Updated: Aug 7
Teacher-turned-entrepreneur Michael O’Brien believes the success of Eurovision in Liverpool could also help take his business onto a new level.
Michael founded LiverPrint in Knowsley 10 years ago. Last year it moved into a 6,000 sq ft unit at Academy Business Park. It supplies printed and embroidered clothing, as well as signage and large format digital printing, to an array of business customers.
And, in the last few weeks, it delivered what wasn’t necessarily its biggest-ever order, but is certainly its most high-profile and prestigious.
It was only in the autumn that Liverpool City Council learned that it was to be the host for the Eurovision Song Contest. It should have been held in Ukraine, winners in 2022, but the Russian invasion had made that impossible.
Culture Liverpool had just six months to organise something that would usually take at least a year. While the BBC organised the contest itself, the city council had to get ready to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city.
At the heart of its plans was the ‘Eurovision Village’ set up at the Pier Head nine days ahead of the main event. It quickly recruited an army of volunteers. Both they, and the BBC team, needed Eurovision-branded clothing. And that was LiverPrint’s gain.
The firm was tasked with supplying up to 9,000 items of branded items, including uniforms. Michael explained: “In terms of the size of the job - it was big but not overly big.
“But in terms of the way we have been able to advertise ourselves through it, it was a big deal. It wasn’t a life-changing amount of money but it was a really great job to be involved with.
“The contract was to supply uniforms for the Liverpool City Council staff and volunteers and the BBC staff.
“It was a big order in terms of a one-off. We have regular clients who might give us that volume of orders over weeks and months, but as a one-off order it was quite a big one.
“It was certainly a change in pace. Originally we had six weeks to deliver that but then it became two to three weeks. So it went from being a job we could manage in our normal hours to one where we had to work from 7am to midnight every day for two weeks.”
Michael is proud of his 10-strong team who pulled out all the stops to make sure they delivered. He added: “I’m so pleased with the team here for that effort.
“Everyone had to do stuff they don’t normally do. We had people who normally just do the embroidery or sewing having to jump on the printing. It was great because everyone just came together.”
For Michael, working on Eurovision was a little bit of a dream come true. Since they were children in Kirkby Michael and his sister had been devoted watchers of the annual music extravaganza.
He explained: “I had always had a soft spot for Eurovision. My sister and I had always watched it from when we were kids. She was coming home for the weekend of Eurovision and we already had a Eurovision-themed party planned for her 30th birthday.
“To get this job at the same time was amazing. When the winner went through to the stage and passed all the BBC staff we could see them all wearing our stuff.”
And, apart from the main jobs, there were a couple extra bonus jobs. Michael added: “The girl who won Eurovision, Loreen, and her team got in touch a week before and asked us to do some jackets for them.
“So they were all wearing black bomber jackets that we embroidered on the back. The BBC choreographers and the production staff also had some stuff made by us so it was great for LiverPrint all round.”
After graduating from university Michael trained as a teacher and spent two years working in school. But he decided a career in education was not for him. For his career change, he took inspiration from what had become a family business.
“My dad and his dad before him have always sold Liverpool FC hats and scarves around Anfield on matchdays. I had a stall next to my dad but I couldn’t sell hats and scarves because I would have been taking business off him.
“So I looked to do something different, putting designs in picture frames. I would do different little bits of artwork, manipulating photos etc. I did the designs and framed them up and sold them on the stall.
“Then I started getting asked to do t-shirts for stag dos and stuff like that and it kind of grew from there. One thing led to another and I started the business around 10 years ago.”
Usually the steepest learning curve for an entrepreneur is during the initial start-up phase but Michael’s biggest challenge came much later. In the early years, without a staff to worry about, he always had the matchday stall as a fallback in lean times.
“Now as we have grown and we have taken more staff on then that is the real learning curve,” he said, “I am doing less and less work in terms of printing and have to step back and trust people more to get on with the job.
“Letting go and learning to trust people I think is one of the most difficult things. With 10 people working for us now I just can’t stand on the heat press all day printing t-shirts. It just doesn’t work like that.
“Now I also have to be a part-time accountant, HR person, psychologist - so many hats to wear.”
As well as specialising in branded workwear for the corporate market LiverPrint also offers sports kits and school uniforms.
He explained: “We do a lot of what I would call standard stuff. We buy in t-shirts, polo shirts, hats and hoodies and put logos on them.
“And we also do something called sublimation, which is quite niche. That involves printing onto fabric and then cutting the fabric into shapes and sewing them together to make t-shirts. It’s mainly things such as football kits and dance and sportswear.”
Michael believes the prestige of delivering the Eurovision order could accelerate the growth of LiverPrint. He added: “I think you always want to grow - that is the nature of business. You always want to be bigger and better.
“Us winning the Eurovision contract might mean some of the bigger companies locally who have not used us in the past will take a look at us. We have shown we can deliver a really important order quickly and to a high standard.”