What a year we have just said goodbye to, and I think 2016 is certainly a year that is going to reshape some of the ways that UK business is conducted in the coming years.
Over the Christmas period I got pretty fed up listening to too many negative variations, mostly alcohol enhanced, on what Brexit is going to mean to the country. I have a more positive view on what can and should happen in our market. This is driven by the fact that our print and graphics industry does need a bit of a wake up call and realise that in recent years we have been racing to the bottom of what is unsustainable and, maybe, just maybe, refocus on quality of output and services that can put us back on top of the pile again.
It wasn’t that long ago that UK print was seen as the prime example of what other countries should aspire to in terms of quality and value, but unfortunately the mad world of commodity has diluted much of what is good about our industry. Well, I for one think that we still have massive opportunities to grow and develop our business and rather than the benign focus on the square metre price, we should be looking at how we can aspire to do better with the technologies and skills we have in front of us.
I have seen some great instances in 2016 of how we can use the latest technology together with our sometimes forgotten traditional skills to produce world class results. A fine example last year of what is possible when technology, human skill and quality collaborate together is the work of Levon Bliss, photographer, and Fulham based Genesis Imaging who produced mind blowing micro sculpture imagery, printed on their Jetrix flatbed UV inkjet printer. The time, skill, care and attention taken by both parties provide some of the most amazing images I have seen in quite a long time, even though I am not a fan of bugs I have to admire their work and ingenuity.
A few months ago I met the directors of Brilliant Media aka ithastobebrilliant.com and was blown away with their refreshing vision and the way they have repositioned their business to offer much more than a standard print provider. The skill, entrepreneurial spirit and determination they have shown has to be admired. I recently saw that they won a well deserved award for business initiative. What a brave and “brilliant” example of what is possible in the UK if we put our minds to it.
Despite all the non productive negativity and bad mouthing between our wonderful politicians and financial gurus the end of the world is yet to materialise. It may get a bit tough at times in the next 12 months but we still have the skills and ability in our industry to rise above, but not totally ignore, the commodity markets and succeed by not bowing down to it.
We have the tools and skills in the UK so let’s rediscover our mojo and enjoy the benefits of doing so.
Happy New Year!
Newer, faster, better - is it really worth it?
When it comes to the performance of the items we buy, I wonder if we are really getting the best possible value for money, or are we, unless we pay over the odds, just getting dumbed down versions of these products? If so, could this be due to manufacturers’ driving for a quick profit, or maybe even a lack of funds for product developments in the future?
This really hit home to me for the first time a few years ago when, with the aim of providing the tax man with less of my earnings, I decided to buy my own car after many years driving company cars. I looked at an Audi and was offered the option of a standard model or at a much greater cost the same model with higher brake horse power. There was very little other difference between them mechanically; in fact they both had the same engine.
Worrying about the thought of not having enough acceleration to overtake safely, well that is what I told my wife, I tried to negotiate with the Audi salesman. After some time and, probably at the end of his patience, he advised me to buy the standard version and shortly afterwards to get the engine “remapped” to the sports level by a third party, thereby saving in the region of around £3,000. He clearly had a sales target to hit on that day and I was his last chance. I bought the car and nearly purchased some go faster stripes to go with it but I had the car de-badged instead due to suffering a mid life crisis at the time.
Even more perturbing, I am now the owner of a Volkswagen with the emissions issue. VW have now recalled the car to have a software update so that it complies with the specification on the brochure. The really good but annoying part is that the update will not change the performance, fuel consumption or emissions level. So why the hell don’t they just edit and re-print the brochures? Maybe that is too late or too easy!
Getting back to my performance restriction concerns, I have to consider the regular announcements from inkjet printer manufacturers of new, better, faster, higher performance models of printers that were launched less than two years prior to this. I have begun to wonder whether or not the same methods used by car manufacturers are being applied to these “new” machines.
Of course, re-invention can at times be better than evolution and, with less development costs, it can certainly make manufacturers much more profit, plus provide new ink range sales revenues. However, over night these new models will probably put the user of the “older” generation printer behind new buyers, or could have they just have a dumbed down version of the new model?
I see that Roland DG UK is now doing this with its Roland VersaWorks Dual RIP software whereby the new RIP is available to customers buying a new printer and, admirably, the software will be made available to other Roland users across a wide range of machines as a free upgrade in due course.
More manufacturers should be doing this, and wouldn’t it be a good thing if the manufacturers older models were really only just a software tweak away from the newer versions. If so the manufacturers could probably offer, at a minimal cost, a software upgrade similar to those offered by RIP vendors.
This may all be a bit too simplistic but I think that the principle is quite sound. This could be a progressive customer focussed practice and would certainly improve customer brand loyalty in readiness for when the manufacturers do have real improvements to announce.
I won’t hold my breathe in the hope that this could one day become fact but I will in the meantime keep my eyes on the road and continue to improve my overtaking technique.
Print shows promise at Print Show
This year has been a little different for me, instead of exhibiting at shows, my knees and back have had a well earned year off and I’ve spent some time visiting a selection of digital and design shows in search of some new ideas and marketing ideas.
I didn’t attend The Print Show last year, probably because of my disappointment with IPEX the previous year. So I braced myself and visited on the 1st day.
The show had made some real efforts to generate interest even to the point where I had received a “Golden” ticket inviting me to win some prizes, Willy Wonka would have been proud. It would have been even better if the organisers had printed the hall number of the entry tickets as I fancied a walk from the car park of a lovely sunny morning.
The bus was surprisingly full on way from the car park to the halls so I had a positive feeling that some of my misconceptions were going to be put to rest. Getting off the bus the group of us made our way to the hall however, to my concern, quite a few peeled off to visit the Dementia Show which was very busy in the hall next door.
On entering the show I was pleasantly surprised to see how busy the front stands were and more surprisingly inkjet solutions such as OKI and Mimaki were to the fore in what I had assumed would have been a litho and digital dominated exhibition.
I did my usual trip around the perimeter stands which in the main were the typical small booths with service orientated companies. A couple of companies did stand out as they were offering sales and marketing training and consultation services. I haven’t seen this for a while and found it refreshing that real people are making a difference in what has become a business world where self tuition via the internet has become the norm.
There were a few last minute stands, one had a lonesome bewildered salesman with a only pad in hand and one poster on the wall but in the main the show was colourful and very professionally presented. As I delved further in to the aisles it became even more apparent how inkjet hardware and supplies companies had made a real effort and making the show a really good mix of digital and traditional print processes. It may be a little early for this show to provide these companies with a good return but as with the inkjet growth in the screen/sign market their attendance must have been worth the effort.
I have a lot of history with the NEC having worked there at numerous exhibitions in the past, including more than one IPEX. Their food halls have always left a lot to desire in terms of atmosphere. After a couple of hours on my feet I was really grateful to find the Printer’s Arms and be able to sit down and have a beer and sandwich in an environment which for a change didn’t feel like a school dining hall.
I was at the show for nearly four hours and it was busy throughout that time. I have to say I actually enjoyed my time there. You rarely hear me say that about a show although I have to be honest that some of my enjoyment came from seeing some of the companies from my Litho past along with some old faces still plugging away with enthusiasm.
On leaving the show I reflected back on my misinformed assumptions of what I was about to experience. When I got back to my office I had a look at the show website again just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything and while sifting through the details I read about the relocation of the show next year due to the date conflict with IPEX.
It will be a terrible shame if the outcome of the show’s move to the International Centre in Telford damages the show’s impetus as did IPEX’s disastrous move to the Excel in London, a last venue for many ex-shows. I’m sure there will be quite a few people keeping their fingers crossed for them.
What’s in a name?
I am still quite amazed how many people are not aware what the “eco” bit of Eco Solvent ink stands for. Many users believe that it stands for Eco as in “green” and when they are told the real meaning - economy, not ecological - they are surprised and almost feel cheated that they weren’t told this in the first place.
To most people, "eco" means ecological. Full or True Solvent inks nearly always have a strong odour. Generally an eco solvent ink has little or no odour and doesn’t contain any harmful ingredients. The solvents within eco solvent inks are usually biodegradable and able to be broken down within the human body. However, just because an ink has no odour it does not automatically mean that it can be used in a normal indoor environment without extraction systems in place. You should always check the manufacturers product description sheets or with the manufacturer regarding ventilation requirements when using any kind of eco solvent ink.
I don’t think the suppliers can’t be held totally to blame for this as it is the purchaser who should have researched it more thoroughly before they bought their printer.
There have been and still are many descriptions of inkjet inks that aren’t totally accurate and I recall one supplier a few years ago who made some outstanding claims about the wholesome contents of their citrus based inks, but from what I was told at the time the only wholesome element was the smell, if you happen to like that type of thing?
Today, apart from Eco Solvent, there are several new inks or new versions of existing inks that tend to confuse users with their names or marketing descriptions. “Hybrid” UV inkjet inks seem to be a quite popular description at the moment and from what I can gather this means that they are a combination of UV and solvent chemistry, therefore when compared to the previous versions these ‘hybrid’ inks seem to have more UV and less solvent in their make up.
The ever evolving REACH regulations are probably to blame for some of these changes together with the learning curve that the manufacturers are going through with the challenges of adhesion to the substrates.
Latex inks are another good example of where customers can get confused about what they are buying. The great story around Latex is that it is a water based ink, which is absolutely true. The base chemistry is water and latex is derived from trees. However, I am still surprised by how green they are claimed to be when you consider how many people are allergic to latex, and on closer inspection of the material safety data documentation there are a few other additives that could be considered, and probably are, non water-based chemistry.
I’m sure there are much more qualified scientific people who can justify all of these ink properties but it would be great if the true description was printed on the tin so that everyone is absolutely clear on what they are using. In defence of the manufacturers and sellers of the inks, the documentation is usually supplied, or at the least made readily available for customers to examine. That said, I would expect that most customers are like me and the chemical formulas appear to be in a very different language from what we use every day, so not exactly a good bed time read. It is probably true to say that customers (during the exciting purchasing process) hardly ever take enough time to pay attention to what it is that is printed on the proverbial tin to take much notice, so there is also an element of blame on everyone’s part.
“What’s in a name” certainly rings true in the fast changing world on inkjet ink. Just keep in mind that not being able to smell something doesn't necessarily take the devil out of it, and the devil here is clearly in the detail.
People don't buy what you do
During a rare quiet moment I sometimes remind myself about the motivation that lies behind what I do, and why, in both business and in my personal life.
Working with customers can be a great experience; profitable for both parties given the right circumstances but each parties aims, success and rewards can be viewed in many ways.
The justification of why we do what we do is so fundamental and an important differentiating factor for many businesses, as well as being a huge factor for us as people. One thing is for sure, it’s not difficult to empathise with someone who believes in what they are doing.
Is this important? Yes, because our human instinct very often draws to people who believe in what they do and sometimes what we believe in. A good example is Martin Luther King. He didn't go around telling people what they needed to change; he simply told them what he personally believed in. Believers in turn told others and spread the word. Some 250,000 people turned up on the day of the Civil Rights march, very few showed up just for him. They actually showed up for what they believed in.
For example, I am not one of the best shoppers in the world, my wife can vouch for that. However there are times where I find myself wanting to purchase something that I may not have planned to buy because of the first class customer service I am given by a knowledgeable and passionate sales person who clearly believes in the products they offer. Their genuine personal recommendations convey how much they believe in what they are offering. Obviously they are working there to make some money; they could do that anywhere, but they have clearly chosen to work in that business and with products they believe in.
I know I could probably buy similar of the same products online for a much cheaper price, but their personal passion and belief has real value to me and I am a great believer that people buying people first before the products they are selling. Of course it is a bonus if you wanted the product in the first place!
People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
It is worth considering that no one else can get to where you need to be before you. This may sound confusing at first, but when you consider that we all have an entirely different set of circumstances and experiences, it starts to make more sense. These circumstances and experiences help us to shape our life and our decisions to get us where we need or want to be. You can't get there quicker than someone else because we are all on individual paths.
It may be worth considering why you do what you do, you may surprise yourself.