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Founded 131 years ago as a signwriting business, Granthams is now a supplier to the wide-format print industry. Carys Evans speaks to general manager, Kirsty Reader, to find out more

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The company has two sites, one which is a print shop for locals, and one which is dedicated to its wide-format print supply business

A century of evolution

Granthams is a supplier of wide-format technology including solvent, latex, UV flatbed, UV roll-to-roll, and indoor and outdoor applications. The company’s portfolio includes Mimaki, Roland, Graphtec, HP, Summa, Onyx, Flexi, Easymount, and Metamark. Although today Granthams serves a wide range of markets, it hasn’t always been this way.

Roland DG is among a list of manufacturers that Granthams supplies including Mimaki, Graphtec,  HP, and Metamark

Founded in 1890, Granthams started out solely in the sign industry and was founded as a sign-making business by William Grantham. Due to the need for signwriting services as Blackpool developed quickly, the company grew “at a phenomenal rate” at the start of the 20th century.

In 1916, Grantham welcomed Walter Hudders and his brother William Hudders to the business as signwriting apprentices who stayed with the company for many years. In the 1930’s, Grantham retired at the age of almost 80 having continued his career as a signwriter until after World War II had ended.

On his retirement, Walter Hudders took over the company alongside his son who oversaw the company’s move into the plastics and electronics sectors. With this, the company moved further into sign manufacturing.

In 1960, Granthams moved into a new building on Regent Road in Blackpool due to the need to meet demand locally and nationally.

The company continued to grow and around 1968, Granthams responded to demand for instant dry transfer lettering which was needed for both signage and artwork. This saw the company become one of the first in the country to open a department dedicated to graphic materials and equipment.

Over 80 years after being founded, Granthams expanded into its current head office in 1972 on Charnley Road in Blackpool where it operated across two floors – the ground floor was used for the sale of art materials, and the first floor for sign manufacture.

Due to the popularity of Letraset products, the Regent Road premises was used to stock these and additional art materials with the original sign-making shop just across the road. In 1979, the company’s print business grew in popularity and the ground floor of the Blackpool head office was split into two sections: one part for the art materials showroom, and one part for a walk-in print bureau.

In the early 80s, the company made the move into supplying computer-cut materials and a new department was opened which focused solely on computer aided graphic systems. One decade later, and Granthams began offering cut vinyl graphics to the public through the Datagraphix brand. This ran alongside the Granthams print bureau.

In 1991, Granthams relocated all its system sales and showroom facilities into premises in Preston on Corporation Street. In the same year, Kirsty Reader, the company’s general manager joined the team in sales and support.

Phenomenal growth

Fast forward to 2001 and Granthams developed what the company says is “the first fully working solvent printer anywhere in the world”. Using inks from manufacturer, Lyson and a head and system from Roland, the machine, which is now referred to as the Resolve X21, was a solution to water-based ink systems.

In time new machines were developed by other print manufacturers and the company says: “Even though the Resolve is now just a footnote in print history, thankfully this same dedication to innovation has become part of the Granthams customer service ethos when providing the latest machinery.”

Today, the company has seven members of staff at its Preston branch and over 30 staff members at its Blackpool branch. Kirsty Reader, who is still with the company three decades later, describes the company’s ethos today as “all things graphic”. She says: “We are a family-run business and particularly because of our longevity most of our work is referrals. We treat customers as we wish to be treated and try and give a personal service to anyone that calls in, even if the customer is enquiring about something we don’t do. Wherever possible we will point them in the right direction.”

We treat customers as we wish to be treated and try and give a personal service to anyone that calls in, even if the customer is enquiring about something we don’t do

The company’s Blackpool site now houses its small print shop which is aimed at local existing customers and is called Art Discount. This focuses on small-format copy and print services, and large-format posters and CAD (computer aided design) printing. The other side of the business in Preston focuses on supplying hardware and services to businesses in the print and sign industries. Through this, Granthams offers free consultancy, on-site demonstrations, support, service, training, installation, and advice.

“Online sales are developing particularly on the consumables side and we have focused on being an information hub rather than heavy selling and marketing – going into each enquiry with the customers’ best interest at heart and not what benefits Granthams or the sales person.

Granthams prides itself on its reputation for honesty in the industry and says this has contributed to its continued success

“We will be honest with the customer if we do not feel a product is suitable for them, even if they feel initially, it is. We will talk to them about what they are wanting to achieve and make sure the decision will be something they will continue to be happy with in the future. Most of our business is repeat business and existing customers or referrals with little to no need for cold calling.”

Resilient by nature

Having been founded over 100 years ago as a family business, Granthams’ success has trickled down over the years. Today, the company is still as established as ever and has a loyal team of staff, many of whom have been working at the company for over 30 years. Reader explains that some have even returned after leaving to move on to somewhere else. “Granthams is a nice company to work for and we all work as a team and help each other,” she adds.

Something Reader is most proud of is Granthams’ good working relationship with almost all of its competitors. “This works very well, and we do feel we have a very good reputation for our honesty in the industry,” Reader says.

Having continued to operate throughout World War II, Granthams is no stranger to adversity as a business and the last two years have been no different. Reader describes the impact Covid-19 has had on the business: “I think currently like most businesses, the last two years have been a struggle as a result of Covid-19, communication issues, delays caused by suppliers working from home, stock delays, problems with couriers all the usual as well as increasing prices and covering ourselves for potential bad debts.

“I feel over the Covid-19 period we have done exceptionally well under the circumstances and I can’t think of anything we would have done differently. The on the spot decisions, whether it be luck or whatever, have been very good for us and we have put our customers first in getting through the difficult times they were facing.”

With its focus on honesty and reliability, I have no doubt Granthams will continue its success as a supplier for the next 100 years.

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