Steve Meeks. The company has been based in the same premises for nearly 20 years and it runs double day shifts for four days a week and then a normal day shift on Fridays. Around 70% of the business’s jobs are for printing companies, although it does work directly with some publishers and agencies. Its client base includes the likes of the Post Office, NHS and government departments.
Why it was bought...
The company noticed growing demand for foiling on book covers. Although Cliftons owned a small hand-operated foiling machine, it wasn’t capable of producing the quality or volumes Tim Clifton wanted. As a result, a lot of this work was being outsourced to other finishers. Investing in the Yawa meant the company could bring £7,000 of foiling work back in-house each month.
How it has performed...
It’s exceeded Clifton’s expectations. “It’s taken us into another market and it’s increased our monthly turnover slightly. We’re also able to offer a better quality product and service,” says Clifton.