From the kitchen table to the digital world
Matthew Caldwell-Nichols admits he was horrified when the big London company whose contract he was after said they wanted to visit Precision Marketing Group’s then office.
The Bury St Edmunds company’s business had outgrown its Boldero Road premises and was using various temporary structures for offices and meeting rooms.
Sitting looking out over a golf course from his new Lamdin Road offices’ meeting room he recalled: “We had the visitors from this major London company in a metal container for the meeting. It was very crowded, but we won the work through charm and competence.”
The new 25,000 sq ft offices it moved into in July give the company more room to expand and offer new services than the 10,000sq ft in Boldero Road, but being there is mostly due to coincidence.
The lease on the old office was coming up for renewal and the owners wanted Matthew to buy it, but Abbey Labels, who he had worked with over the years, put the building next to their printing works on the market at about the same time and that showed more potential.
Grants have helped the move, enabling them to instal things like low energy lighting and solar panels to, as Matthew puts it, ‘do a better job of it’.
The modern premises are a far cry from the business’ beginnings as Precision Database Marketing on Matthew’s kitchen table in Beyton.
His family had moved to Suffolk with the financial company he then worked for, but when the firm moved to Welwyn, he decided to stay and start his own business handling direct marketing.
“It started as one man sat at the kitchen table, then in the conservatory,” he recalled. “Then we built an office in the garden for five of us and in 1997 we moved to Angel Hill.”
In 2005 they acquired another direct marketing company and moved into its premises in Boldero Road, since then turnover has grown from £3 million to about £10 million. The move to Lamdin Road saw them take on 20 more staff so the group now employs the equivalent of 72 full time staff there and at Watton and St Ives near Huntingdon.
Though its digital side has grown, direct marketing is still a major part of the business and Matthew believes that, while it is shrinking, it will be ‘another generation or two’ before it goes completely.
But he says: “Its similar to when people thought television would kill newspapers – it will change but people still like to hold something in their hands to read it.
“Companies use it because it works. For example, some of our biggest customers are sending catalogues. If you are sending fashion catalogues, people want to look at it over breakfast then go online later to order.”
There are other considerations, such as the need for patient confidentiality in the healthcare industry.
Then there are bills. Precision currently handles the council tax bills for five authorities across the country, though not St Edmundsbury.
“Council tax is a hugely complex job,” he said, standing beside two staff sorting raw data on a pair of screens. “It takes days to prepare. They have to be mailed in a two-week window.”
That may sound like plenty of time, but the data comes in in random order and by the time Precision has finished, it has been used to print personalised bills, address them to individual households and machine-sort them in the order the postman walks his rounds.
Round sorting to street level is no mean feat: it may be fairly straight forward in an urban area where streets are sensibly numbered, but in a village only the postman knows a new house called Appletrees now comes after Dunroaming on his round, so that information is constantly updated.
The data Precision uses is leased from a variety of sources, but the ways they can use it are down to its staff’s skills.
For example, Precision works with the estate agents’ online service Zoopla so that if an agents sells a certain type of house in a particular area and wants to send a card out to owners of similar properties, it can go online and enter the criteria it wants to use for the mail-out using a comprehensive tick-box form.
Matthew said: “It’s data they often didn’t know existed and it’s bringing it all together so they press a button, and next day the postcards go out.”
Precision has its own advanced digital printers able to handle everything from a limited mail-out like that to a regional one like dividends to East of England Co-op members to a national company’s catalogues.
But the company’s purely digital side is also growing, looking after content on company websites, including training sites where staff or organisation’s members can go to take part in learning programmes. Clients for this are mainly in healthcare.
Precision has also started promoting and selling online a rage or herbal and holistic healthcare products.
Matthew is so confident the company will continue to expand in its new home that he is even looking forward to when it might run out of parking spaces and is considering ways of helping staff get to work in a more environmentally friendly way.