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Ahead of the Curve

Stephens and George

Harriet Gordon speaks to Andrew Jones, chairman and group managing director of Stephens and George, about its rich history and how investment in the latest technology allows it to keep its edge

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Andrew Jones, chairman and group managing director of Stephens and George Print Group, joined the family business in 1979

A currency of investment

Marks and Spencer. Harvey Nichols. Some of the most historic British enterprises began as partnerships—so Stephens and George are certainly in good company. Located in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, with offices in London and Glasgow, this print success story celebrated its hundredth year of business in 2012.


Stephens and George is located in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, with offices in London and Glasgow, and celebrated its hundredth year of business in 2012



Andrew Jones, chairman and group managing director of Stephens and George Print Group, joined the firm in 1979 when it employed just 26 members of staff. Now it provides work for over 230 employees, specialising in sheet-fed lithographic printing of magazines, brochures, catalogues, programmes, event guides, and commercial products.

A genuine family business, Stephens and George is now in its fourth generation, as Andrew Jones explains: “I’m the fourth generation—the business was started in 1912 as a partnership between my great grandfather William George and a gentleman called David Stephens. They ran the business until 1947, when my grandfather bought the business from his father-in-law, and then my father went into the business in 1960 straight from school.

“I also joined straight from school. I then went away to printing college to study printing technology, and returned to the business and went straight into the type setting department. I worked at every level of the company during my time here. In 1994 I was appointed managing director of Stephens and George magazines, so I have run the business since 1994.” And with a current annual turnover in the region of £25m, Jones is doing something right.
 
In 1981, the firm made a conscious decision to produce magazines; Jones continues: “Our first Heidelberg offset litho press was installed in 1979 and it was a single colour GTO46. We developed the business from there. We decided to go into magazines on the basis that if you secure a monthly magazine client, you’ve already got twelve orders for the year, and don’t have to grapple for every single order.”

Invest to impress

A key reason for this print group’s success is brave buying: continuous and extensive investment. Andrew Jones explains: “We currently run a fleet of presses, of which the oldest is 2012, and the youngest was installed in May 2015. We have been using Heidelberg long perfectors for some time now, since 1995. Before we put in the latest raft of investment two or three years ago, we had a look at Heidelberg’s competitors. Myself and my production manager believe that Heidelberg have the edge on their competition, from a technology point of view, from a robust point of view, and a productivity point of view.

We currently run a fleet of presses, of which the oldest is 2012, and the youngest was installed in May 2015


“We also have been upgrading our bindery. So we have installed two new Primero stitching liners, which went in July this year. As of September we have a Muller-Martini installed with another one arriving in June next year. We have just spent in the region of £4.2m on stitching and binding, which is the largest single investment in finishing equipment in the last ten years.

“You have to have a constant policy of reinvestment in new technology— you can’t run a printing press for ten years in this day and age, or you’re going to get caught out somewhere. You can’t be complacent—you have to reinvest in the latest technology because it will give you the edge. And you need to work hard. We run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and when we’re in work, we’re in work.

It’s not a secret formula—it’s hard work and investing in the latest technology.”

Another piece of advice from Jones: do not put all your eggs in one basket. He continues: “The other thing that I have done specifically, and I have been very conscious of this in the last 15 years, there is not one client on my client list that represents more than 4 percent of our annual turnover. So if we were to lose one account, it would not damage us. Okay it would be difficult, but it wouldn’t be terminal. Lots of printers have their top account representing 30 to 35 percent of their business. Lose that and you’re automatically in trouble. We have a big spread. The top 58 accounts spend 100 thousand pounds or more with us. It’s a big chunk, but its spread out.”


(Above & below) Andrew Jones asserts the importance of having a constant policy of reinvestment in new technology



Stephens and George has grown incredibly in the last 20 years, winning many of these large-spend clients to spread the income across the business. Now, at the size that it is, retaining custom is just as (if not more) important than winning it. Jones continues: “We give excellent quality for good value and super service. That’s not to say things never go wrong, they do. We’ve invested in machines heavily in order to reduce that, but there is human intervention which means things can go wrong. However, we are a highly organised company and can always rectify any problem.”




 
One of the print group’s clients happens to be Print Monthly itself, one of the magazines that together makes up 48 percent of Stephens and George’s total business. Jones continues: “The remaining percent is made up of our commercial and contract business. Things like football programmes and auction catalogues – products produced on a regular basis. Then we have one off business which can be directories, prospectuses, jobs like that.

“We have a great customer service department and put a lot of effort into retaining business. We have an excellent team working here, to give the customer the best service they can possibly have. As far as I’m concerned, we have the best equipment, from start to finish.”

Looking to the future, Stephens and George is not afraid of new or innovative technology, but Jones is quick to ensure he would not invest for the sake of investment: “We have looked at digital opportunities, but we’re not a digital printer; we are a high volume industrial printer.” And yet the focus on smart, suitable investment is only set to continue, as Jones concludes: “Our policy at Stephens and George is continued investment in both our equipment and our people.

Our policy at Stephens and George is continued investment in both our equipment and our people


“This policy will continue irrespective of the EU Referendum result, as we strive to be the leading printer in the UK and Europe, for quality of print and customer service.”


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