28 January 2019 Business

Time is called on the mid-sized business

Too small to bestride their sector or too large to have minimal overheads, businesses in the middle must find new ways to survive.

The sale of the Fuller’s beer business to Japanese giant Asahi last week was accompanied by an explanation that the brewer was not big enough to compete with the world’s giants, nor small enough to be an artisan producer. Instead, in London Pride it produces the best selling ale in the UK and a host of other beers from an iconic location in Chiswick where the country’s oldest wisteria clambers over the walls. But this is not enough.

Fuller’s hotels and pubs business brings in the greater share of the profits for the family company, hence the decision to sell up seems Vulcan in its logic. Asahi gains a highly credible brand in the UK, which it can perhaps develop worldwide with the additional marketing clout it has that Fullers lacked. Alternatively instead of Oliver's Island, Black Cab and ESB, the old coppers end up producing Asahi Dry or worse, London Pride is brewed instead in Tokyo. This is the fate of those that find themselves as a mid sized company in a commoditised industry.

So it is with print. Increasingly businesses need to be large enough to bestride their sector or small enough to have minimal overheads and offer a highly personal service. Those in the middle must find a new way to survive. This may be through merger, through spinning off into separate standalone entities, perhaps sharing some facilities still. It may be through real fragmentation. It is an issue for the likes of Kodak and Xerox as it has been for Fullers or for a printer that is going to struggle to reinvest as it needs to. Unfortunately, as Fullers shows, this is a process that brings changes that are not always welcomed.

Gareth Ward

Gareth Ward