Change or be changed
Brian Tracy says ‘In a time of rapid change standing still is the most dangerous course of action’. And I would agree. Because if we leave ourselves open to waiting for the market to pick up, for demand to increase and for customers to return, we will be exposed to the changes in a market. We will spiral out of control and most likely become victims of the market.
In any industry there have been paradigms shifts, where the normal way of existing has changed in response to the forces of the market. We believe that a paradigm shift is that towards industrial print production.
A key driver for both technological innovators and print production companies is economics. Why? Because it is becoming too hard to make money in traditional print production, and the industrial sector is the next logical and most compelling leap into a new revenue area.
Stating the obvious, it is clear that the traditional print markets are contracting and not providing exciting opportunity for growth for most print companies. Even in markets that have a small growth trajectory such as in graphic printing, in terms of actually making a profit, this is getting harder and harder.
But just how hard is it for a traditional graphic printer to migrate applications from graphics into industrial? Is this a natural evolution? Or will it require a revolution in thinking? Well the answer to that is probably a little bit of both.
The reality is that the competition within the graphics sector is so fierce that making money out of graphic production, unless you are in a dominant position in the market is very hard indeed. It is a very mature market. So if you are thinking where the future might lay, you might want to think about industrial applications.
But how easy is it to make the transition into another sector? If you are currently printing graphics, I hate to be blunt, but you won’t suddenly be able to transfer into state of the art industrial functional printing within the 3C sphere (communications, consumer electronics or computing) but you may, with the aid of digital inkjet, be able to make the transition into surface imaging (textiles, ceramics, wood, décor, furnishing) by having a plan, experimenting with different surfaces and connecting with new potential customers.
What this requires is trial and error, and a shift in thinking and behaviour. The chance is that you may already have some kit that will enable you to decorate different surfaces, especially if you have a flat-bed machine or such like. This is technically classed as ‘industrial’ although you may not be printing industrial volumes, you will find you will get more money per square metre because you are not fighting a cost per sq. metre for a banner or poster graphic.
If you are a ‘push button’ printer, you may find that it’s too much of a leap. It will require some technical learning, but more than that, it will demand that you sell to a bunch of people who are not necessarily going to exist within your current circle. You will need to do this in order to take yourself into a new sector. InPrint will focus upon where technology is changing markets, adapting to new demand and delivering innovation for customers and manufacturers. You could use your existing technology differently or you could deploy new technology to unlock new potential. Some of the same technology owners who produce graphic technology are making industrial kit also. Their experience and help could be invaluable to unlocking new markets.
We are in a state of constant change, and those that make a leap into trying something new are most likely to be successful in the long run. We are not suggesting that you ignore your past or indeed get rid of your core revenue streams, but remaining wedded to one application area is not sensible, especially when that area is getting tougher, growth is limited and margins are increasingly difficult to achieve. Try out something new!
So a visit to InPrint in Hannover, Germany 8-10 April 2014, requesting our white papers, market intelligence reports and so on may be a good idea. The fact is InPrint is gathering a lot of support because, as I said, it is commonly accepted that industrial provides the best opportunity for growth for print technology.
So join us and take a look into the future. Or fail to change, and be changed, by market forces.
Director & co-founder of InPrint 2014
How to put more profit in your till
John de la Roche is national sales manager for Hybrid Services Ltd; Mimaki's exclusive distributor for the UK and Ireland. Here he tells us why a visit to Sign & Digital 2013 can put more profit in your till.
So - the high point of the domestic exhibition season is upon us, but how valuable an exercise is it in leaving the office for the day to visit? Is it as much of a ‘must attend’ experience as everyone says?
Well, yes, it is! We'll be there, alongside lots of other major manufacturers from the sign and display equipment industry. We've invested a significant amount of money to be there and committed a lot of time and effort to be part of it - and with good reason. It provides a superb opportunity to get everyone together under one roof, to primarily present the latest opportunities available to our ever expanding market, and I say 'opportunities' with good justification. Sign & Digital UK is all about helping businesses involved in the rapidly widening markets that can be served by the various technologies on offer to capitalise by offering new products to their customers. We're keen - understandably - to see investment benefit businesses but it's a tried and tested model and it's always a pleasure to see familiar faces visiting, researching and re-investing, year on year.
You've got the internet to do your desk research, you can talk to your peers over lunch or in the pub, you've probably got a decent idea what your competitors are up to, but there's really no substitute for seeing first hand what's new and exciting. Given the amount of TV programmes, magazines and websites devoted to the automobile industry, there's got to be a good reason why the Geneva motor show and its compatriots get so much press. It's where the great and the good get to see what's going on, and, admittedly on perhaps a slightly less glamorous scale, Sign & Digital UK is where it's at for our sector.
Hybrid will be there hosting three substantial product launches and with FESPA just around the corner, that's quite some coup for the show. We're not alone - there's plenty to see that's new and exciting from machine manufacturers, software companies, ancillary kit suppliers, material vendors, solutions resellers and more, but it's not just about the deals to be had. What we're seeing more of - and liking more too - is the whole education thing.
A day out of the office needs to see a return on investment. Gone are the days of sloping off for a lazy trip out - there needs to be a value transaction and if that's returning with new knowledge, better skills and workflow ideas, then it's a bargain.
Add in some investment in new kit and it becomes really worthwhile. Keeping up with what's new is important in business. It gives you an edge, it helps you deliver your ideas and it helps to look after your customers. Better, closer and cleverer.
If you find out, as a result of a day out at Sign & Digital, that your existing solvent printer can do more than the vehicle graphics that you're currently printing on it, six hours a day, five days a week and that you can fill another couple of hours a day with canvas prints, die cut decals and corporate clothing decoration, then that's power to your elbow - and profit in your till.
If by visiting the show you discover the latest materials that help you win a contract because they tick the eco box, or that make your fitters work faster, do a better job or simply save you a few pounds on each job, then the tank of diesel it cost to get to the NEC was undoubtedly a good investment in itself.
At Hybrid, we look forward to meeting Mimaki customers over the three days for a coffee, a chat and a catch-up. It's a great opportunity to keep abreast of things and spend a bit of time together, but we also relish the chance to meet new companies – start-ups, entrants into the market or companies seeking to grow or change tack – and introduce them to new ways to grow their business. We're ready to take time to show what we've got, listen to what you need and work together to find the right solution and for those companies to be able to do that with so many leading suppliers is a hugely enticing proposition.
We really look forward to welcoming you to the show. It'll be my 23rd and while they've all been slightly different and there have been plenty of changes over those years, there's a common thread that runs through my memories - three days a year of sore feet and a sore throat, but it's worth it! We'll see you there.
John de la Roche
Hybrid Services Ltd
Fortifying your finances
Ian Carrotte is the proprietor of ICSM Credit, a subscriber-based service dedicated to the UK printing industry. It operates an online credit circle for thousands of printing businesses, swapping information on those customers who can’t, or simply choose not to, pay their bills. Here he outlines procedures to help PSPs to better fortify their finances.
It was hoped that 2013 would be the year we start to see a perceptible move towards economic recovery. Unfortunately, to date, there is little to indicate any real improvement.
You have already streamlined operations and added to your services but what can you do now to continue to fortify your business? At ICSM Credit we would suggest that at the top of today’s to-do list is keeping a very close eye on your cash flow. After all, it is the lifeblood of your business.
Once defaults begin and late payments are inevitably followed by non-payments you need to ensure that you have the correct procedures in place to survive.
In 2012 printers that didn’t lost a total of £6.5m.Those that did take definite action but required additional support turned to ICSM and we helped them re-coup a total of £15m.
Crucial to our success and the safeguarding of our members, was timely action. This was made possible by carefully adhering to clearly established procedures that enabled operations to document issues as they escalate to build a strong and irrefutable case.
Creating a firm credit control backbone has never been more important. The recession has been so long and deep that any recovery throughout 2013 will be slow, requiring businesses to be ever-more vigilant of slipping payment schedules.
Our industry has one of the worst credit control histories of all, with terms often being as long as 120 days. At the moment ICSM is trying to recover debts, which went overdue six months ago. We believe anything over 30 days overdue is too late, it can be recoverable, but it will prove extremely difficult. Many printers agree 90-day terms, which is too long, some businesses have since moved to 7-day terms. That, mixed with ineffective claims, creates a troubling combination.
Printers, encouraged by the recession to diversify and expand into areas including cross media and marketing in search of new revenue streams, are, as a result, moving away from traditional print and the usual customer base. Very often this involves entering new sectors and business practices that are not so well known.
Companies may also be more stretched because of their broader reach so customer contact, crucial in keeping abreast of changes, may slip. Credit checking is vital to identify any potential causes for concern. By addressing issues like cash flow or order book problems early enough, businesses can stop them from escalating.
So what should you do? Firstly, regular credit report checks, even for longstanding customers, are vital to give you an up-to-date picture on their financial health. Just because you know them doesn’t mean their bank balance is rosy – look at this year’s high profile casualties such as Jessops, Blockbuster and, most recently, Thomas Cook.
Effective collection of timely payments is vital, no matter how large or small the customer. Ultimately your responsibility is to protect your business. The consequence of not acting for fear of losing your customers’ goodwill could force closure of your business then any goodwill will be worthless. It is how you do this that can make all the difference.
Too many people fail to identify exactly whom they are dealing with and this leads to the write off of hundreds of thousands of pounds every year that could have been avoided with a simple credit check and a proper credit application form.
Agree terms with your customers and ask them to move to BACS payments. Revise your relationship with them regularly and be aware of any changes in the market place that could have an impact.
If a customer becomes overdue and there is no indication of payment the next step is to send a legal letter. In cases where this isn’t enough a debt recovery service is required and the involvement of solicitors. If payment is still an issue using third parties, such as ICSM Credit, to chase debts can often result in faster returns. The debtor is more likely to recognise and respect that it is your company’s professional procedure and pay the money owed.
There will be no quick return to the halcyon days of print particularly as the recession has driven down costs and encouraged customers to look at alternative methods of getting their message across. Printers need to adapt their offering while, at the same time, ensuring their customers can and will pay their invoices.
The importance of a dealer network
Deciding how best to sell products to the customer is an important decision for any manufacturer as Brett Newman, technical director at Roland DG (UK) explains.
The process must be beneficial to both the customer and the manufacturer – the manufacturer’s brand needs to be reflected positively and the customer must feel confident they are purchasing the correct kit for their business.
At Roland DG, we have experience of both selling direct to the customer and through a dealer network and there are a number of reasons why we believe selling through a dealer network is best. Having worked in the dealer channel myself, I appreciate the importance of a good dealer/end user relationship and the positive impact a dealer can have on the end user’s business. The relationship is one that can transcend that of just a supplier. When a dealer gets close to the customer and truly understands their business and output, they can take on the role of business consultant as well as supplier, advising the end user of the necessary kit and equipment that works with their business strategy as well as for their production requirements.
Selling through a dealer network gives a manufacturer confidence as you know your products are being sold by experts who are in a position to offer customers the very best, bespoke advice. Roland has a strong network of dealers who fully understand our brand and products and have been operating in the wide format field for many years. As such, we know our dealers are able to recommend the most appropriate product from our range, and advise customers on how to get the best return on their investment. Our dealers are extremely knowledgeable of both the state of the market and developing trends and, as such, are able to advise customers how a machine can meet current needs as well as how the machine can be utilised to expand their range of applications at a later date when they want to expand their business.
A dealer network also enables a manufacturer to effectively reach and get closer to customers across a much wider geographical area. Roland is based in the south of England and our doors are always open to those who would like to visit us and learn more about our machines and consumables. But we appreciate that it is not always possible for all of our customers to visit our HQ. This is where the dealer network comes into its own. Our prospective clients throughout the country are able to visit one of our many authorised dealers within a 90 minute drive for a demonstration and to discuss their requirements. This is a major asset in the sales process.
Another benefit of a dealer network is access to complimentary equipment and consumables - whether it is trimmers and laminating machines or inks and media - for all the creative needs of the end user. Dealers are able to provide an integrated system to fulfil the end user’s business demands, and also advise on suitable media for applications and application techniques. The dealer can act as a one-stop-shop for all printing needs and offer advice on the consumables that work best with the end user’s machine. The relationship between the dealer and the end user is one of a true partnership where the support given to the customer is rewarded by loyalty to that particular dealership.
All in all, a dealer network provides personalised, on-going support and consultancy for customers. Roland is always on hand to provide support through our initiatives such as our RolandCare warranties, technical support and training courses at the Roland Academy, but a dealer is an extra, and very important, link in the support chain. Through a dealer, end users can get local support should they have any queries, and also have easy access to the latest kit via dealer open days and events which are often held at their showrooms.
Roland DG (UK)
Informa now to deliver a crystal clear plan for Ipex 2014
Following our Editor’s World article ‘If Canon can, anyone can’, Ipex 2014 event director Trevor Crawford exercises his right to reply.
Managing the complex and rapidly evolving situation that has unfolded with regard to Ipex 2014 over the last eight months has certainly confronted us as an event team with some significant challenges. Clearly, the event has been affected by a series of withdrawals from major vendors, both digital and litho. Each of these exhibitors has a unique set of reasons for their business decision, all of which have been widely reported and debated.
In light of this, we invested late last year in a substantial research exercise among exhibitors and visitors to understand the wider trends impacting Ipex for 2014 and beyond. We undertook 114 qualitative telephone interviews, followed-up by an online survey which elicited 1600 international visitor responses, with the geographical spread representing the UK, Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
Our mission was to clarify how exhibitors wanted Ipex to evolve, and to identify the opportunities that matter to printers, both in the UK and in the other geographical markets served by Ipex. We summarised our findings in a White Paper - ‘Developing an Event for a Changing Global Print Media Communications Industry’.
From that White Paper we went on to set out a clear strategy for Ipex; to focus on the digital technologies that are undeniably driving growth in our sector, and to build on our cross media expertise to shape Ipex into a thought leadership event for the print-centric multi-channel marketing communications industry . We believe that this positioning clearly differentiates Ipex from other events in the European graphic arts calendar, and it was widely welcomed by our exhibitors, including Canon.
While highlighting the well-documented decline of litho equipment sales in Europe at the expense of digital, our decision was certainly not to exclude litho technology from the event – that decision had effectively already been made by a number of major litho vendors, who had stated clearly their focus on emerging markets outside Europe.
Nor is it our intention to focus on ‘digital printers’, since we all know that most print service providers operate with a mix of digital and analogue processes that complement one another – it’s a long time since I heard a visitor define themselves as a ‘litho printer’. Indeed, we still expect 80% of visitors to Ipex to be commercial printers, the majority of whom do of course still use litho equipment (although our research tells us that digital investments are now their priority. We do intend to highlight how digital technologies can support the integration of print with other elements of multi channel marketing.
As a team, we are of course shocked by Canon’s decision. As we have seen over recent months, no exhibitor is ‘cast iron’, but Canon had been highly engaged with us and contributed positively to discussions about our event strategy. As their statement said, Canon has previously had two successful shows at Ipex.
As we communicated yesterday in response to this decision, we will now collaborate with all stakeholders to determine the role Ipex has to play, and will communicate more as soon as it is appropriate. We believe that it is only through close dialogue with our stakeholders that Ipex can continue to meet the needs of printers and their suppliers in 2014 as it has done for the last 100 years. That dialogue has been ongoing throughout this period, and will continue.
We understand that many commentators – like yourself – will look to Informa now to deliver a crystal clear plan for Ipex 2014. Rest assured that that is our priority, both for our committed exhibitors and for the market at large, which has derived so much from Ipex over the last century.
Trevor Crawford, Event director, Ipex 2014