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 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.
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.