Forty years after Moshe Gerstenhaber introduced print franchising to the UK through the launch of Kall Kwik, the organisation is still going strong.
Like nostalgia, it is not what it was. At its peak there were more than 100 Kall Kwik outlets and another 180 Prontaprints under the same group ownership, while today there are 43 or so Kall Kwiks and no Prontaprint franchises left. However, the model and the shops remain relevant and, says franchisor Nigel Toplis at a lunch to celebrate the anniversary, there is a process of bringing in new franchisees to replace those that have bowed out.
As always there is a mix of managed shops and owner managed shops, but the set configuration of small offset press, finishing and on the spot production has changed. Each operation is likely to have a mix of services driven by local conditions and the customer mix. Unlike Prontaprint, which appealed to a walk up audience, Kall Kwik has always focused on B2B customers. If nothing else, says Toplis, they are more likely to return than a customer ordering invitations to a 50th birthday party.
The smallest unit today would be around 65m2 comprising a small digital press and finishing equipment. The print itself can be outsourced either to a larger printer or to another member of the franchise family. The largest operation currently is in Chiswick with 280m2 and four-colour litho printing for its own customers and serving a number of others in the group. Others will be strong in website design, large format display printing.
“We encourage centre owners to look at other related revenue streams,” says Toplis. Those owners continue to be drawn from all sectors: a trained comp in Yorkshire to those that are changing career or investing redundancy money. Success is a factor of enthusiasm, a desire to be out meeting customers and building a business, not adroitness at printing itself.
If this were the case, nobody would turn to Kall Kwik for simple print, say business cards. “We still print millions of business cards,” says Toplis. “But we think of them not as business cards, but as communication devices. We have to add value through speed, through and through sensory impact.” That might come through a product like the Xerox Iridesse or Duplo’s DuSense embellishment printer. “Compared to when we started, customers are more demanding, more sophisticated. Today customers come in knowing what they want, so the way that we service these customers has changed.”
Toplis had led the franchise operations until 2002, then returned to buy the master operation in 2012. A number of owners have moved on since then, and 5,000 printers had closed. But the biggest change has been the growth of camaraderie among the group. "It's much more about we are there to help drive their business one step further. The one that actively embrace this fare better than those that are not as active. This is a people business. People buy from people.
“The foundations of this business are very sound. There’s no reason why we can’t go on for another 40 years.”