After 32 years, Bristol Greyhound’s printing business has never been slower, but owner Sean Tobin is still trying to look on the bright side.
“We just love helping people get the perfect print, it’s as simple as that,” says Sean, who took over the Clifton-based business in 1995 with fellow printer Bryan Rees.
Established in 1990 and originally in Downend, the company was started by former Sean and Bryan boss Ian Hunter.
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“We operated from a small high street shop, specializing mainly in stationery and photocopying, then moved from Downend to Whiteladies Road in 1995 and have been here ever since.”
But like many independent traders in the city, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on business.
Much of Greyhound’s regular business has always been printing flyers, posters, event programs and restaurant menus, but when hospitality, concerts and weddings came to an abrupt halt due to closures and restrictions, labor did the same.
“Business is down about 50% right now,” says Sean. “It was the lack of events but also a total lack of traffic in the store.
“We do a lot of home impressions and it all dried up. Unfortunately, we had to lay off, and like many people during the pandemic, we struggled financially.
“The lack of incoming orders and the restrictions imposed on us made it very difficult to operate.”
Although business is starting to pick up slightly, it is nowhere near the level it was for a variety of reasons.
“We used to print a lot of products that were shipped overseas, but the world has changed.
“Face-to-face meetings are still not taking place and the need for printouts has diminished due to the rise of online meetings.
“The effects of the pandemic are still affecting us as we speak, but we are going through it, albeit very slowly.”
With its huge printers, mountains of paper and smell of fresh ink, Greyhound has a timeless printshop look but has embraced technology, which has revolutionized printing.
“When we opened, we only had one computer and it was mainly used for our accounts.
“Email was present but very rare and the internet was the old dial-up system and very slow indeed.
“Most jobs these days come by email, but in the old days people would just come in and order at the counter.
“The artistic side of things was also very different. We made ‘plaques’ from the client’s original; it was kind of a photocopy on a piece of metal so it could be reproduced from that. again and again.
“The process is still used today but now chemical free and would be direct from the computer. Jobs then took a week compared to today where we can complete jobs in as little as ten minutes !
Sean says the biggest change in the business has come with the advent of digital printing.
Instead of the old system of ink, water and plate (lithographic printing), which Greyhound still uses in conjunction with digital printing, it became possible to print directly from a computer by pressing simply on a button.
Another change has been the increase in the use of sustainable products. Greyhound uses environmentally friendly inks and recycled paper wherever possible, and all paper is FSC certified.
“Speed has increased dramatically, with digital copiers becoming faster and more self-automated.
“Before digital, we had to place the original on the glass scanner, hold it there and press the button, but now everything comes straight from the computer. It’s like you would do at home on your little printer, but on a much larger scale.
On average, Greyhound will still print business cards, flyers, triplicate forms, posters and wedding stationery, but there are new sides to the business too.
“Thanks to technology, we also offer new products such as printed t-shirts, banners, vinyl stickers and signage.
“But just because we’re using more digital gear doesn’t mean we’re not using the old skills – it’s not about ‘just pushing a button’.
“We still have a quality control system, to check the colors and the layout. If something doesn’t look right, the presses are shut down and the job returns to the illustration stage or the press is recalibrated.
“We make sure the customer gets what they want and if we think something is not going to work, or if we think it’s a bit over the top and they’re going to end up spending more than they needs, we tell him.
“We’re always passionate about printing and pride ourselves on customer service – that’s what we’ve always had as a manifesto.”
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