Monday, December 22, 2014

2015 – A Year of Opportunity?

Christmas is now upon us and the New Year is looming – so did 2014 deliver on all its promises?  And what does the future hold for us all in 2015?

Following on from the UKDPN Conference we were presented with research materials form two of the major players in the digital print market – Canon and Konica Minolta.  They looked at what the future holds for the digital print business.

Both offered similar conclusions regarding the future potential of digital print as a cost-effective business communication channel.

Their research concluded that the print community is going through a significant period of change, both technologically and structurally, and overcapacity remains an issue in many of the traditional print sectors.  Digital print, however, remains one of the bright spots with a number of opportunities for growth.

There is no doubt that the economy is still very much price-driven and there will be inevitable cash flow pressures during the early part of next year.  Recent global events are also likely to impact on potential business activity in 2015 and will make any growth in activity very difficult to achieve.  

My own view is that 2015 will be turbulent and the levels of business will flatten.  

Fortunately, the UK economy is in a reasonable condition to withstand the ramifications.

But we are now in an “instant world” where our customers seem to need everything tomorrow – which lends itself to fast digital print production.  The need for less wastage and better targeting will also make digital a very cost-effective communications option.

The Canon report “Building Your Future with Print” offers the more global perspective with a survey across 550 print providers in 25 countries.  Within Europe, the majority of respondents see an increased pressure to digitise and automate the print processes.

Almost half of all mentions were adapting to the increased use of digital technology to meet customer demands for more full colour, short run demand as a result of increasing time and cost pressure.

Print is still seen as a better method to communicate with hard-to-get customers, promoting quality and is more likely to be read than email.  This makes a lot of sense, as outlined in the last blog about Christmas cards - it is always better to receive something tangible than a digital message.

Web2Print is set to be the strongest growth area in the next year.  According to this report it has grown over 50% since 2012 and both providers and customers see web2print as offering greater convenience, speed and cost savings.  More and more customers are now in a position to produce their own artwork.  So there are some obvious benefits in not having to travel to visit the print provider in person and using an automated order process system.

The Konica Minolta “Digital 1234 White Paper” follows a similar theme.  The research claims that 20% of print companies are succeeding whereas 60% are static or stagnating and the bottom 20% are experiencing a marked decline in both sales and margins and are in danger of disappearing before too long.  The vast majority of printing companies are still running twentieth-century business models around outdated production systems in a twenty-first-century digital world.

These businesses will have to adapt to printing more jobs, in shorter run lengths with much faster turnaround times.  Otherwise, these print providers will only have a limited amount of time before they too become increasingly uncompetitive and are priced out of the market by more efficient suppliers.

The conclusions are stark – basically there is a need for most print companies to reduce costs and become more efficient.  Investments in the automating of the workflow and introducing web2print reduce the administrative costs of handling orders.  In terms of sales development, investment in data management and cross-media technology are seen as two avenues to explore.  This moves printing businesses along the path to become full service communications providers.

Apparently the move from being operations-driven to innovation-driven is a hard but necessary path to take for future development.

The one main omission from their analysis is the evaluation and cost-effectiveness of each of the developments proposed.  Will you generate sufficient returns from the investment?
Similar conclusions were drawn some years ago about the potential of wide-format printing.  Although the market grows and continues to grow – the suppliers are working in a market where there is considerable over-capacity and as a result,  prices are often fractionally above cost without sufficient margin.

Based on our own discussions with printers at the UKDPN conference – some who have taken the first steps into cross-media have yet to see any tangible return on some substantial investment.

In terms of online printing and web2print.  The advantages are obvious.  It will make it easier for customers to integrate their systems so they can submit orders, proof online and have real-time updates and information.   Using web2print allows the print provider to process a large number of small value print orders in a B2B or B2C context.
And in my view this is the main point.  It is often the larger print providers and customers who have adapted to web2print so far.  However, the country is still dominated by SME’s who have not yet taken up the potential benefits and it is this type of company that offers the real growth potential for smaller print providers.

2015 will offer some great opportunities.  The results will not be immediate and will require patience and considerable investment in time and money for little short term financial gain.  However, the benefits will be felt in the longer term.
Most SME’s will soon be demanding fast and convenient print ordering or will be migrating to those suppliers who can offer this type of service.  There will always be a need for face to face transactions but this will become cost-effective for only the larger print orders.

E-commerce solutions are moving too fast for the majority of print companies to keep up with but web2print many alternative solutions can be purchased “off the shelf” at very good prices and are unlikely to be quickly superseded.

The challenge ahead is that printers will need to have to develop the new skills and adopt a new communications channel to survive and grow.

2015 is likely to be a tough year and there will inevitably be casualties and consolidation.  The smaller or faster moving companies are likely to be the ones to prosper in the year ahead.
Being able to handle more transactions, quickly and cost-effectively will be the key to success.

I am really looking forward to it but not before a well-earned two week break..
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Print wins again!

The death of print is continually proclaimed, yet even in this digital age there is something irreplaceable about being able to touch and feel something that is real and tangible.

Printed material still has a place in our online world.  When radio arrived everyone said newspapers would be dead and then TV arrived everyone said radio would be dead.  All that happened was that each medium shifted where it stood in the overall picture and then settled.  Vinyl records are making a comeback for a similar reason.

And nothing demonstrates the value of print more than the Christmas card.  

The first Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole some 170 years ago.   Costing a shilling each – 1000 cards were printed and produced as a luxury item for the wealthy of the time.

According to recently published research from One Poll, an overwhelming 72% of people preferred to receive a traditional card to any electronic festive greeting sent through social media channels, whilst more than a quarter of people either ignore or delete e-cards.

Cards tend to evoke memories and emotions – they are visually attractive (usually!), tactile, environmentally friendly and recyclable.  The Christmas card market is unlikely to die.  They are all about keeping in touch, keeping emotional connection, reaching out to spread caring and goodwill at Christmas time.

We have to be realistic that more and more of our customers are from the younger generation who prefer to click a few buttons on their mobile.  But there are certain people you would surely always get a card for?

The main priority for personal cards are family members – with over half saying a card to Mum (56%) and just under half (44%) saying a card to poor old Dad.  The growth cards are in the volume of single cards – where there was a value increase of £6 million, up from £148.4 million to £164.4 million.

As a business, our customers are the only reason we are able to grow and develop.  This is the one time of the year we can easily express our appreciation for their loyalty and support.  There is a strong case to be made to continue making this investment year on year.  We send out cards to our top customers in the year and with all statements in November and December because the postage is being paid anyway.

Despite the cost of postage, 50% who took the survey anticipated sending the same number of cards or more this year.  The Greeting Card Association estimated there were 800 million cards sold in the UK in 2013 worth approximately £200 million.  It is no wonder that they form such an important part of the seasonal decorations around the home.

Interestingly, snow scenes topped the popularity list with more than a third of recipients preferring a wintery image on their cards.  I am not sure what the results would be if a similar poll was undertaken in the southern hemisphere?

I also found this out too late for the design of our own Christmas cards this year – but will come in as useful research for the 2015 card!

Maybe, just maybe, they could even appreciate in value!

Apparently, one of those original 1000 cards sent by Sir Henry Cole to his grandmother in 1843, was sold at auction in Devizes, Wiltshire for £20,000 on 24 November 2001.  How many e-cards will ever appreciate in value?

Anyway, despite being a print business we will still send cards in every way possible this year – by post, by hand, by e-broadcast, even by social media.  This is not only due to quantities of people who now interact with an online business but also because of speed and convenience of online business communication.

But there is no doubt that print still wins – for this year at least!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The UKDPN 3rd Annual Conference

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Business Starter Pack Bundle Offer

Do you know anyone about to set up their own business?  

Do they work from home or need to “carry their office around with them”?
Then point them in the direction of our special BUSINESS STARTER PACK BUNDLE.  

We are offering a special package which should appeal to any start up business and particularly those that need to be mobile yet need to have instant access to customer and supplier information, correspondence or even possibly invoices. 

The package cost is £999 plus VAT.   This includes an HP laptop computer complete with wi-fi connection, pre-loaded Microsoft Office, Dragon Voice Recognition software and eCDocs Document/File Assembly and Management System.   

And within a period of 10 days you can be up and running with a new corporate identity, business printing, promotional printing and your own “Office in a Box” laptop computer set up for immediate use.    

The package consists of:-
  1. Free Consultation – discuss your business and marketing plans and we will give free and unique practical advice to help you along the way, as well as a large number of contacts in the key areas of support you may need along the way.
  2. Free Design – including the creation of a logo, free artwork for all the printing you order as part of the Business Starter Pack – including any stock photographs for any leaflets, brochures and promotional items ordered at the same time.
  3. An “Office in the Box” high specification laptop computer and administration system.  This will allow you to store and communicate to all your clients & suppliers quickly and easily. Every communication is stored and indexed for easy retrieval.  There are easy to follow video tutorials on YOUTube to help you learn the features of benefits of this package.     
  4. A £50 DISCOUNT VOUCHER off one of our standard Business Stationery Packs – which range from £99 plus VAT to £149 plus VAT with their relevant discount off any other printed products ordered at the same time.

We can extend this package offered to include a range of other products and services for a very competitive cost – including web site design and web and email hosting, basic accounting software to produce your invoices & statements and a range of digital marketing services that would integrate with your traditional marketing channels. 

This bundle would save you at least £500 if these items were purchased separately. 
The offer is only available in this particular bundle format until the New Year.
If interested contact me on 0800 0346 007 or email for more details.