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Colour Division closes after 42 years

West Hampstead became a little less colourful last week. Ironically, it was with handwritten note not something printed that Colour Division announced last week that it was closing.  It will be missed.

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division was not just one of the longest standing business in the area (it was set up in the mid-70s, under Edward Heath’s government during the three-day week), it was also one of the most social businesses with a loyal customer base.

David Jacobs, who we all knew as Dave, explained that although he was really sad about having to close the business, “since it happened there has been a fantastic response from customers and suppliers”.  It was a tough decision for him to make, but it has been made a little easier “knowing that people really feel for you”.

When Colour Division celebrated its 40th anniversary, Dave was open about how the business was facing challenges. Colour Division had changed with the times: when it first opened, its customers were photocopying letterheads and fanzines (iD magazine was first printed here), but more recently it had moved heavily into digital printing, colour photographic prints and Linked-in portraits.

However, the world was changing faster than Colour Division could keep up with.  Dave looked into other options, including clients investing in the business and moving to a different location (he had at one stage thought about moving into the Sherriff Centre). But moving the equipment alone would have cost £20,000. To survive, the business needed an injection of capital, which the banks were reluctant to lend.

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Other factors he cites are the tough parking enforcement regime and lack of pay & display bays, which he estimated cut revenue by 25% in recent years. And of course, like so many other traditional businesses, printing has been disrupted by online competitors. Vistaprint alone did $1.2 billion of business in the year to June 30th.

Rising rents didn’t help matters, although Dave was at pains to point out how supportive his landlord had been in trying to find a solution. Even so, annual rent of £30-40,000 plus business rates of £15,000 meant that Colour Division’s fixed costs were substantial for what is essentially a low-margin business.

What does the future hold? At the moment, Dave is dealing with the insolvency, not something he has experienced before! When things quieten down he plans to more photography and maybe do something with his nephew or brother (with whom he started the business). Both of them are in the printing business.

Whatever Dave decides, West Hampstead wishes him – and Steve and Debbie – all the best.  Without you West Hampstead will be, well, just a bit less Colourful.

40 years and they still can't spell West Hampstead (never trustr a printer!)

Happy Birthday! Colour Division turns 40

If you’re interested in how West Hampstead has changed since the mid-1970s, you could do worse than have a chat with David Jacobs.

Dave, as he’s known to his staff and customers, has been running print shop Colour Division from the same premises on West End Lane since day one, exactly 40 years ago today. He still remembers when “the only place you could get a cup of tea was the Wimpy Bar”.

40 years and they still can't spell West Hampstead (never trustr a printer!)

40 years and they still can’t spell West Hampstead (never trust a printer!)

Things have moved on since then, not only on the West Hampstead gastronomic scene but also in the world of printing. Colour Division has seen huge changes since the early days when people queued out of the door to photocopy letterheads and fanzines. Today’s customers are more likely to request LinkedIn profile photographs or high-quality digital prints.

One thing that remains constant is the long-standing staff members; alongside Dave, Steve Twohill has been working at Colour Division for 28 years, and Debbie Harris for the past decade.

Dave and his team have built up a loyal local customer base over the years: “I think we’ve served virtually every small business in the area, many times over… from estate agents to doctors surgeries, to accountants and architects”, as well as innumerable one-person businesses and private individuals.
“We’re very embedded in the community. Everybody seems to like us and like the service. We’ve got clients literally from day one still coming here, and now we’re serving their children.”

Dave and Steve in action

Dave and Steve in action

Dave started the business with his brother Ivor who at the time was working for a magazine that needed a short-run printing service. Together with Fred and Sid Kenton, a couple of local printers, they set up Colour Division inspired by short-run instant printing services in the US. The business started under the challenging conditions of the Three Day Week – imposed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government to conserve electricity.

Dave recalls more glamorous stories from the early days though – such as West Hampstead’s lively music scene of the time. “There was a big punk scene in West Hampstead” he says, which was centred on The Railway (formerly Klooks Kleek).

He also told us about Colour Division’s role in the early days of iconic style magazine i-D, when it was produced from founders Terry and Tricia Jones’ house nearby. “i-D magazine started in West Hampstead. In the early days, the whole team used to come in. There were maybe six paste-up artists, they used to put it together here, and we printed it. It started off as a very basic thing.”

The area may have changed beyond recognition, but Dave still believes it has the same community feel as ever. He is relaxed about the arrival of big chains on West End Lane: “People knock all these big chains moving in, but actually everybody uses them.”

He continues “It’s a myth that West Hampstead is a village, but it does have a villagey feel. People have said to me ‘I’ve never been to a place where people say hello to each other’. Those are some of the best things. It’s the friendliness of everybody. It’s a people area.”

What are the downsides of West Hampstead? Dave says that the parking restrictions mean that he loses out on a lot of business. “The parking’s impossible, from a commercial point of view. I reckon we’ve lost the potential for 25% of business.” He’d also like to see new businesses come into the area: “There’s too much focus on people escaping during the day; we need more business units – more small studios would be good.”

He’s also upfront about the fact that, with ever-increasing overheads and decreasing margins, times are hard. “I’m enthusiastic about the business, but there’s more stress than ever because of the financial constraints. The banking crisis has been really tough on small businesses”.

Will Colour Division introduce 3D printing to West Hampstead? The business has managed so far to keep up with new developments in the industry and Dave isn’t ruling anything out. However, he says the technology isn’t quite there yet. “Maybe in a couple of years.” You heard it here first!

Dave is clearly passionate about hearing his customer’s stories. One of Colour Division’s services is professional portrait photography – they even have a studio downstairs – and as he flicks through his portfolio, it’s clear that he’s proud of the shots. He also knows what everyone does. “We like people. We want to talk to you about your job.”

"You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting"

“You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting”

It’s the variety of work, and the customers and stories behind each assignment, that keep things interesting for Dave. As well as jobs for large business clients, people come in with requests for photographs of newborns, or wedding invitations, or funeral orders of service.

In Dave’s own words, “It’s an unusual business, I would say. There are so many different types of jobs. You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. We’ve seen life here in the raw. That keeps it interesting.”

Since the demise of the Wimpy, where does Dave go for a cup of tea now? True to his comment earlier that people still use the chains, you’re most likely to find him clutching a Starbucks.