MANROLAND SHEETFED HAS SOLD its first press in the UK since the company’s administration and subsequent purchase by Langley Holdings more than 18 months ago.
The press is a four-unit Roland LV704 and it will be installed in December as the key piece of equipment for fashion house David Nieper in Alfreton. The clothing company has maintained a workforce of 230 textile workers rather than outsource production of its womenswear and is now to bring inhouse production of its mail order catalogues and other collateral. The company is already thinking about printing wrapping materials and boxes with the press.
THE CLOTHING COMPANY PUBLISHES eight 28pp catalogues in English, German and French for customers in this country, Germany, France and Switzerland. The £12 million business generates all its sales through mail order and has thousands of customers across these countries, buying through the printed page or its website. The catalogues can have a print run of up to 600,000, previously produced in six batches of 100,000. "We will now be able to make amends during the season. Printing in house means we can print exactly the number we will need to mail in the next period, perhaps 5,000, perhaps 20,000," says managing director Christopher Nieper. "It is just in time, very lean manufacturing print."
THE BUSINESS WAS STARTED 50 YEARS ago by his parents and for the first two decades sold its nightwear via independent outlets. In the last 25 years the focus has shifted to mail order and more recently the internet and to an expanded range of garments with a move up market to target affluent professional women who want well produced clothes "that make the customer feel absolutely fantastic". During this period the company has worked with a number of printers, preferring to establish partnerships with them so that errors such as German covers applied to Dutch language body sections do not happen. "However, the printers we have used over the years keep going bust on us," he says.
The emphasis on direct sales has allowed the company to build its reputation for high quality clothes away from the hurly burly of the high street. It has meant the company has been able to continue to source from the UK and use the best in European fabrics while the rest of the fashion industry has switched to outsourcing and arms length production, "as recommended in management guides" Nieper says. "The received wisdom is that it is too expensive and too complicated to manufacture in the UK. Now it's the best possible thing that could have happened and there's huge strength in being able to say Made in Britain."
THE COMPANY HAS ITS OWN photo studio and has produced its own artwork, investing in Digital Cromalin and latterly Epson printers to ensure the quality of the proofs. It also handles all mailing from its head office. Filling the gap with its own printing press was not such a great step, Nieper explains. Everything else from design through creating the templates, cutting and sewing is under its own roof. There is also a call centre focused entirely on its own needs. An 11,000 sq ft building will become the print operation. It has been buying its own paper direct from mills for the last 15 years having discovered that printers could not order the right paper in time for lack of credit worthiness.
Nieper worked with an independent consultant to draw up the specification for the press and to run the print tests. Quality was the prime criterion, which he suggests was not what press suppliers were used to when selling to cost conscious commercial printers. The environment was also a key issue. It has solar panels on the roof and rainwater collection and its location in the centre of Alfreton means most staff can walk to work. This led to preference for a low energy press, but in tests the Komori H-UV could not match the quality of the Manroland press.
"THE PROCESS TOOK THREE OR four months," he says. "We had to stress that our business is about quality and service, which are more important than price. We needed the print to be the highest quality possible. The catalogue is our shop window." This swung the decision away from the Japanese manufacturer towards the UK owned company. The press is ready for Manroland's LEC low energy curing UV system when it is ready for commercial release. Once ordered the manufacturing time has been a further five months.
The press will be joined by equipment from Hawthornes, the most recent print supplier to close. As well as finishing equipment that is already a match to David Nieper's needs, it will take on some of the staff. "We have done the calculations and we can make this pay even on just one shift - we do not need to run 24 hours a day," he says. "And while the internet is a big channel for us, we think we will need printed catalogues for a long time yet."