Celebrating our 20th Anniversary and the journey of PDS

10th Sep 2018

It was the year that Google was founded, the first DVDs went on sale in the UK, ‘Titanic’ was showing in the cinema, and our mobile phones had buttons and a small screen.

The year was 1998, and Nick Shelton had just set up in business with only a telephone and a fax machine in the annex of his parents’ home in Wollaston.

On 21 September that year, Nick took his first order, now preserved in a frame in his office, for the sum of £540 from De La Rue, and Print Data Solutions was born. Originally known as Print + Data Source (South) Ltd, Nick started his business in partnership with paper industry expert and entrepreneur, Brian Jones, who acted as a silent partner and majority shareholder for the first five years and, became a valued mentor.

Nick credits Brian with inspiring him to start up on his own after the two had built a strong working relationship together over many years. Brian withdrew from the business three years ago but remains a non-executive director.

Nick said, “I first met Brian when I was working as a buyer in the print industry in the mid-1980s. He was a partner at Jarvis Paper Sales which supplied my employer at that time. We had always got on well and the relationship remained strong even after I had switched to selling paper myself and Brian became a competitor. It was when I returned from Australia after a career break that Brian offered me the opportunity to work with him and so I became a print broker.”

Nick’s business was originally based on sprocket-fed continuous business stationery and general stationery items, such as letterhead and envelopes. As relationships developed, Nick was asked by his clients to source many additional items which led to the expanded range of services now on offer from Print Data Solutions.

Nick achieved a turnover of £240k in the first full year of trading. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength with turnover reaching £1M by 2002, £5M by 2011, and currently on track to achieve £10M in this, its twentieth anniversary year.

Scott Rendall, now Commercial Director, was the first to join Nick’s team at PDS and has been working with him since 2001. Print Data Solutions now employs 40 staff and is rapidly expanding its Park Farm premises in Wellingborough with a new state-of-the-art design studio currently in development.

Nick said, “For the first fifteen years, growth was organic as we successfully established positive, long-lasting relationships with our clients and suppliers alike. From the start, I have worked on the principle that the best business relationships are based on fairness and trust. It is so important that everyone involved benefits from working together in partnership.

“My aim was to identify a limited number of suppliers from each print sector, for example, B1, B2, envelopes, labels, and so on. They were selected on the basis that any of them could fulfil our requirements. We progressively built relationships with those suppliers by ensuring that work was placed with them regularly and by making it easy for them to do business with us. The small base of suppliers we nurtured within each sector helped to ensure that they always had a realistic chance of winning our business, providing them with the opportunity to build volume.

“The business model was predicated on prompt payment of suppliers and that is how we work to this day. Any supply chain is only as good as its weakest link and I work on the basis that our business will benefit if everyone succeeds.”

Print Data Solutions grew organically at first, offering its clients an ever-increasing portfolio of services. Starting with print brokerage, the business added the supply of merchandise, fulfilment and logistics services. The business really started to grow when Nick introduced a dedicated in-house design capability into the mix.

He said, “The process of getting artwork approved was cumbersome before we had the ability to make amendments ourselves. Simply changing a single line of text was time-consuming when it had to be outsourced and clients could not understand why something so simple caused a delay. We started to work with freelance graphic designer, David Nelson, who eventually joined us on a permanent basis as lead creative. The studio has now expanded to a team of eight and is always busy.”

From its original base in Wollaston, Print Data Solutions moved into commercial premises, first at Bentley Court in Wellingborough in 2001, and eight years later, at Park Farm where it has expanded across three units. Work is currently in progress on a major expansion of the design studio.

The business started to grow more rapidly five years ago when Nick recruited a business development team, led by Olivia Ray, who is now Client Services Director. Having a dedicated commercial team to focus on new clients has brought in work from a broad spectrum of industry sectors.

The latest development of the PDS portfolio has taken Nick into the realm of manufacturing with the launch of its video in print product, vue tv. The business has invested in new machinery to enable the business to embed video screens into printed collateral including brochures, business cards and point of sale materials.

Nick said, “If you had told me in 1998 that I would be offering clients the opportunity to showcase their services using high-definition video embedded within a printed brochure, I would not have believed it possible.

“I didn’t even have an email address when I first started, not to mention a website, and only acquired my first PC after two years of trading. In the early days, I would fax hand-written quotations to Brian Jones’ secretary who would type them up and post them back to me, so I could send them on to clients.”

Nick cites the inception of PDF files as one of the most significant developments over the last twenty years. He describes the process as it happened in the late 1990s: “The customer would send me a floppy disk containing their artwork. I would post this to the printer, who would run out the proofs and return them to me. I would get them checked over by the client and feedback any amendments, also by post. The whole process now takes minutes, so the pace and speed of turnaround probably represents the biggest change I have seen in the industry since I launched the business.”

Nick is proud that Print Data Solutions was named by the London Stock Exchange as one of the ‘1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain’ in 2016. The business supports several local and national charities from Wollaston Cricket Club and Museum to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. The team at PDS has been involved with the BUPA 10k run for the last eight years, raising money for its client, I CAN, a national charity that supports children with speech and language difficulties.

As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, due to culminate in a party for the whole company on 15 September, PDS has chosen to support a different charity each month, something which Nick is committed to continuing as the business starts to look forward to its 21st year.

He said, “Most of all, I am proud of the team we have at PDS and the fact that everybody is genuinely looking forward to celebrating this special anniversary together. For me, their loyalty and commitment are proof positive that the values inherent in the original business still hold true.”

Thank you to all our clients and suppliers that have been on this journey with us and we look forward too many more years working together.

To discuss how we can help to support your business growth, please get in touch with us on 01933 672 150.

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