“We just keep our head down and keep going; that’s our business model. Some of the campaigns we’ve been involved in already this year have been sizeable, and our volumes are more than holding up,” said First 4 managing director David Nestor.

“The decision to target direct mail is something that we’ve been toying with for a while though; we’re a young company and I want to be doing this for another 30 years, so its inevitable that fold-stitch-trim volumes may tail off in the future, and that’s why I want to offer more to our client base, such as die-cutting and inline inserting in the stitching department, and direct mail is another area that offers a great synergy and we just went for it,” he added.

Following a review of its client base and work mix, he estimated that 99% of what the firm produces goes back to clients to be fulfilled in one way or another, so the firm was well positioned to exploit the DM opportunity and launch First 4 Direct Mail.

First 4, which was crowned PrintWeek‘s SME of the Year in 2010 and 2011, installed two Buhrs high-speed mailing lines four weeks ago and will go into full production early next month, with a plan to add two more next year. The refurbished BB600 lines were bought from Grafitec and each line features six inserter stations and are capable of handling DL to C5 envelopes.

“We can now offer a complete post-press solution. Basically, the work came off the back of our clients’ presses to be cut, folded, stitched or trimmed and then we would send it back. But now effectively it can leave here in an envelope and go straight to Royal Mail or whoever,” said Nestor.

“That’s especially useful for our clients in the South, where it can have a massive impact on their transport costs,” he added.

To support the investment, the 90-staff, £3.5m-turnover business is looking to create around a dozen new jobs, rising to a total of about 20 in 12 months.

Nestor is also considering adding personalisation to the lines at some stage in the future, depending on client demand, with camera recognition systems for 2D barcodes also high up on the future shopping list.

“This investment isn’t about competing with our clients though, we’re doing it because our clients want and need the service, we always think of ourselves as an extension of our clients’ binderies, but now we can also be an extension to their mailing and DM operations,” said Nestor.

Fulfilment is just the latest service that First 4 has added to its core offering, with other recent additions being die-cutting, courtesy of a refurbished Heidelberg SRA1 cylinder from Senior Graphic Machinery installed last month, and an inline inserting capability added to its stitching lines late last year.