Pureprint Group has been one of the few printing companies in the UK to achieve significant growth in the dark days since 2008. This has been the result of a conscious strategy to diversify its products and services beyond its traditional litho printing roots. It is now preparing for the next stage of growth.
Today it has extensive litho, digital and wide format inkjet capacity spread across three sites in Uckfield, its packaging operation Abstract in Dunstable and large format business Imprint in Newcastle.
By recruiting some of the best specialists in the industry Pureprint now offers seven service lines, instead of one, each with its own team of specialists.
A London office and four other sales offices are located across the country to provide personal service and the group employs over 400 people producing a turnover of more than £60 million this year
After over £20 million of investment in the last five years, there will be more significant investment in 2016. Two new Speedmaster XL106 presses (configured in a way that will be unique to Pureprint) have been ordered and will be installed in a new press hall in Uckfield in the new year, freeing what had been the original Beacon Press factory in Uckfield to become a digital only plant with an additional digital B2 press.
It currently has two HP Indigo 10000s. At the same time the new integrated Tharstern MIS system will start to show its full influence on the operational side of the business.
However, according to chief executive Mark Handford, Pureprint’s success does not depend on production capacity and new machines.
“It is all about the people,” he insists. “We now have teams of people who are experts in different markets and have complementary skills and use their extensive specialist knowledge to give customers a personal and innovative service which sometimes includes ground breaking solutions.”
Many have come on board from good businesses that have failed to make it through the recent difficult trading conditions in the industry: Pattersons in Tunbridge Wells, Westerham Press, Abstract in Dunstable, Butler & Tanner in Frome, EPC in Bristol and most recently from 1st Byte.
As a result Pureprint has a unique blend of experts from across the industry who are regularly asked by customers for their input and opinions on new projects. Maybe it is a sign of the value of this skill base that the company receives over ten sales inquiries a day from prospective customers contacting the company for the first time.
Over the two hours of chat with Print Business about Pureprint's plans for next year, Handford receives four such enquiries. “One is for a high end book, two are from charities, another is from an energy company,” he says.
“We decided that we have to have experts in whatever area we wish to develop,” he says. This approach shaped how Pureprint moved into point of sale printing, he explains. “
We were all for starting our own large format business. We’d found premises and the equipment and then realised that success was about distribution and installation of what we produce, not just the printing. We then knew we had to bring in experts.”
That fell into place late last year with the acquisition of Imprint, just days after Pureprint became the fourth print company in the UK to receive a minority equity investment from the Business Growth Fund, the fund set up by the main banks to work with the UK’s leading fast growing businesses, with a turnover of £10 million to £100 million.
Imprint is unquestionably expert in large format printing for retail businesses, with flatbed inkjet and screen printing capacity. It has added substantially to Pureprint's capabilities. Pureprint produces catalogues and marketing collateral for many high street and luxury brand retailers, but had never been able to produce point of sale work internally, although the two print companies had worked together previously.
Anthony Thirlby is another undoubted expert in his field who has joined Pureprint in the last year. He came on board as chief operating officer of the group earlier this year having transformed the fortunes of a printer in Swindon, by creating a clear focus on maximising production efficiency.
Through detailed analysis he managed a reduction in the number of process variables, increased automation, and used measurement and information to create visibility and continual improvement.
Printers from across the world beat a path to Swindon to view the impressive results and among them was Handford who visited two-and-a-half years ago.
Thirlby left Swindon in 2014 and started an international consultancy business sharing his knowledge and experience with a long list of printers around the globe but he was then attracted to Pureprint.
He says: “The appeal for me here is the complexity of the Pureprint business which has more sales channels to market than any other printer I have come across.
“Pureprint is very good at a wide range of printed products from high end bespoke to point of sale, packaging and many more. The chance to make a difference within this exciting business was too good to miss.”
His task is to build on the technical and sales strengths inherent in the business. “It’s about trying to develop what has made the business so successful,” he continues, “and take it to the next level using the latest software, technology and training.”
A key area for the success of the business in the future is customer service and being able to respond quickly in the appropriate way. The investment in customer service has been substantial over the years and now the new Tharstern business management technology will help the different sales and service teams look after a wider variety of work and make the right commercial decisions.
The work can be very different. Pureprint handles everything from high end creative work that requires the input of skilled technical staff who guide the customer through a complex end to end production process to commercial and web to print work which requires new low touch, sometimes hands-free workflows.
All projects run along side by side, something that few in the industry have even considered attempting. Experience suggests that if Pureprint's innovation with this is successful others will be look to follow.
“We have become a multi-platform business,” says Handford. “This means a customer can start with the retail team and access the book production team when required, or a publishing customer might need large format print for example.”
The strategy of recruiting expert teams with experience of distinct markets where they have earned the trust and respect of customers means there is an unusual level of product and process expertise in the business.
The options seem endless and everyone needs to understand how the different business strands interlock, their impact on each other and they need a clear understanding of the work flowing through each of the business units.
Technology through MIS and automated workflows is increasingly supplying the teams with the answers.
Thirlby's intimate knowledge of a wide range of production processes and his understanding of the capabilities of the Tharstern MIS means that he has been the ideal person to champion the installation of the new system.
“There is a lot of disruptive time in any print business so one of the keys to a sustainable business is the pursuit of continual improvement in every part of the business,” he says.
The backbone to the next big step forward for Pureprint is the installation of a completely new MIS which will eventually be used across the entire business, offering complete transparency across every operation and customer, every piece of production equipment and every job.
It will provide the figures to measure what is happening in all parts of the business and is already allowing Pureprint to run web to print work, commercial work and creative work alongside each other, with the appropriate value and costs applied.
It will monitor sales success through KPIs for quote to order transformation, and produce up to the minute forward loading.
Thirlby has also been able to leverage close relationships with Heidelberg, Tharstern, Kodak and HP Indigo to add a degree of sophistication to the new MIS that means the system is the first of its type in the world. This should ensure that the strong growth of the last few years continues in a sustainable and efficient way.
The current Pureprint culture started with the acquisition of Beacon Press by East Sussex Press. Beacon had built its reputation on high quality print and a commitment to sustainable ways of working that led the industry.
East Sussex Press in contrast had grown from a local jobbing printer with an attitude of never declining a job. Over a two-year period the companies gradually came together.
“When people talk about the different cultures we are assimilating now, they forget that we have done this before,” says Handford.
“It is 11 years since East Sussex Press bought Beacon. We were perhaps not the first to make an acquisition, but we were perhaps the first to try to merge two businesses that came from very different cultures across two sites into one. We gradually brought them together. It gave us a blueprint of how to do things.”
The combined business became Pureprint, a major report and accounts printer as well as a big corporate printer handling large scale projects. In 2008 the company was still earning 100% of its sales through litho print.
The first HP Indigos arrived when their quality could be considered a match for litho printing. Now digital print accounts for 30% of the revenues across the group.
Pureprint, having been chosen as one of only nine worldwide beta sites for the Indigo 10000 B2 press (it was also the first UK site to have two of these machines in full production), is now a beta site for the latest colour control management technology developed by Indigo to ensure consistent colour quality between machines. Pureprint has also supplied a large proportion of the jobs in the sample room at HP Indigo’s HQ in Israel.
Among these is a personalised children’s book which exploded in popularity last Christmas. It required an all hands to the pump attitude to cope with the unexpectedly high demand. Pureprint's technical team delivered the workflow to handle the personalisation and files to the B2 Indigos.
“Few other companies would have been able to take it on,” Thirlby remarks. The work has now spawned a second book involving personalised mapping and images from Nasa to pinpoint the child’s address.
Along with the digital presses, Pureprint has built the necessary programming and data skills to handle this sort of project.
“Again it is about the people,” says Handford. “In 2008 we had no CTO and now we have a CTO and 12 developers. It has been an incredible investment. Data is the fastest growing part of the business. We are building workflows for all sorts of bespoke projects.”
There are more than 80 customers using Pureprint software to interact with different parts of the group, not always to buy print. The websites connecting Pureprint's project management arm, with customers are perhaps the most extensive.
One allows 20,000 insurance agents to log on and order items of branded merchandise as well as printed forms. Print is just part of the solution.
“Print is just the introduction to what we can do,” says Handford. What Pureprint can do is becoming increasingly complex, hence the need to introduce the new MIS. The legacy MIS system could no longer be patched and stretched to accommodate the complexity of the business, leading to the decision to start from a clean sheet for both the MIS and the digital workflow that goes hand in hand with it.
The project has meant persuading Tharstern, sometimes with late at night calls and emails, to effectively create a bespoke system for Pureprint.
This bolts on to the Kodak Prinergy workflow using a rules based approach to automate the journey a file takes between receipt and output in whatever location and to whatever device is needed.
“This is as bespoke as it gets,” Thirlby continues. “Nobody has ever done it like this before. It is highly unusual to put in an MIS during a phase of sales growth. Mostly it is done to replace people. This is all about enabling a faster time to market to protect the margin in the business.”
Consequently there will be different rules applying to the different product types.
“It’s about understanding the product in the market. How we position it and produce it. There is a position for someone to be the provider of choice in all markets. That creates its own challenges, but they are exciting challenges. There are some huge benefits to come next year.”
He has spent the time since joining the business rising to those challenges. “The team we had did not have these skills,” Handford admits. “This was going to be a world first.”
The existing MIS had grown up with the business, bolting features and functionality on in an unplanned way.
“It had become unworkable,” says Thirlby. The legacy system was swept away. He called on the suppliers that he had worked with in his previous job, namely Tharstern for the MIS and Kodak for the production workflow. Both accepted the opportunity, despite emails that might drop in the middle of the night.
Software will be used to route web to print work directly to output. This includes files received as a result of the deal with Saxoprint. Initially this will focus on rapid turnaround digital print, but with the potential to expand into other product areas and perhaps to customers elsewhere in Europe.
“It is not just about offering what Saxoprint has on their website. It’s about other products as well that require a fast turnaround,” says Handford. For example, Saxoprint's managers have been to the factory in Sussex and have shown interest in some of the case binding capability that Pureprint has.
Commercial print will require more intervention than web to print, but less than is due for the creative work where retouching, careful colour prepress and passing on press may be required.
The new MIS is already showing that the ideal work combination is a mixture of all three types of work. Pureprint is now successfully developing an appropriate workflow for each job with new levels of automation being introduced by the company's technical team every week.
The aim is to recognise each customer’s requirements so that “we give what they want at the right price that is right for them” Handford says.
In short the system is about building on the customer service reputation that Pureprint has acquired through its teams of specialists.
As an example of this bespoke approach the company has become a substantial supplier of overnight City research printing for a major bank. While not thought of as a printer for research reports and overnight work, Pureprint was able to show that it had a strong solution.
It had capacity that could be prioritised in the evenings when these pagination heavy jobs have to be produced, and it had a team that understands the requirements of a sector that has been short of suppliers since the loss of the Chris Fowler International arm of Service Point when it failed two years ago.
“We were able to create the capacity in the evenings which meant we could service this market and we have the people that used to work for Pattersons who knew what was required,” says Handford.
There is a similar opportunity to bring more work to Imprint outside the few months in the year when retail creates a big sales spike. There might be some link to packaging, a market that Pureprint is keen to exploit.
“The demand is coming from higher end retail and brands who want to develop packaging that makes you want to pick it up and touch it.”
Much of this is coming from agencies and brands in London so Pureprint is planning a small production unit able to create single or ultra small batches of packaging and perhaps a 3D printed model of the product itself.
The idea is to be able to respond quickly to the requirements of customers in this rapidly developing market. The people taken on from 1st Byte will help provide this service as well as introduce new contacts to the group.
The project is far from finished. Handford talks of a five-year plan for the business. There is certainly no pressure from the BGF investors who are in for the long term and Handford has appointed a non executive chairman who has helped sharpen the professionalism of the team and forced people to explain actions in structured terms, mirroring the approach to production.
The improvements continue. Tharstern training has begun for staff at Abstract; Tharstern is working on new elements of the software; Imprint has a strong customer facing interface that is being deployed elsewhere in the group.
None of this would be possible without the progress that Pureprint has made so far and the financial clout that this has given them. The journey continues.
Thirlby reckons the potential is truly exciting. “We have the scale to do something special here,” he says. “It’s important to provide the wings through the automation platform and then this business can fly to another level.”
In the digital finishing department, Print Business editor Gareth Ward and Pureprint director Richard Owers discuss the finer points of finishing personalised books with Pureprint's operations director Ian Godden.
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The headquarters occupy what was the original Beacon Press B2 litho factory in Uckfield.
Next year this site will become digital only.
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The Tharstern MIS bolts on to the Kodak Prinergy workflow using a rules based approach to automate the journey a file takes between receipt and output in whatever location and to whatever device is needed.
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Having been chosen as one of only nine worldwide beta sites for the Indigo 10000 B2 press (it was also the first UK site to have two of these machines in full production), Pureprint is now a beta site for the latest colour control management technology developed by Indigo to ensure consistent colour quality between machines.
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