Q&A with Bell & Bain’s Derek Kenney

Bell & Bain logoFounded in 1831, Bell & Bain is one of the oldest established printing companies still in existence in the UK. From their two Scottish production facilities they service over 600 clients, printing major publications for the likes of The Open University, Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press.

Derek Kenney is the Sales Director Designate at Bell & Bain and has worked virtually all his working life in the print industry. He graciously took time out of his busy day to answer some questions for us about his role, the printing business and his advice for anyone considering a career in area.

Who is Bell & Bain and what do they do? 

Bell & Bain are one the oldest and largest independent dedicated book & journal printers and binders in the UK. With a staff of 105 and an annual turnover of £12.5 million. We manufacture the highest quality books and journals (magazines), about 10.5 million of them per year! These can be full colour, mono, pantones, litho or digitally printed, paperback or hardback, all done in house.

As a technology and investment driven company, Bell & Bain have been pioneers in cutting edge techniques and systems to ensure we offer highest quality of product, superfast turnaround times, offering value and value added solutions and services to our clients.

What kind of projects does Bell & Bain work on?

We deal with most of the major publishing houses and institutions within the UK and beyond, producing a wide range of publications covering every type of subject matter and genre imaginable which in itself is exceptionally interesting and exciting.

Some of the projects have quite a long timeline from conception to print and Bell & Bain get involved in many stages, be it book design, sizes, text/cover material, binding methods and of course costs as well as production slots and turnaround times.

I have to say that regardless if the project is a full academic syllabus or a high profile “best seller” or a self-publication we understand how important that project / title is to the publisher, author and end user and we give all projects the highest level of care and interaction with our clients. We want to exceed their very high expectations!

What is your average day as Sales Director Designate?

Wow! Is there an average day? The very fortunate aspect of my role is that it is very varied dealing with most aspects of our business be it structural, technical or sales/marketing related. That said the focus is always on the business side; are we achieving our standards and targets, is there enough business coming in, are our clients happy and informed, are we efficient/effective, what is our next investment, what can we do to be better, is the bottom line holding up etc. However, my greatest time is spent face to face with our clients. Then you really get to know and understand them and their needs. This helps create true, lasting and beneficial partnerships in my opinion.

On other days I will ask Alistair (one of our eager and talented Sales Executives) to make me a coffee and then I will pass on some kind words of wisdom…. what could be better than that!

You worked for Heidelberg for 17 years before moving to Bell & Bain. What are the biggest differences between your roles?

I worked for Heidelberg for 17 years looking after Scotland and the North of England before leaving to work for Bell & Bain. There are of course some major differences, one is a major worldwide corporation and one is what I term a “large” small business so there are of course many differences, the most prevalent being the value of the individual sales. Heidelberg was literally seven figures and Bell & Bain is in on average the thousands. There are benefits to working for large companies in the experience you get, the strength and depth of the support, the training, the professionalism and of course the opportunities. However, large companies can sometimes come across as faceless, non – caring and, at worst, arrogant(!) to their clients.

Bell & Bain pride ourselves in being like a family. We genuinely care about our clients and their expectations and often go to exceptional lengths to meet the demands sometimes put upon us. Another big difference in the role is the speed. Bell & Bain can make a key decision quickly (in an afternoon) and this can be implemented the next day, whereas with larger companies this can go through many stages and meetings before any decision and this could take months. By that time the opportunity could be lost!

The similarity in the roles is that both require a lot of technical knowledge, attention to detail and understanding the importance of your clients investment with you and getting it right!

What have been some personal favourite or stand out projects that you’ve handled with Bell & Bain?

There as so many stand out projects for me it is genuinely hard to say but that is because I am extremely passionate about print and books in particular! New startup companies or first publications are always good because the client has put everything into this. It is their “baby” and when we produce and deliver you almost share the excitement, anticipation and apprehension and when you get the “thanks, it looks beautiful” type of comment. That to me is extremely satisfying. Good publications and publishers are very important to Bell & Bain as I believe we are successful by association.

One project that did make me smile was when the “Launch” of Windows 10 operating system was on the evening news and Bell & Bain had 10,000 copies of “Windows 10 for Dummies” sitting in our secure holding area ready for shipment the next day.

Every so often the ‘Is print dead?’ debate is revived in the media. What kind of impact has the digital revolution had on the print business from your perspective?

Print sits and survives in the communication space along with various other forms including e-readers, iPad, smart phones and various social media channels. Some genres may not suit print as well as they used to, arguably newspapers, so print has to ensure it is relevant in both content and style to engage more than other channels, but very often it can co-exist and enhance other digital communication channels. Anything in my opinion that keeps us reading or gets us to read more regardless of the medium is a good thing. The printed book is still very strong and growing whether it is educational or a cook book, a story book or a travel guide. It genuinely has a proven strong interaction with humans. We respond well to printed media and particularly when it’s well printed!

There is nothing better to me than looking at someone’s bookcase in their home. It gives so much insight as to their thoughts, their interests, their passions… Nothing else does this.

“Print is dead…. long live print.”

Printing and prepress isn’t on many students’ radars when they come into publishing. What do you think they’d be surprised to learn about it?

Printing is very much part of the chain in the publishing industry and is a very dynamic part of this chain. The technology, the science, the process calibration, colour management and measurement, the engineering and the sheer diversity of the all the processes to manufacture and produce which is essentially a bespoke product i.e. unique to that client is really quite incredible. We enjoy showing clients and prospective clients round our two production facilities because we see the expressions of amazement as to what we do and how we do it.

Also the sales/marketing and administration within a printing company is very relevant to the publishing industry as it always essential to understand how your customers operate within their business.

And finally, what does 2016 hold for Bell & Bain?

Exciting, exciting, exciting… Bell & Bain continue to invest in technology and systems to make us better and offer a more holistic solution to our clients. Investments planned for 2016 include installations of a 10 Colour B3 litho Press, a UK first 8 colour, very large format litho press (printing 32 A4 pages full colour in one pass), new digital mono and colour book production system, and a new MIS system. Like any company we look to grow organically, remain profitable, meet and exceed the market / client demands and continue to offer a dynamic and satisfying workplace for all our staff.


Bell & Bain are the headline sponsors of SYP Scotland’s first ever conference 2020: A Publishing Odyssey.

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