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The future of printing: from 3D to virtual reality and more

Hobs Group

Digital revolution

When Liverpool-headquartered Hobs Group launched in 1969, it was a family business making treated paper.

It has since grown into the largest independent printing company in the UK, with 24 sites nationwide. In this time, Hobs has embraced the shift from the industrial to the digital revolution, diversifying into 3D printing, virtual reality technology and legal support services.

The firm's 3D printing business was so successful it outgrew its premises and had to move to new ones.

Support in business services

BGF introduced the firm to Peter Bertram, ex-CEO of Azlan Group, who now serves as non-executive chair.

BGF Talent Network  

Trusted by lawyers

Chief executive James Duckenfield joined the company in 2016 and has overseen growth in all areas of the business. With a flair for reinvention, James has helped different arms of the business grow, including Hobs Repro which increased revenue from £17 million to £24 million a year, streamlined Hobs 3D to “refocus on the things we do best,” and achieved year-on-year growth in its legal support services business.

“We’ve achieved a lot in the last three years,” James explains. “We’ve created the biggest e-discovery business in the UK. Our services are used by 70% of the top 50 UK law firms. We’ve got really good national coverage in our printing business. And our 3D printing business outgrew its previous premises 18 months ago, so we had to move into larger premises in Stratford.”

BGF's investment has helped Hobs to...

File a patent for its award-winning multi-sensory virtual reality tool.

Acquire the third-largest reprographics business in the country.

 

Virtual reality

Sensing the potential for growth, Hobs approached BGF to boost its expansion. BGF invested £7 million in December 2014 and followed this up with £4 million in September 2017. The investment enabled Hobs to make new acquisitions and file a patent for its award-winning multi-sensory virtual reality tool, VRCUB3D. Combining vibrations, sounds and smells, the technology has been used by Thames Tideway to create a virtual reality boring machine that offers its engineers a realistic training environment free from the dangers of working inside a large underground tunnel.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Hobs has grown through a combination of acquisition and innovation. “Shortly after I arrived, we made two acquisitions and BGF was very supportive of that strategy,” James explains. “In September 2018, we acquired the third largest reprographics business in the country which has really put us in a commanding position in that market.”

Through its network, BGF helped introduce experienced non-executive chair Peter Bertram to the company. “Having Peter as a mentor was attractive because he’d worked for companies I’d done business with,” James explains. “Peter really understands Hobs, takes an active role and is someone I trust to bounce ideas off. That’s invaluable as he’s been there and done it.”

On a day-to-day basis, BGF is interested, involved and really understands the business to a high level of detail.

James Duckenfield, chief executive of Hobs Group

£11m

Invested by BGF in two investments in 2014 and 2017.

Constructive support

Looking ahead, James is confident that Hobs can continue to flourish in partnership with BGF. “On a day-to-day basis, BGF is interested, involved and really understands the business to a high level of detail,” he says.

“The team offers constructive support during board meetings and always asks the right questions. The promise of ‘patient capital’ is certainly true. BGF isn’t looking for any specific time horizon for investment. It’s more about supporting the management team with a growth agenda which builds value in the business on a long-term basis.”

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