Well-known Letchworth company Phillips Digital has come a long way since Martin Phillips, its founder, worked his way through 40 film and prints in a dark room, when the business was originally based at the Spirella Building. In this business blog we look through the company’s 34-year history as well as the evolution of design and print.
Can you tell us how Phillips was founded?
I’d been unemployed for a while, but had always wanted to run my own business. I remember quite clearly that, following a chat with Colin Fricker, the then Corporation’s Business Consultant, and after securing a business loan from Natwest, I purchased a second hand Little John LGS231 camera (see image at the end of this blog) and set-up in the Spirella Building.
I had kept in touch with half a dozen old clients and when I started on day one they took a chance and came with me. These included ABL Circuits, Sigma, Dyprint, Howards, Toptec & Grovewood Print. ABL Circuits is still a client to this very day.
How does the process of printing today contrast to those early years?
Obviously printing machines and automation have greatly reduced the amount of time it takes to get something from a designed state to the finished article. Back in the 1980s I had three bath troughs on the go in the dark room.
I’d alternate between putting paper in the tray of developer, moving in to the stop tray and then the final tray of fixer. Each print would then take about two hours to dry on a washing line. At one point we had washing lines all over the place.
Today, while still having a dark room on site, we take design files, pick a material, print them and dispatch to the client, all in 24 hours or sooner.
What kind of clients do Phillips cater for?
We work with organisations of all shapes and sizes. From large building companies and high-profile agencies, through to helping small local business and individuals, some just starting up as ‘one man bands’ as we once were. We’ve got the scale and capabilities to work with all budgets and briefs.
When setting up a business, what kind of characteristics and qualities do you think you need?
It pays to be resilient, tenacious and have perseverance. There are always going to be ups and downs and you need to be able to ride them out.
We once purchased a new machine and were all set to get it installed over a weekend so we could start using it on the Monday. It took three weeks for the install to be completed! Very worrying at the time but all was well in the end. That says a lot about our loyal client base.
Looking back on it now, it was a useful learning experience, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. We had to keep customers in the loop and thankfully retained the majority of them after this episode. It helps when you’ve built up a number of good working relationships with people over time.
We know a number of the Phillips clan have helped out within the business, was that always your plan?
It wasn’t initially, but we have supported friends and family (and vice versa) where we could. It might sound funny, but one of the key motivations for me to start a business was so my Grandad could see the family name on the side of a van, which he did!
At various stages in the company’s history, we’ve had sisters, brothers, fathers, even nieces and nephews taking on Saturday jobs. I’m glad it’s been able to help them all and hopefully they enjoyed the experience.
Any final thoughts on being a Letchworth business?
We’re proud to be able to call Letchworth home for our business. We’ve received a lot of support and help from people in the town, particularly in those early years.
Letchworth is a place where people are passionate and proud of their roots and as a business we are no exception. We want to see the town flourish and if we can play in supporting that we will.