18 March 2017 Business

Onlineprinters crosses Channel to pick up Solopress

A long standing relationship led to the takeover of a UK online printing leader by one of Germany's biggest online printers.

Onlineprinters.de has become the first of the German internet print giants to acquire a production foothold in the UK, buying Solopress for an undisclosed amount. It will open the way for next day and potentially same day delivery to Onlineprinters' UK customers.

Solopress has been one of the pioneers of online print purchasing in the UK and is now one of the largest in the sector, employing 225 from premises in Southend on Sea. Andy Smith and Aron Priest, co founders of Solopress, are joining the Onlineprinters board.

Priest says that the acquisition grew out of a long standing relationship between the two businesses. “It’s a great fit. By joining forces we can both cover a lot of different areas. The European players in this space are much more advanced than we are and the UK has a lot of traction and dynamism right now. That is attractive to the Europeans,” he explains.

The rapid growth in the UK is born out by Solopress figures. It has been growing rapidly, reaching sales of £20.9 million in 2016, a 30% rise over £15.9m posted in 2015 and £12.6 million in the year to April 2014. Pretax profit in that time has risen from £936,000 in 2014 to £1.68 million and £2.0 million last year.

It operates seven Heidelberg Speedmasters and five Xerox iGens from a plant in Southend on Sea. It has been expanding taking on additional factory space to cope with growth.

Likewise Onlineprinters has added factory space in Neudstadt an der Aisch, a town close to Nuremberg in southern Germany. It now has three factories around the town where it has more than 100 B1 Heidelberg print units, Indigo digital print and an expanding large format print operation. It ships print to more than 30 countries, including the UK, but has previously stuck to a strategy of serving customers from the one factory.

“The UK market is one we believe in,” says Onlineprinters CEO Michael Fries. “Solopress is a very well organised operation. Their focus has been slightly different from ours with 85% of orders delivered the next day. That is different to what Onlineprinters does.

“Would I like to have 25 different places to produce? No. We are not running around all over Europe looking for acquisition targets.

“It was not a question of searching for a target in the UK. We have been in contact with Solopress for quite a while so when the idea of acquisition came up, it came from the personal relationship. It is good to have Aron and Andy in the group.”

There is no pressure to change Solopress nor to impose Onlineprinters' technology on the UK business. Both have litho and digital printing and finishing that includes Horizon systems. It was to see this that led to the first visit to Neustadt. Many subsequent visits, flying Ryanair from Stansted early in the morning and returning that evening, have followed.

“Even logistically for the management it makes sense,” says Onlineprinters. “One of the characteristics of the UK market is speed of turnaround and next day delivery. In that sense the acquisition will help to keep others out of the market.

Solopress is close to London which is a big advantage for speed of delivery and this becomes more so as the market develops. Solopress is the perfect company for us.”

There are no thoughts about changing the branding of the business, nor any rush to makes any changes, though there will be discussions about how to exploit the larger and broader capacity that Onlineprinters has.

While it does not disclose trading figures, Onlineprinters has 600,000 active customers producing more than 2.1 billion printed items a year from a spread of 1,400 products and employs 650 staff. Solopress processed its 1 millionth order in October last year.

“We can learn a lot from the Europeans,” says Priest. And while that was part of the attraction, so too is the stake that Berlin investor Project A took last year in Onlineprinters. The Berlin venture capital group has investments in a number of online trading businesses, including the Lostmyname.com children’s publishing company.

The majority of the business, however, is held by Bregal Unternehmerkapital which backs businesses with strong management teams at an early stage of their growth. It bought into Onlineprinters last year.

Until now the growth has been organic, and that will continue, says Onlineprinters. “But in terms of personal fit and market potential, this deal makes perfect sense. We are really happy about it.”

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Andy Smith and Aron Priest

Andy Smith and Aron Priest

Solopress has been in touch with Onlineprinters since visiting the factory in Germany a couple of years ago. The relationship has continued culminating in the deal to acquire Solorpress and for its managing directors to join the Onlineprinters board.

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2016: Onlineprinters finds new backer as VC investor cashes in

2015: At the heart of a print revolution

2012: Solopress installs second Xerox iGen4

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