James Kinsella has helped to create a business that employs more than 350 people in South Yorkshire’s industrial heartland, writes Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.
Budding entrepreneurs should always take advice from old hands who have been in their industry of choice for decades.
You will find these words – or something very similar – in every business manual gathering dust on the book shelves.
It’s refreshing to meet a businessman who ignored the warnings of his peers and ploughed ahead with a plan which, to sceptics at least, seemed to defy commercial logic.
A decade later, James Kinsella has helped to create a business that employs hundreds of people in South Yorkshire’s industrial heartland.
In 2009, university friends James Kinsella and Adam Carnell were determined to make waves in the world of print. The duo had been involved in events planning at Bristol University and encountered plenty of problems buying promotional print products, such as flyers. They were certain they had found a gap in the market.
Mr Kinsella, who is now 31, recalled: “When we went into print, everyone was telling us that we were absolutely crazy.
“I remember very vividly, about two months into the business, we were at a print finishers in Newcastle and the owner of the business asked us how long we had been doing it.
“When we told him we’d just set up, he proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes telling us how we should try to get out as quickly as possible and how the industry was dying.”
Today, the online printing business established by Mr Kinsella and Mr Carnell during a bleak time for the British economy has an annual turnover of more than £30m and employs around 350 workers; with staff numbers increasing by 135 in the last year alone.
Mr Kinsella recalled: “Adam and I had just come to the end of uni, while we were there we had been involved in running club nights and promotions and in doing so we had used quite a lot of print.
He recalled: “We thought the process was difficult and cumbersome. We spotted an opportunity to try and make it easier for small businesses to buy print.”
It wasn’t the only business concept they explored after university.
Mr Kinsella said: “We had an idea about taking canal boats from England across to France. We also looked at exporting luxury gifts from the UK to China to the growing market, there but finally we settled on print.”
The business they founded – instantprint – had modest beginnings.
Mr Kinsella said: “Our financial backing was quite limited. We had just finished university but had managed to save about £5,000 each from the club nights.
“We moved to Newcastle, where my dad had a car garage with a room above it; that’s where we started operating from. In the early days, it was definitely very basic.”
He added: “2009 was a really good time for us to get into the market. A lot of big companies weren’t hiring, so we were able to attract some really good people into the team.
“That really helped us in the early days. It was also a time when a lot of businesses were looking to save money, so starting to buy and procure things online was one of the ways they could do that.”
Seven years ago, Mr Kinsella and Mr Carnell made a bold decision that has dramatically increased the scale of its business.
Mr Kinsella added: “We had been doing some work with a business called Bluetree which was based in South Yorkshire, and originally we had been talking to them about colour management.
“They were a large format printer which dealt with very large businesses and, by contrast, we were an online small format printer that dealt with small businesses. We got chatting to them and thought, ‘Maybe there is an opportunity here?’
“We were growing very quickly and started to get to the point where we needed to buy more equipment or more space and we could only really afford one or the other. Bluetree by contrast had flatline sales but well established processes for things we didn’t do well, like monthly accounts. It was a good fit.”
Instantprint moved to Rotherham and hasn’t looked back
Mr Kinsella said: “Our typical customers are small businesses or small clubs and associations. We do quite a lot of work for charities and football teams. Our main market is flyers, booklets, posters and other marketing collateral.
“When we merged the businesses in 2012, and made the move to Yorkshire, we had a total team of about 44. Today we have a team of 352. We do a lot of training in-house and build up people’s skill sets. With the e-commerce roles, we do a lot of work with Sheffield Hallam University students.
“The turnover last year was just over £31m. We’re on track to finish this year at around £42m. It’s been a good year for us and we see a huge opportunity going forward.
“The UK print market is worth around £14bn and only a tiny proportion of that is currently purchased online.
“We have just purchased a building next door to us allowing us to nearly double our production space. We will be investing in additional equipment which will create new roles.”
Instantprint’s success shows that great businesses are often born when the economy is at its lowest ebb. The firm has been able to tap into a skilled manufacturing labour market. There are plenty of potential recruits from local universities. South Yorkshire is also a superb logistics hub which makes it the ideal home for a business that serves the whole of the UK.
Mr Kinsella added: “The thing we are most proud of is the fact we have created a large number of jobs.
“We still think of ourselves as though we are a small business,’’ he said. “We recently won a ‘large business of the year award’ and that was confusing for us!”
Ten years after he embarked on the business adventure of a lifetime, Mr Kinsella is pleased that he didn’t listen to the sceptics and followed his dreams.
“If you start up, don’t be deterred by what people tell you,’’ he said.
He added: “Everyone will have an opinion but you should just go with your gut.”