This week’s small business star is Gary Blissett, Managing Director of third generation book binders Blissetts. Based in West London, Gary has steered the business through some of its toughest challenges. Family history and resilience lies at the heart of Blissetts’ success – as well as a lot of hard work.

Frederick Blissett started the company in 1920 when he returned from World War I. He was joined by his wife, Mary, who continued to run the business even after Frederick sadly passed. Mary raised sons Fred and Frank alone and maintained the business during World War II even while London was heavily bombed. Fred and Frank returned home from fighting in WWII in 1946 and helped to grow and expand the business for the next 25 years. In 2010 Blissetts was awarded the Royal Warrant to Her Majesty the Queen – an honour not granted to many.

Gary, who joined the business in 1980 just before Mary, Fred and Frank retired, explains how the business continues to invest in a very unique craft while embracing new technologies and digital opportunities.

1. My grandfather started his own business after completing a seven year apprenticeship

My grandfather Frederick Blissett completed his seven year apprenticeship in 1918 after returning from the War. In those days you were seldom kept employed and you usually joined another binder or in his case – with no jobs available – he started up his own business with his wife Mary. The main emphasis was on library rebinding, most of which was leather in those days.

2. Digital encompasses many areas, and we will always work with it

We have always embraced new technology and concluded many years ago that books, binding, restoration and conservation and all our other services would sit comfortably in the marketplace as a parallel service. Our digital print plant compliments our online services for student theses, wedding albums, photo books and bespoke note books. We take the view that our markets will continue to change and business will be a challenge, but the book is here to stay. Digital encompasses many areas, from scanning in and digitizing material, printing it and binding it in so many different formats and we will always work with it.

3. The economic downturn means looking for new markets and investing has been a major challenge

The onset of digital and decline in library business has been known for some years, but this decline has been vastly speeded up by the economic downturn of the last few years. We have countered this loss of volume by working for trade printers and publishers. So looking for new markets and investing has been a major challenge when all bookbinders in the UK like us have suffered in the same way.

4. What we do today could never been dreamt of by Frederick and Mary

Mary was originally told to sell up because a woman would never survive in business. But today we print and bind and have online solutions which could not even have been dreamt of by the founders. There is now more emphasis on higher value work like restoration and fine bindings, photobooks and wedding albums. We also engage in longer print runs.

5. Our Royal Warrant means we’re able to work on some special projects

We are one of a very few book binding companies possessing real skills that survive today. The combination of the best 21st Century technology with time honed traditional hand skills in binding to produce the highest quality books sets us apart from other binding companies. Our Royal Warrant as bookbinder to Her Majesty The Queen means we are able to work on some very special projects. We also take the time to work closely with individuals, large corporate bodies and collections. Every project is given the same level of attention to quality and service.

6. Keep an open mind and look for new opportunities

The last purchasing decision for the best digital printer in the market was a huge challenge in both the decision on the equipment and then the financing. Keeping the work flowing in and cash flow remains high in our daily list of things we must do and occasionally turning down business because of the danger of nonpayment. My advice is to work hard – do not take too much money out of the business, do not give up, keep an open mind and look for new opportunities. Keep the cash rolling in and never let up in this regard – cash is king.

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