BELL AND BAIN, one of the oldest independent printers in the UK, has announced a £40 million expansion push in book printing after tackling the digital threat and spearheading a mega-merger that has secured more than 300 Glasgow jobs.

Stephen Docherty, 52, owner and chairman at Bell and Bain, signalled the move after the firm completed the merger with J Thomson Colour Printers, his old company.

It followed the acquisition a year earlier of 21 Colour and creates significant group business which is expected to double its turnover in the next two years, with the US an expansion target.

Around 80 per cent of the business is currently UK-based with the remainder in North America, Europe and Asia.

Mr Docherty says ploughing back profits into the business and supporting new workers has been key to the firm’s success, with considerable investment in both. It has 15 apprentices currently on board with five in the pipeline, and all but one of the senior management team having started at the firm as apprentices.

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A twist of fate over the purchase of a new four colour printing machine - for a client who pulled out in the end - came at a time eight years ago when many book printers were scaling back print runs in the face of potential digital competition and allowed Bell and Bain to widen orders.

Mr Docherty said: “When books changed in 2011 when they were going to all go digitally and publishing had a look at itself and realised that they couldn’t sustain these high runs that they were doing and putting them all in storage, we bought our first four colour large format press for a specific customer that never came through.

“We started to convert our four colour work onto it and that was the turning point. Buying that got the business to exactly where it is today.”

Founded in 1831 by James Bell and Andrew Bain, the firm prints for some of the UK’s largest publishers including Harper Collins, Pearson and Oxford University Press, and has around 600 clients.

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Mr Docherty said the first print firm takeover laid the foundations for expansion. He said: “We took over 21 Colour and that wasn’t necessarily easy, because it was touch and go whether we could keep them going but I didn’t want any of these people being out of work. It put a lot of pressure on me and pressure on my team as well, but we got through it, and because we had acquired 21 Colour, J Thomson happened.”

Bell and Bain’s turnover was £14.3 million last year and the business is already £2.5m up on that this year, while J Thomson and 21 Colour were turning over £12m and £6.5m a year.

Mr Docherty said: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be a £40m group, if I could bring myself up to £20m and them up to £20m over the next two years.”

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Mr Docherty, who led a management buyout in 2009, said the historic firms will continue to operate in their respective markets. The management team is split 50-50 between male and female, and Mr Docherty also said he is committed to supporting young workers.

He said: “I left school with nothing, but somebody took a chance on me.

“I’ve always been lucky with the people I’ve worked with when I’ve had strange and wonderful ideas that they have never repressed them. The person who is now here is a million times different from the person that left school.”

He said: “It has never been for the money. We genuinely don’t look at something for the money.

“We make actual real books and we stick to that. We don’t try and see what the competition is doing, we just do what we do as best as we can do it.”

He added: “If anybody asks me what have I got that other people haven’t got, why is it working for us when so many others are failing, I would say it is because of the people here who come in here every day, roll their sleeves up and get on with it. Phenomenal.”