There has been a flow of visitors to Anton Group's premises in Basildon following the appointment of administrators from on Tuesday last week. While the demise was a shock, rumours that the company was suffering had circulated for months and the business had sought preferential terms from suppliers in order to ease cashflow problems.
This, however, seems to have exacerbated the situation with major print management clients withdrawing work after the loss of contracts in their business and others not wanting the risk of having work tied up in a struggling business.
Deloitte had been called in to help with a restructure of the business following a decline in sales and the doomed purchase of Merchandise 365 after a job turned sour. It had marketed the business for sale on a going concern basis, but found no takers, despite a couple of names being bandied about.
On appointment as joint administrators Richard Hawes and Clare Boardman made 123 redundancies from a 300+ payroll and started the process of an orderly wind down. They will continue to talk to potential purchasers of the assets and contracts that remain with Anton, but the absence of a deal at the point of administration suggests that, unlike Headleys, there is no one waiting to revive the entire £41 million turnover business. At the end of last week the message from the administrators was that nothing had changed.
The company has not filed its 2016 accounts, but the 2015 figures show a loss of £43,620 after an operating profit of £281,752 on sales of £41.1 million. This compared to sales of £61.8 million generating an operating profit of £172,476 and pretax loss of £405,430 for the previous 18-month period.
This points to a low margin high volume business reliant on pushing as much work through the company as possible. In 2015, however, the company suffered “two unforeseen litho press failures” resulting in a loss of orders, increased costs and a tangible net loss despite insurance cover.
In 2016 the company entered the merchandising market through Merchandise 365 hoping to sell greetings cards, calendars and similar products to high street retailers. While it might have increased margins, the move proved disastrous. It also received backing from Lloyd’s Banking Group, but at the cost of charges against assets and property.
A new finance director, Duncan Kempster, was appointed in November and at the same time the company switched from a fleet of Kodak Nexpress machines to a brace of HP Indigo 12000s. At the time chief executive Malcolm Lane-Ley explained that these machines would reduce costs and meet a growing need for higher margin more sophisticated personalised direct mail.
In the time since he has been bullish about volumes of work going through the business and the increased interest in direct mail as a communications channel. But direct mail has become a lower volume more targeted channel, changing faster than Anton could adjust.
Anton moved into a vast factory near Basildon in 2008, rapidly filling it with litho and digital printing, finishing and mailing. At the time consolidation helped efficiency, but the company may have become handicapped by its size and need to fill the presses.
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