M Partners has taken over the UK distribution of RMGT's smaller format presses allowing Apex Digital Graphics owners Bob Usher and Terry Bratt to retire having each accumulated 50 years in the printing industry. Both are 68. SOS Offset Supplies is taking on distribution of Cron plates and platesetters and of Mitsubishi’s DPX plates.
The owners had been looking to sell for a couple of years and a buyer was lined up before the Brexit vote, which has slowed sales of new presses due to the uncertainty created, says Usher. Apex has sold around 200 Ryobi and RMGT presses, latterly having success with the RMGT9 series with LED UV. Sales of two-page machines have dwindled, though LED UV means a few presses of this format have been sold.
M Partners, led by Murray Lock in charge of marketing, Mark Stribley, commercial and Mark Sheldrick as sales director, plans to grow the installed base continuing the value for print approach that has led to sales of the SRA1 press to previously B2 printers. M Partners has been successful with the B1 format Mitsubishis by stressing the low cost of ownership, in terms of wafer thin service and maintenance costs, thanks to the reliability of the presses.
“We will be stressing the quality of the machines and the lowest cost of ownership,” says Lock. “Many printers find that traditional services are expensive. Mitsubishi brings experience from aerospace where aircraft simply do not break down. All presses have manual overrides fitted because the biggest cause of problems on modern presses is that the sensors will fail, stopping the machine.”
MPL is taking on 14 former Apex staff to maintain contacts with customers and provide continuity. It is moving the press spares from Hemel Hempstead to MPL's warehouse, which services Europe with parts for the larger RMGT presses.
There will be no showroom for the presses, instead MPL will work with reference sites bringing prospects to the printers that have the machine of the right configuration. MPL has sponsored meeting rooms at these sites for discussion after the prospect has seen the press in action and talked with operators.
The first priority, says Lock, is to ensure that customers continue to experience the same levels of support as from Apex. After that comes discussions with potential partners. It will continue to work with SOS to offer the Cron UVP platesetter technology to this market for example. A change of name will follow in due course, but is not at the head of priorities.
“We have been talking to customers to reassure them that all contracts and warranties will be honoured. That was the idea behind the sale process, to provide that degree of credibility.”
SOS managing director Mike Mitfull says: “It has gone remarkably well in the first week and the feedback has been fine. People have been ringing in, placing orders and receiving plates.”
For the business the addition of the new product fits in with the existing business. SOS is the UK’s largest provider of Fujifilm plates and a significant channel for Kodak’s Sonora process-free plates. “We are used to shifting supplies. It is second nature to us,” he says.
The addition of the Cron platesetter and plates will address a market that has previously been served by secondhand equipment, he says, enabling those with limited budgets to move to metal and thermally imaged plates. “We have already had two inquiries from DPX customises about Cron,” he says. “It fits a niche and gives us another product to sell, that working with M Partners we should be able to offer as a bundle of press and platesetter.”
There are around 130 DPX platesetters still in operation in the UK and a growing number of Cron accounts for either the UV sensitive or thermal plates
“The Cron CTP dealership is an exciting addition to our portfolio and we aim to maintain and grow the customer base in the UK,” he adds.
Usher has played a more extensive role in the industry beyond Apex. He has been president of Picon and remains a council member, though will now resign this position. And he says he is thinking over a future role that would allow him to continue to have a role in the industry.