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Trade Secrets


Rob Fletcher talks to Mark Bidewell, managing director of Bison, about the company’s evolutions from global paper agency to creative print and signage business, and outlines his future plans

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Mark Bidewell, managing director of Bison, has been with the company since its days as an international paper agency

Running ahead of the herd

Despite the many changes in the print industry in recent years, one thing that has remained the same is the focus on diversification. Manufacturers, suppliers, and even the trade media issue constant reminders of the importance of being able to offer services in a number of different markets in order not to miss out on profitable work.

One such company that not only follows this model, but was arguably one of the first trend-setters for operating in numerous markets, is Bison. Founded in 1976 as Bison Pulp and Paper, the firm began life as an international paper agency, importing paper from around the world.

Building on this initial setup, the company has evolved over the years to become the established creative print and signage business that it is known as today. And what makes this more special is how the business has remained in the family, with Mark Bidewell, son of co-founder Les Bidewell, now serving as managing director.

Moving on up

Mark Bidewell opens up about his time at the company and gives an insight into how it became Bison: “My personal journey started as an assistant for Dad’s internal paper agencies. I then progressed to the sales side of importing paper working with international printers, paper mills, and the biggest UK printers and publishers such as St Ives and Pearson Education.

“Paper manufacturing worked in four to eight-week cycles and if the client had just missed the one slot, no matter how much they needed the paper, there was nothing I could do to help them get it sooner.

“At the time, Dad used to have a stationery and copy shop on the ground floor of Bison House, and frustrated by maximum efforts and nil outcome, I used to pop in there and help walk-in customers. They would come in for some copies and leave with beautiful prints and huge smiles; they spent a lot more than anticipated but got a much better outcome. They left happy and kept coming back.”

Bidewell continues: “It was not long after that I realised where the opportunities were and so we evolved. We closed our international paper agency, importing, and stationery arms down and focused on the print on demand market.”

With strong emotional ties to the business, Bidewell is keen to see the company continue to grow and expand, and maintains a focus on investing in the team, new kit, and facilities to allow it to win, keep, and grow new business. Bidewell cites this approach as one of the main reasons behind the firm’s ongoing success over the years.

Mark Bidewell says Bison is always on the lookout for new business and opportunities for further expansion

“Bison has always been a flexible organisation, something that is clear to see in our long history,” he says, adding: “Most importantly, we have developed into our current existence by responding to our clients’ needs. It is because of our journey that we have unsurpassed knowledge and experience to offer a unique and individualised service to each of our clients.

“There is an open growth mindset throughout the company; we are continually reinvesting in our team, technology, and environments.”

There is an open growth mindset throughout the company; we are continually reinvesting in our team technology and environments

In the last 24 months alone, Bison has invested in a Ricoh 7100 five-colour press, as well as a top of the range HP Latex wide-format, Summa plotter, Apple Mac computers, a works van, as well as a massive infantry of tools. They have also purchased and renovated the 4250sq ft factory they reside in, opted to create a new website, and invest the equivalent to 15 percent of its annual wage bill back in to team for ongoing training and development.

Bison recently moved to a new headquarters that is three times the size of its existing facility

Bidewell continues: “2017 has been both demanding and fulfilling. In the fourth quarter of 2016, we made a conscious decision to focus this year on systems and processes in the business—to create a firm foundation to build upon. And the year prior to that we picked the business up and moved it to our new location over 300 percent greater in size—both I feel go hand-in-glove to being able to upscale the business.”

Switching allegiance
Opening up more about the new investments, Bidewell focuses on the firm’s new Ricoh press in particular, explaining that having been a loyal Xerox user for over 15 years, a conversation with the team at Smart Print convinced him to swap to Ricoh technology.

“I was a loyal Xerox user and first came across Ricoh at a sales training day about seven years ago; it was then I first thought there may be a life outside of Xerox,” Bidewell explains, adding: “At the time, Ricoh was new in to the market and Xerox, I believe, had majority share.

“In November last year, Alan from Smart Print—an approved partner of both Xerox and Ricoh—came highly recommended, and so I took this opportunity to explore both providers with an unbiased approach.

“From trialling multiple devices from both Xerox and Ricoh, I had no doubt that the Ricoh 7100, with white/clear ink, was the right investment, and so took the leap of faith.”

With so much success in the company’s past, one would be forgiven for thinking that Bidewell and his team would be satisfied with the firm’s current position. However, Bidewell is definitely not one to rest on his laurels and is keen for the company to push on and win new business, as it enters an exciting era at its new headquarters.

“Bison is made up of a team of experts who work effortlessly to create the tools and deliverables that help our clients achieve success throughout the UK,” he says, adding: “Our plans are to continually grow; if we are not growing, we are dying.

Our plans are to continually grow; if we are not growing, we are dying

“We want to be the best in our industry, and when we are number one, we will carry on and, I guess, compete with ourselves. There is always room for improvement.”

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