Century-old Norwich printing company seizes opportunity in digital age

Colman Group printing history. The old shop in St Andrews Hill, Norwich.Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Colman Group printing history. The old shop in St Andrews Hill, Norwich.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The fifth generation son of a commercial printers in Norwich has stressed the need for family businesses to be flexible if they are not to become 'market casualities' in a changing world.

William Colman, the 5th generation of the Norwich printing family, with the latest digital printing

William Colman, the 5th generation of the Norwich printing family, with the latest digital printing machine that they use.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Colman printers (not related to Colmans mustard-making family) have traded in Norwich for 140 years and have seen a move over that period from letter-printing, to lithographic print, and now to digital printing to remain competitive, said its current owner.

William Colman, managing director at the company's base on Salhouse Road in Norwich, said the days of black-and-white print as the mainstay of the business belonged to a time when manufacturing at the heart of the city's economy.

'Norwich is not like it was years ago, when there was the shoe trade and it was quite affluent in that respect,' said Mr Colman. 'In terms of manufacturing we haven't been as competitive since, with the Far East and Eastern Europe especially producing a lot nowadays.'

The print market had seen significant decline over the decades, from the days when one J A Colman began the business, with Mr Colman's grandfather Russell renaming it R A Colman and Company Ltd when he took over, before his father Anthony and then he himself took it on in turn.

Despite the changes, printing techniques had been the basis for the group to branch out into different areas such as retail stationery, which was a booming sector, said Mr Colman.

And whilst more people were now shopping online, the flip side of the internet age has been increased demand for packaging, allow the company to branch out into this area too, he said.

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'The big oportunity is online now, doing print to order, but also all the packaging that requires,' said Mr Colman. 'But the quality of a lot of what's out there now can frustrate me, as it's not always the best - so that's where we're looking to grow.'

And being flexible had allowed the company to move from lithographic printing - which requires a plate to print from - to digital print, which can print straight from file to machine.

'There have been market casualties where business haven't diversified,' said Mr Colman of the challenges family companies in the region can face. 'It's especially difficult for family businesses to be flexible, whilst maintaining their identity.'

Whilst the company imports some pencils from China, Mr Colman said producing in-home was much better, with exporting abroad the ultimate goal for keeping the economy healthy.

This week the company had been at a London stationery show in Islington, looking for international customers as well as high-street retailers outside of East Anglia, which is its main outlet.

How has your business moved into the digital age? Contact business writer Jess Staufenberg on 01603772531 or email jessica.staufenberg@archant.co.uk