(l-r) Stuart Gilmour of Stand, Paul Sudron of Elmwood and Graham Borstead from Inglis AllenCheap deals and exotic locations are the norm in this day and age when it comes to booking a holiday. The moment you arrive at your chosen destination you are bombarded with goods that are usually much cheaper than at home. But is it really the best quality that is available and, because it is cheap in a foreign country, does it mean you stop buying it when you are back in Scotland?
The issue that has got printers talking is not the cheapest cigarettes that they can find at a lower cost abroad. Instead, the advent of print management and cheap print available abroad are taking their toll on Scottish print firms. These days designers and production managers are faced with smaller budgets from their clients, which in turn means that they need the cheapest deal from the printer. This has had a knock-on effect on who the print buyers are getting their print from and, more often than not for some, the most financially sound option is to go abroad.
But what is this doing to the Scottish print industry? Most recently, one large printing firm – DP21 (formerly Ditto Print) went out of business before Christmas, and there are few within the print industry who would admit that the outlook is bright for the forthcoming months at least.
Alistair Marr, of Nimmo’s Colour Printers, insists that print management firms coming into the marketplace has not affected the company, as the print runs designers are looking for are not big enough for orders to go abroad. He comments: “We don’t normally have to compete with work going abroad, due to the print run that the designers are looking for. And I think that is probably typical with the print runs in general. Naturally, I don’t like the idea of our work going abroad and would like to keep it in Scotland.
“Designers are always looking for something different and I think that we can offer that. They want a specialist technique and the maximum creativity available at a good price and that is what we supply.
“I would say, though, that the majority of designers out there don’t need to use print management companies, due to the size of their print runs, but there have been one or two jobs that have gone abroad in the past year that we could have done. I suppose that is the nature of this business.”
However, some would disagree with this statement. Print management is having a negative effect on the business insists managing director Nick Thomson of Thomson Colour Printers. He believes that the damage done to the industry could be irreparable. He says: “Personally, I think that it is a shame that so many companies do not support the Scottish industry. The industry is suffering really badly. Print management is about screwing the Scottish print industry for as low as the printers can go, but at the same time they are also making about a ten to fifteen per cent profit on top of this. But, print management is only one of a number of problems dominating the industry currently.
“There is tremendous pressure in the industry, as everyone is borrowing too much, is not getting the clients and the cash to balance the books and firms are therefore taking any work they can in order to make some money. That means that there is no re-investment in new technology.”
However, Graham Bowstead, managing director of Inglis Allen in Kirkcaldy, argues that employing print management firms can actually have a positive effect on business. He comments: “Business is tough at the moment, it is fair to say that. And, because of that, there has been a growth in print management. They offer not a difference in quality but a service to their customers that they might not have got from the printers, whether it is a service factor or perhaps the price.
“We do deal with print management companies and have good relationships with them. There is a place for everyone in this industry from the printer to the print manager to the customer.”
But do clients benefit by taking the work abroad? Does the quality of the work suffer by farming the work out to other countries? Paul Sudron, design director at Elmwood, believes that the quality is the same wherever you take it. However, he admits that local printers do offer more specialised work. He comments: “We have used print management firms in the past for pretty specific jobs. We have also bought print from abroad – in both the Middle East and Italy and I have to say that we might do it again in the future. They can give us very specific work at a much lower rate than we would over here. But we have never had much of a problem, there are always proofs available and with technology as good as it is now we can get things sent straight to them as soon as possible.
“We didn’t, however, get the foreign print firms through a print management company; instead it came from word of mouth and recommendations. I think that you see what others are doing,who they are working with and what kins of deals they are getting and you speak to designers – find out what they have been doing and take it from there. Overall though, I don’t think that you will find that much of a difference in terms of the quality of service that they are offering. I do think that the real benefit is if you are doing larger jobs, then you can really save some money.”
Stuart Gilmour, creative director at design agency Stand admits that he has used foreign printers in the past simply because the price is cheaper and the quality of service that he gets is on a par to what is available in Scotland. However, he is critical of the state the Scottish print industry is currently in, commenting: “When we have used foreign printers in the past it has been because the clients are working on a really tight budget and they are looking for the best deal possible. But there does not seem to be any real investment in technology. I would say that in Scotland these days there are only a small handful of really good quality printers about. The rest are all workaday printers who are simply scraping a living by printing the basics. I think that most have felt the pinch over the past few years and are still doing so today.
“The standards have slipped in general in Scotland and that has meant clients are looking outside of Scotland, whether it is simply in the UK, or further afield, in order to get the best price and quality. There are some printers who, it seems, merely press a button and get on with it, instead of taking their time and really thinking about what they are doing. They simply want to get as much work as possible, but this in turn is making the quality suffer.
He adds: “Printers need to care about the service that they are giving and make sure that their client is happy. We have used print management firms in the past because I think that they can offer this. Really, what I think printers should be offering is good prices, a certain quality of service and excellent print work.”
Thomson agrees that there needs to be investment in the industry, but fears that many within Scotland are taking the easiest and cheapest way out. He says: “There is no investment in new technology and the industry does not want to buy new equipment. We are investing in new technology, as we know that in the long term it will make us more efficient and also, hopefully, make us money in time. There aren’t too many other companies that have that kind of foresight in the industry.
“The fact of the matter is that print buyers don’t really care where they spend the money as long as they are getting the best price, and also getting the quality needed for that particular project. And I don’t blame them for going abroad to do that. But we as an industry need to start to fight back against that or else where will the print industry be in the next five to ten years?
“The one person that will always lose out is the printer. The client gets a reduced rate and the print management firm will get a percentage of that too. The printer, meanwhile, has reduced their rates to the bare minimum and that leaves our industry in a bit of a mess.”