Dutch online print business Helloprint is planning to invest €2 million in the UK to expand its presence and build a network of local suppliers able to deliver what will become a portfolio of several thousand products.
Much of the money will dedicated to marketing the company and its offer to small businesses to design and marketing agencies, to print brokers and to other printers.
CEO is Hans Scheffer, once a main board director of Printing.com. This provides knowledge of the UK market and the confidence that Helloprint can triple its UK sales to €20 million before the end of 2017. Currently it generates £700,000 a month in UK sales, but this is several times the revenue in January, he says.
“The UK market is very fragmented and all the online players are relatively small. The top players in this market are not UK based companies, unlike the situation in Germany and the Netherlands which are not fragmented markets like the UK,” says Scheffer. “It means that there is a lot to play for.”
Helloprint does not operate its own printing equipment, instead directing sales received through its online platforms to print partners that are relied upon to deliver quickly and to the expected quality. It needs to increase its network of UK service providers. “We want at least 100 UK printers to join the network so that we can service tens of thousands of customers in the UK,” he explains.
This will range for the highly slick commodity printers focused on operational excellence he says to very specialist printers. “There might be a balloon printer in Leicester perhaps, who has great technical skills but lacks the marketing expertise and the sales we can bring.”
The current offering is biased towards popular, simple products supported by a growing range of display products, perhaps 350-400 in all. “We want to expand that to 2,500 or more over the next year by taking on the unusual products that some printers have specialised in.
“That small balloon printer cannot grow market share, but if he connects to our platform we can sell those products for him to customers he cannot reach. We already have the clients that are buying print and looking for new ideas. That is the big benefit of the network effect.”
The investment pledge comes at a time when the vote in favour of Brexit has caused nervousness in markets. “It’s an interesting time for everyone in Europe,” he says. “But there is no reason not to invest in the UK. Brexit will bring some uncertainty but nothing will change in the market itself, so for us there is no reason not to invest, perhaps a better reason if others are not so willing to invest.”
As well as growing the supply side network, there will be a UK headquarters and local support teams. Helloprint argues that it has the greatest ratio of service personnel to customers in the sector. “To our mind, customer service has to be superb. We want to attract the top talent to our UK office,” Scheffer continues.
“A lot of small printers have disappeared as buying switched online. Despite this 80% of print in Holland is bought offline and in the UK it is even more. We do not have to grab market share from our competitors, the faster that people move to buy online, the faster the opportunity is growing.”
The company has raised the money needed for the investment in the UK and elsewhere by welcoming a number of new investors including Gert Jan Munneke, well known in the Netherlands for his success with internet businesses. "We were looking for an enterprising investor who adds expertise, who knows what it's like to go through a tremendous growth and who also knows the online media landscape very well. Gert Jan is such an enterprising investor," says Scheffer.