15 December 2014 Business

Euro Vision: the likes of Vistaprint are looking at British print

European printers have their eyes on the lucrative UK print market as web to print makes it simple to do so.

As for so many times over the last millennium, Britain must prepare for invasion from the continent. This time it is not an army preparing to invade as others have planned, but printers.

In terms of online purchasing the UK is relatively untouched, compared to, say, Germany. And as the second largest market in Europe for print, there are companies that are planning to change that.

The majority are German which caught the online bug early. In that country the rise of Saxoprint, UnitedPrint, FlyerAlarm, Onlineprinters and others has been matched by the collapse in small jobbing printers.

Many of these have decided to stop their own presses and buy from these behemoths. For these are well equipped businesses that are exploiting technology and which are used to marketing their services. They have joined forces in the online printers alliance, a grouping to counter the strength of Vistaprint. This was provoked by Vista claiming its patents were being contravened by two of the German companies, something that a court in Frankfurt threw out.

The expanding Dutch registered company also has hungry eyes on the UK, opening an office here in November, and upgrading IT structures as well as investing in its Pixartprinting subsidiary in Italy. Vistaprint made its name with cheap, often free of charge, business cards, aiming at self employed or small enterprises, mothers and other non professionals. A key element of its success has been that products are trimmed and folded, but not collated, stitched or bound in any way. The majority of its revenues continue to be derived from the US.

There have been issues about perceived lack of quality and the non standard size of its business cards: shaving an extra millimetre or two can have a big impact on the bottom line. Quality has been improved though the material used for business cards remains lightweight.

But it is through the Pixartprinting brand that the company, renamed Cimpress (for computer integrated manufacturing), is aiming at the professional designers, marketers and more ambitious small businesses. Pixart has expanded into large format print for displays, into labels and also packaging.

It will not have the field to itself. Saxoprint, one of the leading Germans, is attacking the design market with gusto, using sponsorship of London Design Week to position itself as supplier to this wedge of the market. Traditionally, of course, designers have forged relationships with their own choice of printer. This has not changed. Saxoprint just wants to do this online backed by London based support staff.

The business operates from a home factory in Dresden, emerging from a local printer that started business in 1999 and quickly realised the potential of the internet for doing business. It now employees 450 and has a press line up that includes KBA Rapida 105s and an eight-unit perfecting Heidelberg Speedmaster XL162 printing dozens of ganged up jobs on a single sheet. It began its UK campaign in June says senior key accounts manager Philip Foster.

He says: “We started our integrated marketing activities in June 2014 and initially target resellers and marketing managers, events managers and designers. They are our primary target audience. Anyone, whether a professional designer, architect, graphic designer, agency or event organiser, can print custom jobs with Saxoprint.”

Dresden is also home to UnitedPrint where its emphasis on separation from traditional print extends to employing young workers without traditional print habits and providing all white uniforms. Like Saxoprint, UnitedPrint has grown rapidly, even taken over KBA’s R&D demonstration hall.

Foster explains the fundamental value proposition that Saxoprint has developed: “Overall industry has the same challenges to provide a cost effective service but on time and with the high quality that clients expect. In the modern world of print, quality is regarded as a given; nevertheless, customers also require a certain level of personal service and with that in mind, we have implemented a system using key account managers, as well as a highly trained service team, to help clients through every step of their online ordering.

“Our challenge is also to build trust among clients who have a big print volume and huge potential, but are not used to buying print online yet. Ticking all the boxes is key in the competitive market place and we are one of the very few who manage to keep that balance. Companies who embrace technological innovations deliver it all.”

This includes a commitment to sustainable printing methods, backed by certification to Climate Neutral Printing, the use of FSC papers and so on. Customers should find no barriers to using the company.

“We are proof that our business model is the right idea as demonstrated all over Europe. We are bringing ‘The Human touch to online printing’,” says Foster. “The online printing market is highly competitive; this is highlighted particularly in the price war. Although we are one of the biggest online print shops in Europe, we aren’t just offering competitive prices, but also a very personal approach and excellent customer service.”

To some extent Saxoprint is following FlyerAlarm which has a shop just off Tottenham Court Road where passers by can pick up a brochure of the latest product types and offers. Inside is a space where they can ask advice and be inspired by product samples. The company is aiming firmly at marketers with personalised or short run branded goods with print on any surface. This includes deck chairs, plastic whatnots and energy drinks. It does not print on the can, but creates a shrink sleeve that slips over the container to promote an event or as part of a marketing campaign. It is also the first company with Heidelberg’s 4D printer, an inkjet array on a robotic arm that can apply the personalised message to a football.

And the Germans are being joined by a host of others that see the UK as an underdeveloped market ripe for their approaches. From Holland there is Helloprint emphasising price, from Denmark LaserTryk with an eight-unit Heidelberg XL106 with LE-UV curing for fast turnaround print. And there are others with specialities in photobooks or labels that are looking this way.

Part of the reason has to be the lack of UK equivalent. There are plenty of companies that claim to be the lowest cost provider of flyers or leaflets, to print cheap pop up banners or business cards, but none is a match for the Germans in scale or sophistication.

UK companies like Solopress may have B2 presses and iGen digital printing, but tend to be relatively small. Solopress has celebrated its 500,000th order since 2009, not a statistic to worry the Germans, and business is almost all from the UK. Tradeprint acts as the white label producer for a host of agents or smaller printers that need to offer B1 printing, has both XL106 and Rapida 106 long perfectors. Its Print Gateway service allows resellers to promote themselves passing jobs to Tradeprint for fast turnaround litho print, packaged to be anonymous.

However, the lack of a high profile UK provider in this space is something that Gary Peeling, chief executive of Precision Printing, aims to correct. Precision has been the production outlet for companies selling photo products online; for a while it was the UK partner for Pixart; and it is geared up for production with B2 litho presses as well as extensive Indigo digital printing including a highly flexible B2 format machine which through careful imposition and trimming can load well over twice the jobs on a sheet as the smaller format Indigos.

And outside the busiest period towards the end of the year, there is plenty of capacity on these machines. “Our business model has been built on output solutions for other website portals and that will continue, and have wanted to move into the ‘upload and print’ space. In the UK this is a market that nobody has quite cracked yet. We think we can grown from sales of £1 million to £5-10 million quite quickly,” he says.

The potential lay behind the purchase of First2Print last month for its experience in running an internet facing business as well as the new to Precision wide format market. First2Print had created the Where the Trade Buys online brand and Peeling envisages developing this into a series offering the sorts of templated products that different trades and professions require. “It’s for people that we don’t have to deal with face to face,” he says. “Independent graphic designers and the like. In the UK this is a market that nobody has cracked yet.” In 2016 there are going to be plenty giving it a try.

Others that act as agents for overseas print operations have claimed to print in Britain, assuaging any concerns from UK buyers by having a .co.uk trading address, but in reality are the face of long distance printers exploiting low labour costs in developing parts of Europe. There will always be a place for the lowest cost flyers type of business, but online print procurement is maturing and that is a fight that is just beginning.

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The UK can fight back

The UK can fight back

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The lack of a high profile UK provider in this space is something that Gary Peeling, chief executive of Precision Printing, aims to correct.

Precision has been the production outlet for companies selling photo products online; for a while it was the UK partner for Pixartprinting; and it is geared up for production with B2 litho presses as well as extensive Indigo digital printing including a highly flexible B2 format machine which through careful imposition and trimming can load well over twice the jobs on a sheet as the smaller format Indigos.

And outside the busiest period towards the end of the year, there is plenty of capacity on these machines.

“Our business model has been built on output solutions for other website portals and that will continue, and have wanted to move into the ‘upload and print’ space. In the UK this is a market that nobody has quite cracked yet. We think we can grown from sales of £1 million to £5-10 million quite quickly,” he says.

Story 1 of 2

Partnership was an option

Partnership was an option

The lack of a high profile UK provider in this space is something that Gary Peeling, chief executive of Precision Printing, aims to correct.

Precision has been the production outlet for companies selling photo products online; for a while it was the UK partner for Pixart; and it is geared up for production with B2 litho presses as well as extensive Indigo digital printing including a highly flexible B2 format machine which through careful imposition and trimming can load well over twice the jobs on a sheet as the smaller format Indigos.

And outside the busiest period towards the end of the year, there is plenty of capacity on these machines.

“Our business model has been built on output solutions for other website portals and that will continue, and have wanted to move into the ‘upload and print’ space. In the UK this is a market that nobody has quite cracked yet. We think we can grown from sales of £1 million to £5-10 million quite quickly,” he says.

Explore more...

Pixart finds UK partner in Precision

Story 2 of 2