07 July 2019 Business

Bell & Bain buys J Thomson Colour to form Glasgow super group

Deal unites two of Scotland's most successful printers into leading UK sheetfed print business.

Two of Scotland’s largest printers are merging to create a £30 million print business and one of Koenig & Bauer's largest customers in Europe.

In a deal funded through Close Asset Finance, Bell & Bain is buying J Thomson Colour Printers after its chairman Nick Thomson approached Stephen Docherty in January. He jumped at the opportunity.

The two companies have always been close, often putting out work to each other, whether print or finishing. And ardent Celtic supporter Docherty worked at J Thomson Colour under its founder Hamish Thomson. He has always dreamed about returning, he says.

“We are bursting at the seams with work,” says Docherty. He took full control of the Glasgow book printer earlier this year and it has previously acquired commercial printer 21 Colour. It was here he met Roger Aust managing director of Close Brothers Asset Finance's print division who, Docherty says, has been instrumental in putting together the deal to buy J Thomson Colour and allowing Nick Thomson to step down as its chairman.

“Close have been absolutely fantastic,” says Docherty, adding that Aust flew to Spain where Docherty was on holiday with the final documents to sign. “This is fantastic for the printing industry, a big boys dream come true.”

Both companies are well invested, both with Koenig & Bauer machines: Bell & Bain has two large format perfecting presses, JTC with a ten-colour and a six-colour Rapida 106, the latter with LED UV drying and just over two years old. Both businesses have strong balance sheets with money in the bank.

Bell & Bain also has a Ricoh Pro VC60000 inkjet web press for books and journals with JTC's digital set up based around HP Indigo. Both use Muller Martini stitching and binding equipment. “We will be the best equipped printer in Scotland with one of everything it is possible to have,” he says.

It will soon have more. Docherty says that another large format eight-colour perfector is coming to the business. “We want to get to £40 million turnover within three years' time.”

Colour book printing has taken off, and it works for major publishers, including galleries and art book printing “and we are doing stuff for customers in America” he adds.

The combined business will have 300 staff spread across five sites. Both have been passionate about recruiting apprentices and developing staff. They will retain separate identities and current management teams, Bell & Bain with Karen Bailie as managing director and J Thomson Colour under Kevin Creechan.

They have been under a vow of silence until the deal broke on Friday. Creechan then was able to visit 21 Colour without arousing suspicion to answer questions. “The whole thing makes a lot of sense,” he says. ”We and Bell & Bain complement each other in so many ways.”

There is no pressure for change to save costs or to make changes. That work will begin after Scotland returns from its holidays next month. To date few people have been involved in discussions, so teams will meet and work out the best way forwards.

The investment in the two Rapidas has worked for the business Creechan runs, but “as a standalone business we would have found it very difficult to grow” he says. “Our turnover has been fairly static for a few years, in order to grow the business we would have had to bring somebody in, or this would have to happen.”

Once the contact was made discussions moved swiftly, helped by the involvement of Close Asset rather than high street banks. Now the real planning can begin, how much work can JTC take on, what opportunities there are with the different customer bases and so on.

“Over the last three or four months, I have been trying to find a negative to this deal,” says Creechan. “I haven’t found one yet.”

By Gareth Ward

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Stephen Docherty and Karen Bailie

Stephen Docherty and Karen Bailie

The acquisition of J Thomson Colour is a "Big Boy's Dream Come True" says Stephen Docherty. Docherty becomes chairman of the expanded group, Baillie will be managing director of Bell & Bain.

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Kevin Creechan

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Kevin Creechan has welcomed the acquisition. The deal will enable the Glasgow printer to expand, taking on work from both Bell & Bain and 21 Colour have not been able to handle.

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