11 November 2013

Visit to Letts Filofax Dalkeith - 4 November 2013

On the Monday morning of our non-stop weekend we had been invited to visit the Letts Filofax factory and offices at Dalkeith, which is about a 25 minutes drive south east of Edinburgh city centre.

Nan and I made our way to the rendezvous point outside Waverley station where we met Laurie. This was another first, Nan and Laurie had never met before either. Margaret (Rennie) picked us up in her car and felt a little nervous of driving three quarters of the Philofaxy team to Dalkeith, but she need not have worried! Natalie and Margaret Ann had made their own way to the factory and were all ready there.

We were given a very warm welcome at Dalkeith by Lorraine and shown to a small meeting room. We removed out coats and made ourselves comfortable and helped ourselves to drinks and chocolate biscuits.

We were joined by Gordon Presly, the Group Chief Executive of Letts Filofax Group Limited, there were hand shakes and introductions all around.

Gordon by way of an introduction gave us a very brief overview of the company as it stands today and how it got there. The Dalkeith factory was built for Letts back in 1962 and sits on a 21 acre site, the buildings have been expanded in recent years. They employ about 280 full time staff with another 50 temps currently on contract to help out as well.

Nearly all the employees are local from around the area and the company have an excellent retention of staff with a high average of length of service, a small number of staff have been with the company for 40-45 years. The work is quite specialist within the printing field and book binding. The factory produces Letts diaries as well as some of the Filofax inserts on site. They have some rather specialist equipment for page edge gilding.

The warehouse handles all the distribution of Filofax products for all the worldwide sub-groups. All of the UK website orders are now processed from this location too.

Gordon became the managing director of Filofax back in 1998 and he told us about the various changes in the company in the time he has been in charge. He also outlined the recent changes of ownership and backing partners. 

After about an hour of discussion which included a few questions which Gordon expertly fielded, he introduced us to one of the production managers, Scott, who took us on a tour of the factory.

I'm not a printing expert, well certainly not on the scale that is carried out here! But we started at a point which we could assimilate too... the gathering of the data to be included in any of the products created, so dates of events, holiday dates throughout the world.

You just need to look at any Filofax Letts diary and there's a lot of information contained within it that does change or has the potential to change each year. All of that information has to be gathered and collated and confirmed before it goes in to print each year.

We then visited the various stages of the processes from printing, to cutting pages to size, binding and finishing, inserting the pages in to covers in the case of Letts diaries, or punching the pages in the case of Filofax products. Once the products have been finished and inspected as they come off the end of the production line they are boxed or assembled on to pallets for onward shipment via the warehouse.

Like any factory it is a busy and in some parts quite noisy, but the engineer in me loved seeing how the various machines functioned and performed some familiar tasks, but just on a much bigger scale to what I can do at home!

Here are some pictures of the various parts of the factory tour.

Creation of the aluminium printing plates. The plate is etched with the design

One of the four colour printing machines which prints on to A0 paper

An electric paper guillotine, this was cutting through a ream of paper at a time, with no effort!

A Filofax paper punch, but called a drill in this case, it uses hollow punch dies to punch through 400 sheets at a time

Here's one we made earlier!

These pages had been edge gilded with silver leaf

Here the two members of staff were assembling leather diary covers

Laurie checking out various planners!
The Quality Control office, Filofax organisers and diaries are checked here by choosing a sample to check for dimensions and quality against the reference drawings.

The expanded warehouse houses and handles a huge amount of stock

Looking in the other direction

I should have asked how they find things in here... it's here somewhere!

Some very early examples of Letts and Filofax products

L-R Laurie, Margaret, Gordon, Steve, Nan
After our factory tour had finished we once again saw Gordon Presly who was happy to sit with us and answer a further round of questions. The atmosphere was bubbling,  we were all buzzing I think from seeing all the various things in the factory.

It was a very enjoyable morning, I certainly came away with a much better understanding about how the company works and how the Burgess Hill part of the company in Sussex works in conjunction with the Dalkeith part of the business.

I'm very grateful to Gordon Presly for the invite to meet him and for arranging the factory tour. I would also like to thank Gordon and his staff for being very patient answering all our questions and explaining all the processes to us.

It was also lovely to be able to share this experience with two of my Philofaxy colleagues too, as well as some of our readers.


  1. Fantastic post Steve! I wished that I could have attended - learning the grass roots of Letts Filofax is an amazing experience. Very informative. Loving the photos of the factory & equipment. Good to know there are some companies in the UK still with long standing employees. Letts Filofax are clearly a good employer with fantastic products!

  2. Wow!! I so wish I could have been there on that meet up, especially as my family are from Edinburgh too. How interesting to see the factory at work and how it is all done. Also, how wonderful of the Dalkeith team to take that time and effort to make your day so special. I have seen these industrial guillotines at work on a previous video, when a philofaxer ordered plain personal paper to be cut to size from an A4 ream. The machine's ability to cut through a huge stack of paper, like a knife through butter, is pretty awesome and scary to watch!!! The teacherly side of me came out in full force, I felt inwardly extraordinarily uncomfortable watching the process and I wanted to scream "MIND YOUR FINGERS!!!!!!" A very highly skilled workforce here at Letts Filofax, and it was such a pleasure and joy to read your post. I would have loved to see the gilding bench especially. That sounded and looked to be a lovely job.Thanks Gordon and the team for such a fascinating insight. xx

  3. Steve, thank you for the write-up of your visit. I feel sorry I wasn't able to attend - I don't live too far away - but I'm pleased for those of you who did! Well done to Gordon and his team for arranging the visit. I can't imagine many companies allow customers to tour their factories and offices. Not forgetting the chance to meet up with other afficionados in person - you must have all had a wonderful day.

  4. I would have loved to do as Nan, and flown over to join you. First, it would have been great to have met you all, and second, to have visited the Dalkeith facility. I teach Operations Management, so any time I get a chance to see a production facility, I love it. This would have been extra special. Third, there's also a very fine collection of Filofaxes in Edinburgh I would have liked to have seen, but I'm not sure it would be possible. Finally, It would have been wonderful to set foot in the land of many of my ancestors.

  5. Oh my looks amazing. I really wished I could have attended this one.

  6. Steve, I love seeing everything! That must have been an amazing experience!

  7. Wow!!! What an amazing trip :o)