Some five years ago the UK’s dominant print franchise network of Prontaprint and Kall Kwik were under the same ownership and operated independently of each other.
The franchisees had expressed concerns about how the businesses were being managed. Gradually the network was beginning to disintegrate as more and more franchisees decided to work towards independence. Being free of paying royalties for no tangible benefit was the most obvious route to survival in a tough commercial market.
Eventually matters came to a head after a long legal dispute reached the High Court and the franchisees won their case against the franchisor.
The network was split into two sections. The parties to the legal case won the right to independence without constraining orders and were free to trade as independent businesses. Those who did not take legal action were also allowed to break away – although some decided to continue to operate under licence from the new owners of the brands and also benefited from the reduction in levy fees associated with franchising.
Those independent print businesses set up a new support network and last month organised their third national conference at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire. The organisation is the UK Design & Print Network. There are more than sixty separate independent print businesses run by a committee of volunteers who have been allocated specific tasks and responsibilities.
Having been involved in an entirely separate legal dispute at a similar time, Direct2Print joined this network some two years ago and have been pleasantly surprised by how so many independent businesses have combined for the general good of the group.
A forum provides an effective means of communication and offers a wealth of advice and contacts about all sorts of day to day matters that is missed by moving out of a franchise.
The only difference the annual cost of this membership is £100 compared to some businesses that had been contributing over £100,000 when part of a franchise network.
The conference highlighted the purchasing power of this group with a combined turnover of over £32 million. The major paper suppliers, software and hardware suppliers and a host of other suppliers sponsored the speakers and the evening function.
One digital print business had just won the National Business Award from Scoot, the online search organisation and was prepared to share “best practice” with the others.
There is an abundance of creativity within the group. Some have experimented and invested heavily in cross-media marketing and were more than keen to pass on their experience and highlight some of the potential pitfalls in this new market.
Web2Print was again the hot topic. Some think it is panacea for future growth and profitability, whilst others had hardly generated a decent sales enquiry from their expensive investment.
The general consensus was that print is not disappearing. For many concentrating on the digital print sector, volumes have been increasing year on year. Large display printing, variable data, mail fulfilment, stock warehousing and despatch are all areas of post-print add-ons. Web design is now within the capability of most print graphic designers and this opens new possibilities with digital marketing.
However, the underlying message was the importance of “sticking to the knitting” (i.e. staying with the business you know). What is difficult to understand is the very diverse nature of all of these “similar” businesses. Those operating on business parks are very different from those operating in a city centre.
At Direct2Print we a bit in both camps – although we have a strong retail client base we now depend on the online print market to grow. Our low cost operation and easy to operate online print systems allow us to market our service to a wide geographical area.
We have seen a 25% increase in sales turnover in the last 12 months. The next year will see another major new website which we believe will service our core business of fast digital printing.
A typical example of a new opportunity is the “Multiloft” extra thick cards that can be used for luxury business cards, invitations or wedding announcements. Through the UKDPN we were able to secure a 50% discount on our first sample order – an immediate saving of more than £60.
We are also working in partnership with a specialist digital marketing agency to promote online digital brochures, apps and other specialist services to both the public and private sector.
So, there is an abundance of opportunity for those companies prepared to build relationships. You come away from conferences, exhibitions or events such as this with a general air of confidence. You can feed off the creativity or ideas of others in a similar situation to your own. We are looking at a very positive future.
Print runs will undoubtedly continue to get shorter, deadlines are now measured in hours and not days and we will continue to depend heavily on email and the internet. But business is all about adapting and the members of the UK Design & Print Network have come up with some very innovative solutions.
For more information or if you are interested in joining why not have a look at the website and go to http://www.ukdesignandprintnetwork.co.uk/