Graham Martin is more at home with a spreadsheet than the intricacies of dot gain on a SM74 XL105. He is, he tells you, a chartered accountant. He is also owner of an engineering company, has a stake in a hotel, club and restaurant business.
And he owns School Lane Colour Press in Chandlers Ford, a three-year-old company that has just been awarded Kodak’s Green Leaf Award for sustainable print performance, the first UK company to earn the accolade.
Martin is not a driven environmentalist. His motivations are all about revenue, cost saving and reducing waste. But it means that the environment benefits as well.
As a practising chartered accountant Martin had been auditor to a number of print companies along the south coast, so saw the difficulties faced and is well aware of the business models employed. He had also inherited a family engineering business, so has a good understanding of how businesses like this operate. When client Cedar Colour, where he had briefly been a director and had invested in the business, collapsed, it became an opportunity to this experience to good use. “I wanted to prove that you can make money out of print,” he says.
It was not a phoenix operation, he stresses. The opportunity only arose because a key customer asked if the business was starting again because it had enjoyed good levels of service and wanted to continue. If a new company would take on the assets and most of the people, it would be assured of its £1 million of business.
Checking around revealed that another would be prepared to stay and deliver £500,000 of turnover. The opportunity was there. “But I didn’t know at the time of the collapse that I would start it up,” he says. “I calculated we would need a turnover of £2.5 million to £3 million. We were a long way there.
“Print is the very last stage bit of the marketing process. By the time the printer is given the job, it’s 4.30pm on a Friday and the job is needed on Monday morning.” The business was used to that.
Negotiations with Close secured the XL105 and main items of equipment and School Lane Colour Press was born. Another customer designed the company’s logo and corporate identity, making the over the shoulder satchel green. Both the item and the colour are right on trend.
“Everything I have done here has been for financial reasons,” Martin says. “When I set up the business the team here thought it was rather odd that one of the first investments was to put in solar panels. I had to be fast because the feed in tariff was running out and I knew they worked because the engineering business had them.”
Investment in new folders and an “the most amazing Muller Martini stitcher” followed. This was an E140 stitcher that had been shipped to a printer in Scandinavia to cope with a large order which then did not materialise. It had hardly been used, he says.
“The finishing equipment the business had here was not good enough to keep up with the speed of the press. We were putting a lot of work out to the trade and giving the profits away.” The cost of the equipment was less than the outsourcing bill every month.
Conversely the company has not invested in digital printing. There are plenty of hungry digital printers around and there is a strong relationship with a company in the same Eastleigh area that sends School Lane Press its overspill litho work.
The decision on finishing has cut unnecessary journeys so had a positive environmental impact. When Martin has invested in cars and a new vans after one was stolen, the choice was the most fuel efficient possible, choosing Mazda vehicles. Trackers have also been fitted after the theft incident, but this is also aiding efficiency. Customers can be told exactly where their delivery is.
There was other low hanging fruit to pick. “The old company was not selling its scrap paper,” says Martin. “Nor was it selling its scrap plates.” He knew how much the metal could command from the engineering business which dealt with a dealer who is now taking the company’s plates.
Those plates are now Kodak’s Sonora XP processless plates and again the imperative was financial. “The Sonora plate saves on chemistry that we would have to dispose of and we get a better quality plate,” he explains. Before switching completely the business ran the new plate alongside its existing wet processed plate and found no reason not to make the switch. Had it not made the change, School Lane Colour Press would have had to buy a new processor, so there was another good reason to stay with the processless product.
“There has been a solid financial reason for everything we have done,” he adds. “I don’t understand why no other business in Chandlers Ford has solar panels on its roof. This ought to be compulsory for industrial buildings. In the summer we can run the press entirely from solar power.” When not needed in the building, the power is fed to the grid and the company receives the feed in tariff.
The array amounts to 300 panels, each monitored to check that they are working and feeding this data to an app that Martin can refer to in order to see what energy is being generated. “I’m not sure that customers are demanding this sort of thing, but it does help,” he says.
Among those customers are the top end cruise companies, which receive brochures, on board news magazines and so on from the company. While their environmental ethos is strong, the printer is not yet being asked about its performance. Nevertheless he says: “The sorts of people that are now buying print for the cruise companies are younger people who are very aware of the impact our solar panels can make.”
Martin can also point to the ducting fitted to the press to make sure that the hot air used in the dryer is also used to heat the factory during the winter months. Ceiling fans will also keep this warmer air closer to the ground rather than being sent to the roof.
Again the benefit is cutting the power bills and the overhead first. There is now heat in the paper store, set at a low level and which helps keep paper in good condition for the press. Average waste at makeready is down to 150 sheets, he says.
He has fitted motion sensor LED lights in the kitchen and toilet areas, more to overcome the forgetfulness of staff switching a light on and forgetting to turn it off again. But there will be an impact on energy use.
“When we started there were a lot of challenges ahead of us. We had 38 staff and 1,000 years of industry experience. We have a lot of old printers and there is a reluctance in the trade to bring in youngsters. We now have two youngsters being trained: one had been made redundant by the engineering business and came here and runs the Cylinder, learning a real skill and showing pride in the results he’s getting.
“We are also benefitting on the new Heidelberg folders. These use computer set up which the youngsters take to whereas the older hands have the practical skills and knowledge but are unsure about the touch screens. Combined they get the best from each other,” says Martin.
The company is now investing in a Moll to reduce the handwork in producing folders and free up resources for other tasks. Much modern equipment he believes does not need skilled personnel to operate it “and we have a lot of skilled people operating machines. People can pick up how to run these machines with some form of training, it doesn’t have to be a full apprenticeship”.
Four years in, School Lane Colour Press is pushing on to a turnover of £4 million and Martin has to consider what happens next. So far investment has cut costs, has increased sales with additional sales staff, and has maintained the level of service that clients use the business for.
There are 38 staff so this can expand within the structures that the business has. Its Accura MIS is getting an overhaul with more accurate costing figures input and thoughts turn to expansion. “We are very close to paying off the press. It was funded over five years rather than seven so we could move on faster.
“I have wanted a second press and our current view is to get a B2 press. We have close relationships with digital and large format printers so don’t need to do that. Perhaps a B2 press.
“We are not going to be, nor do we want to be, a Bishops Printers,” he says, referring to the expansive and largest printer in the area. But the company can justify its existence and be sustainable in every sense over the longer term. And has he proved that you can make money from print? He’s not saying but School Lane Press is still here and its owner is smiling.
Negotiations secured the Heidelberg XL105 along with other main items of equipment and School Lane Colour Press was born.
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Graham Martin (centre) and School Lane Colour Press did not set out with an environmental agenda, but good business practice has earned it a sustainability award.
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