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Sector review: Print Summer 2017

Print review infographic


Welcome to the Close Brothers Asset Finance review of the Print sector where we highlight a wide range of issues relevant to SMEs in this industry. 

The results are based on the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey of close to 1,000 SMEs across the UK conducted by specialist independent researcher, GMI on Close Brothers’ behalf. 

Where relevant, comparisons are made with national sentiment. 

The commentary in this review focuses on: 

  • Economic outlook 
  • Knowledge of alternative finance 
  • Access to finance 
  • Staffing 
  • Succession planning 
  • Gender diversity 
  • Workforce mobility


Economic outlook 

Trading conditions Print review

Over two fifths (43%) of print SME business owners are yet to see a true economic recovery, with a further 10% feeling the economy is worsening; 34% are of the opinion that economic conditions are slowly improving. The remaining 13% feel that the worst is behind us but are concerned that the economy could decline again.

In terms of trading conditions, 40% of Print firms surveyed have seen no difference compared to 12 months ago; 43% feel business is ‘worse than ever’ with only 7% say they are prospering.

“Print firms face a number of factors that are preventing them from growing, some unique to our sector and others common across all industries,” said Roger Aust, Managing Director of the Print division.

“However, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we are the World’s fifth largest producer of printed products in the World, only behind the USA., China, Japan and Germany. With over 8,600 companies employing over 122,000 people and a gross turnover of £13.5 billion in the UK, our sector is still very much alive and continuing to innovate.”  

Looking ahead to the rest of 2017, 57% expect performance to remain static, while 17% predict growth; 17% contraction with the remainder ‘unsure’. 

When asked the question ‘has your business grown in the past 12 months?’ the following results were obtained: 










 Don’t know




Knowledge of alternative finance 

Not aware of Asset Finance Print review

Half of Print SMEs surveyed are aware of alternatives to funding outside of traditional banking, compared to the national figure of 41%. When asked about asset finance specifically, 67% of respondents said they had not heard of it.  

“While the asset finance industry continues to grow and alternative finance becoming more mainstream, it is clear more work needs to be done,” said Roger. “There are multiple products, ranging from hire purchase to refinance, that SMEs could be benefitting from without impacting their cashflow.”


Access to finance 

In the Print sector, the top three sources of financial support and advice are: 

  1. Bank Manager: 33%
  2. Accountant: 23%
  3. Financial advisor: 13%

The top three sources of funding are:

  1. Bank loan: 30%
  2. Other: 23%
  3. Overdraft: 10%

When it came to access to finance, 47% felt it was more or as difficult as a year ago, while 10% said it was easier, and 27% saying they had never had a problem getting hold of finance. 

During 2016, 17% of Print SMEs needed additional finance, with 20% of firms feeling it’s more expensive despite record low interest rates. 17% felt it was cheaper while the remaining 63% said it remained the same.  

Looking to the 12 months ahead, more than a quarter (27%) of firms confirmed they would be seeking funding for business investment at some point over the coming 12 months. 

“In percentage terms, the number of print SMEs looking to invest in their business is higher than the national average (23%),” said Roger. “While it’s a relatively small number, it’s still significant because it indicates confidence in the sector.”


Staffing levels, including Brexit impact 

Workers skills Print review

Only 7% of Print firms are planning on reducing headcount, with 20% expecting to increase the size of their workforce and 68% keeping their staff numbers at current levels; the remaining firms are ‘unsure’. 

“This is very encouraging because employment levels are a good indication of business confidence,” said Roger. “SME owners are also confident in the skill levels of their existing teams with 67% of respondents answering ‘no’ to the question ‘would you say there is a skills shortage amongst your current employees?’.” 

Brexit is currently not a major factor for Print firms, with 70% stating their hiring numbers will remain unaffected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU. 10% will be hiring more and 20% less. 

Cost of hiring is also a minor issue, with 93% of SMEs either being ‘unconcerned’ or ‘slightly concerned’ about the amount of money it costs to employ their employees. This left only 7% of respondents feeling that it was a ‘significant’  issue. 


Succession planning  

One in every ten Print SME business owners are concerned about who will take responsibility of their firm after their departure. The remaining 90% said this was not an issue for them. 

“While 10% may seem low, it’s still significant,” said Roger. “With so many Print firms being family-run, it should come as no surprise that for many owners this is something they worry about.” 

Over a quarter (27%) of businesses in the sector have a business continuity plan in place in the event of senior management leaving. 

“Given the size of most SMEs, it’s understandable that most don’t have continuity plans in place, but it’s always a good idea to think about what you would do should a senior member of your team leave,” said Roger. “It’s can be expensive to replace them and also difficult to find someone with the right level of experience.” 


Gender diversity 

Gender diversity Print review

Over half (53%) of businesses surveyed would class themselves as being ‘gender diverse’, compared to the national figure of 48%. This figure is also higher than any of Close Brothers Asset Finance’s core sectors. 

“Print has long led the way when it comes to gender diversity, offering progression opportunities that other sectors haven’t traditionally been able to,” said Roger.

“77% of firms in our sector feel enough is being done to encourage women to take up a career in Print. This reflects the maturity of our sector and the established role women play in SMEs at all levels, from owners to shop floor assistants. This is also significantly above the national average of 65%.”

“One third of Print firms are still actively striving to recruit women, despite the great work that’s already been done, meaning that complacency has not set in.”   

The following results were obtained when asked the question ‘is it important to encourage more women into your sector?’: 




Yes, there are not enough



No, because they are well represented



No, because it’s not important




Workforce mobility 

Only 30% of Print workers would be classed as ‘mobile’, reflecting the nature of many employees in the industry. In addition, 20% of SME owners felt it was important for their workers to have access to data ‘on the go’, with 33% saying it was unimportant; the remaining 47% were undecided. 

“These statistics reveal a lot about the changing nature of our work patterns,” said Roger. “Access to data from smart devices is making it easier and more affordable to have workers out of the office and on site, but still with access to the information they need. Print firms have been quick to adopt new technology and ways of working, with 27% investing in a mobile application that gives them access to company data on the move.”

Half of firms don’t feel mobility increases productivity against 23% who do (the rest are ‘unsure’). 

“Although businesses have given employees access to data and information from their phones, there isn’t the implicit expectation that it must lead to an increase in productivity,” said Roger. “Businesses are seeing it as just another tool that makes it easier to provide the best possible service to their customers.”