Similar to many businesses across the country, the lockdown presented immediate challenges for Lettertec and the primary task of ensuring the safety of its staff.
“We set about a radical rethink of how we operate, moving teams into pods, re-planning workspaces to ensure social distancing, staging the manufacturing and production zones to ensure compliance and safety, and ensuring new procedures were put in place and training ourselves to make it all work,” Frank Kelly explains.
Setting up the graphic design team to work from home, the Carrigtwohill-based company got down to the business of doing business even during the commercial depths of April and May. “We have two core markets, the education sector, and self-publishing books. The schools were obviously busy adjusting, but once the initial crisis period had passed they quickly moved to planning for the new school year.”
Having long-established relationships in the sector, Lettertec adapted to their schedule and new content needs and have already commenced production for August rollout.
“Right now we are still producing yearbooks for schools, via our unique online yearbook creator, all of which would ordinarily have shipped in May, but in a lot of cases graduations have now been postponed to August.”
Lettertec work across a wide array of genres — fiction, poetry, local culture, sporting club histories, self-help and wellbeing, family and corporate memoirs, as well as the ever-popular cookbooks. Working in tandem, Selfpublishbooks.ie and Lettertec provide a one-stop-shop for writers and organisations, offering a full product line from paperback to hardback, backed by comprehensive support services across design, formatting and copy editing.
“One of the more unexpected outcomes of this pandemic is how it inspired an extraordinary period of creativity. The entire country was at home, and had time and space to pause and think for a while. In our case, we were fortunate that many considered now as good a time as any to write that book within them,” he says. “The global lockdown has provided ripe conditions for a generation of writers who were too busy to write before.”
Selfpublishbooks.ie started in 2012 from a zero base utilising the equipment already in place servicing the education and pharmaceutical sectors. This business arm now produces five different titles per week.
“I firmly believe that self-publishing has significant potential for growth. Of course, it helps to be able to offer something that people want. We provide a one-stop solution to our authors, including formatting, proof reading, editing, design, production, and e-books. While we will keep our focus on what’s working, I’m a pragmatist, knowing that it takes years to become an overnight success.”
The company has invested heavily over recent years, exceeding €1m in plant and equipment and enabling a state-of-the-art bindery allowing the production of over 2,000 books per hour, casebound or paperback. The target is to double the business in three years, with annual growth of 33%.
“The market is already there, but so many books are still being printed abroad. Our goal is to create greater awareness amongst audiences that cost-effective, high-quality publishing work can be done at home in Ireland.” Technology provides not just a better product, but also a better customer experience: “Our USP is high volume production, high-end quality, with short-run capability.”
The educational market accounts for the larger side of the business, providing schools with a range of bespoke journals and handbooks for both teachers and students. “Over recent years, we have expanded our capabilities to offer websites and apps to enable seamless, cost-effective and regular communication from the school with families.”
Recent times have seen Lettertec delve into the area of business and family histories - another rich vein of activity showing definite commercial promise into the future. “It is an area we hadn’t focused on previously, but we have produced some beautiful ‘coffee table’ full-colour books, showcasing business and family histories in recent years.” Recent publications have included the history of medtech and pharma giant Uniphar, and the Shaw family dynasty of ‘almost nationwide’ fame.
“There are wonderful stories to be told, and are rarely just a ‘corporate’ project. They capture the characters, the mavericks, the influencers and business leaders of their day that shaped the commercial world and the communities they served. We love to help people tell those stories, preserving their part in history for posterity. The surge of interest in our ancestry and our ability to trace family trees through online sources has made it so accessible to all of us, that converting it into the form of a book can be a hugely rewarding process.”
Looking to the future, the Lettertec MD admits his company is the proverbial labour of love: “Publishing books is in my blood and it's not going to change now,” he says, underlining a company mission statement dedicated to growing a world-class enterprise within the thriving Cork region.
“Cork is progressive and resilient, and it’s great to see such strong development across the cityscape. We have great business leaders, a thriving education sector, an exceptional entrepreneurial business environment, and a proven ability to punch above our weight with tech and pharma industries.”
While cautious of a possible negative Brexit outcome, he is optimistic for a cohesive Government with a strong Cork influence. “I believe we will be ready for what happens next. Cork needs to continue its infrastructural investment in major road projects and housing, but I believe overall we are moving in the right direction.”
After 37 years in the publishing game, his appetite for the sector’s challenges is undiminished: “It’s all about the buzz of it, I still thrive on the work. The energy, the different day to day challenges, the people you meet, the stories they tell. I have a copy of every book we have ever published and take pride in them every day. Publishing and books, are a special part of the world, and I’m very lucky to work in this area.” With the spectre of Covid-19 still hovering across Ireland’s business and social life, Frank Kelly’s future outlook is tinged with cautious optimism.
“Like everyone, I sincerely hope the worst has passed. I hope we continue on the track we’re on and if we need to take a few steps back again, so be it. The country experienced great loss and tragedy and whatever we learned about ourselves in the process, I would have no appetite to experience that again.”