Gavin Watson Printers


From the illustrated social history book…research paid for & compiled by Paul Veverka

“Blantyre – Glasgow Road, The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016 – 2018.

Gavin Watson Printers

   Having moved to Blantyre in post Millennium years, Gavin Watson Printers is based in the former JR Reid’s Printing building on Glasgow Road opposite the slipway on to East Kilbride Expressway. They have address 79-109 Glasgow Road and telephone 01698 826000. The entrance from Auchinraith Road leads into a modest sized car park. The business name is well known and recognised in Blantyre but the company has roots from much further back and away from the town.

   Gavin Watson Printers were founded over 150 years ago in 1863, halfway through Queen Victoria’s reign, when Bismarck ruled Prussia and Napoleon the Third was Emperor of France.

   The business remained in the Watson family until after the Second World War and was believed to be the first company in Scotland to purchase a lithography printing press which was used to initially specialise in the printing of ornate share certificates. Over the years, the company has gained an enviable reputation in wet glue label market for its customer service. 

   After considerable investment and hard work from all their staff they have gained a formidable reputation for being one of the best wet glue label and commercial printers in the UK. From their purpose built factory they currently produce in excess of 1.3 billion wet glue applied labels annually for clients such as Highland Spring Group, Nestle UK, AG Barr Plc, Diageo, Innocent, Britvic and Baxter’s Food Group to name but a few. With direct access to the main motorway networks, they can produce export labels throughout Europe.

   Gavin Watson Printers also offer services for security printed products, themselves being part of the GT4 Group, as well as foil & embossing, labeling, flexographic printing, packaging and more regular printing and scanning. The best way to get an idea of the scale of what Gavin Watson does is to look in your kitchen cupboard. If there is anything from Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco – or perhaps Harrods – the likelihood is that the label first emanated from the family-owned print shop in Possil or later from Blantyre.

   In 2002, managing Director Drew Samuel spent over £1.5m on state of the art machinery, investing in the equipment to secure the future of the company. At the time he was overseeing the printing of 20 million labels per week, that’s over a billion a year!

   Food and drink labeling for major multiples and producers all over the UK accounts for nearly 85% of Gavin Watson’s production. It provided a pre-tax profit of (pounds) 150,000 on turnover of just under (pounds) 4m in the financial year to January 2001. Speaking in 2002, Samuel said, “The remainder of production at the 65-employee firm is in security printing – cheques, pass books, giros, and so on, all with specialist security features such as UV threads in the passbooks. That is a smaller part of the business now, but we can say that we have been in security printing for 140 years,” said Samuel. ”The original Gavin Watson’s business in Ingram Street in Glasgow printed those lovely, ornate Victorian share certificates on the first litho press in Scotland – which was made of stone.” 

   The firm was bought by the Bissett family after the war and inherited by Johnny Bissett’s daughter and Samuel’s wife, Mary, who became chairwoman. Samuel joined as managing director in 1990 at the suggestion of management consultants, leaving behind his successful architectural practice. In 2009, JR Reid’s was merged with Gavin Watson Printers, the signage at Glasgow Road changing that year. 

   In 2015, GT4 Group, owner of Glasgow-based labels and packaging printer Gavin Watson and creative agency GT4, acquired fellow Scottish commercial printer Creative Colour Bureau (CCB) in an all-share deal. CCB directors Angus MacDonald and Mark Coll joined the board of GT4 Group, as they planned to consolidate CCB into the larger Gavin Watson site in Blantyre, 10 miles away from their Glasgow premises.

   GT4 Group chairman Ian Johnstone said in 2015 that the deal was not expected to result in any redundancies at either printer, which collectively employed around 80 staff and turned over more than £10m. He added, “It made sense to have the two businesses but one lot of fixed costs.”

Gavin Watson now

Gavin Watson Printers, Glasgow Road as it appears today (2017)

   Johnstone founded GT4 together with chief executive Tom Brown in 2003 before acquiring Gavin Watson around 2007. CCB was the group’s first acquisition since then, although Johnstone said the firm had invested around £3m between 2010-2015, “mostly in the labels business”. Quoted in 2015 he continued, “We do a lot of labels for whisky clients and they don’t just need labels, they need boxes, cartons, booklets, neck collars, swing tickets – there’s a whole load of value-added marketing material that goes along with it and that’s something CCB can give us. It became apparent that we were printing different things but on similar equipment and aside from the whisky industry there’s very little crossover in our clients.” He added that the all-share deal had suited all parties, adding: “If we had wanted to buy for cash they would probably have been less enthusiastic as they wanted to be part of this packaging group we are creating.”

   Tom Brown, added in 2015, “The relocation of CCB to Gavin Watson’s site would take around eight weeks and that the company would then look to invest in some additional finishing and wide-format print equipment. We’re looking to invest in some more specialist finishing equipment for things like lamination and spot UV, which a lot of companies just put out. Our philosophy is to deliver to clients on time in full, so we need to have control over production.”

   He added that while CCB had roll-to-roll wide-format devices, it didn’t have any flatbed printers and that that was probably an area the company would look to invest in, with the combined spend on that and finishing expected to come to around £500,000.

   Brown added that both companies were looking to replace an older litho press – in Gavin Watson’s case a six-colour Heidelberg CD 74 – and that GT4 would look for a single press to replace both devices, probably towards the end of the year “once we’ve made sure the specification fits what both companies need”.

   Following the merger to a single site, the company went from a 24/5 to a 24/7 operation.

   Since their arrival in Blantyre, Gavin Watson Printers have been avid sponsors of several community events, often leading their charitable support to local community newspaper Blantyre Telegraph as well as undertaking printing, often donated for free to Blantyre Community Committee Gala events, Blantyre Oscars and printing for the town’s festive events, something greatly appreciated by all organisations.

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