Meet the Norfolk brothers keeping print alive
PUBLISHED: 07:12 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:25 10 April 2019
What’s involved in running a family business which has been going since 1908? CAROLINE CULOT spoke to Julian and Lincoln Barnwell, managing directors of Barnwell Print Ltd.
As little boys, Julian and Lincoln Barnwell would help their parents printing tide tables and draw tickets at the works in Aylsham.
Soon their father Michael expanded the business acquiring a second print works in North Walsham.
The thinking was that if sibling rivalry took hold and the boys began to squabble they would have a print works each.
But luckily they were always best pals and so the two firms were amalgamated into Barnwell Print and it still exists today on the outskirts of Aylsham, not far from the original site.
Julian, 52 and Lincoln, 48, are the fourth generation of their family to run a printing business with it starting back in 1908 with their great grand-father Charles Barnwell, who bought the print works, stationery shop and post office after falling in love with a local girl.
The stationery shop is still there today although recently they relocated a few doors down.
The family history is their USP and vitally important to the brothers. The pair have kept tomes of items printed over the generations – with some of the oldest depicting adverts for everything from linseed cake to a Turkish bath.
They even have their great-grandfather’s own apprenticeship papers, beautifully written in ink on pigskin and bearing red wax seals.
The Barnwells recently found a time capsule left for them by their grandfather, Frederick. When they moved their shop in the Aylsham marketplace just a couple of doors down, they stripped back walls to renovate the property for rental and there, hidden away was a miniature Worthington’s IPA bottle full of ale and an envelope with the words written in pencil “With compliments, have one on me” dated April 28, 1938.
As a gesture, the Barnwells are going to do the same for a future generation – leaving a beer, a £5 note and a little message in the same place.
“Family businesses are well trusted and our father taught us to work hard, if I was ever late, I would have to make up the time,” said Julian. Lincoln added: “I saw mum and dad struggle quite a bit so I wanted to get stuck in and make it happen, and here we are today. It has been hard graft, the longest day I did was 36 hours and dad bought us a pint of beer at 9pm to keep us going. That’s the key, it’s the service level you get from a family business.”
The duo really have stuck together through thick and thin; incredibly they and their families holiday together and they only live a few houses away from each other. When asked what annoys each other, they struggle to think of anything. Julian jokingly said of Lincoln: “He’s too much fun, he never says no.” And Lincoln in turn said: “Julian doesn’t have an off switch, he’s very determined.”
After mum Linda passed away from MS in 1990, they bought the business from their dad in 1996 and he passed away in 2010.
In 2000 they invested around £400,000 in a new colour printing press and in 2007-8, moved to new premises where they are now based. Two years ago they invested again in a £1.5m printing press using sophisticated H-UV technology which means it produces coated, “shiny”, high quality material – taking them to another level.
This major investment has enabled them to gain more contracts from printing greetings cards to literature for universities and charity organisations with sales of £1.8m-£2m annually. And yet, incredibly, they only have one member of sales staff – they believe their reputation is what wins the firm much of its business. They have 18 staff and between them all, an impressive 780 years of experience.
They do 40 estimates a day and a staggering 7,000 jobs a year with work coming in from across the UK.
But it’s not all work – they inherited a sense of adventure from their parents and both go scuba diving which had a big impact on them.
“When you see the bleaching of coral, the effects of warm temperatures of the sea making the tips go white, it made us really passionate about the environment,” said Julian. “We have a certificate from the World Land Trust to say we have now offset 1,843 tonnes of carbon by balancing our publications, we can work out how many kilos per job on how much paper we are using then we make a donation and money goes back into replenishing rainforests, and that all sprang from our passion of diving.” They also do a lot of charity work, especially to raise money for the MS organisation.
So what’s next? Their children are too young yet for them to know if they will come into the business and neither reckons they are going to retire any time soon, they are so busy.
“People have been saying print is dead for years, guess what? It really isn’t,” said Julian.