It all used to be so much simpler. Offer a strong service to your customers, produce quality work, keep them happy and then, hopefully, establish a relationship that leads to further projects.
Sadly, times change.
These days it’s no longer enough to offer a strong service to potential customers. With increased competition stretching the Scottish print industry to breaking point a lot of printers have resorted to the tactic of undercutting each other on price, a tactic that can ultimately be damaging to the industry as a whole.
Others, however, are choosing to redefine how they approach new business. Instead of attempting to win a contract on the basis of providing the cheapest quote, several Scottish printers are focusing on creating a point of difference in order to make their offering more attractive to potential customers.
Mike Hislop, operations and communications director at Edinburgh-based Summerhall Press, remarked: “The main issue we’re facing is the overcapacity that the industry has at the moment. Schedules are tight and margins are getting tighter. What more printers are doing now is expanding their offering. We’ve been expanding our digital print service with our Indigo press. It’s a great advantage to us.
“Also, the internet is more and more becoming a means of selling. We’ve got a lot of customers who are buying print online. I think more than anything that’s going to be the future of the print industry.
“I would say the perception of the internet as the enemy of print has reversed now. We’ve got a contract with a client to produce business cards and the internet is an ideal way to do that. They typeset the details themselves and then get the cards in 24 to 48 hours. All they do is say what they want and how many they want.”
Summerhall’s investment in digital technology has particular relevance to the direct marketing sector, as it provides the ability to produce much more targeted material.
“We’re going down the route of doing a lot more personalisation,” explains Hislop. “It means that every copy is a unique copy. It’s an area that an awful lot of marketers haven’t taken up on. People still think of personalisation as being a different name on the envelope, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Making effective use of databases, we can actually print publications that are tailored to individual customers using the Indigo press.”
“We set up five years ago and everyone said it was the wrong time to set up, but it’s all about finding a niche in the market,” says Franklin Clark, sales director at Irvine-based print production company Pawprint. “I think you’ve got to be a lot more innovative for your clients. There are a lot of people in the print industry that are very stuck in their ways. They have set products they can sell and they’re not necessarily interested in what the clients actually want.”
Clark also believes that, as the industry gets increasingly more competitive, some printers can be guilty of panicking, leading to unnecessary investment in new technology. He said: “I think there’s too much panic in the ranks, when it comes to investment. There’s a lot of panic over investing on machinery that you don’t particularly need. The main challenge is maintaining your place in the market.”
Kevin Creechan, managing director at Glasgow-based J Thomson Colour Printers, believes that Scottish print companies should be evolving outside of the label of ‘printer’. He commented: “If you’re pigeon-holed as a printer that’s fine, but it offers no potential for enlarging your offering to clients.
“We don’t just market ourselves as a printer. We try and offer the whole service where we can do anything from A to Z within the printing sphere. We try to encourage our clients to focus on their core business and let us take care of their print.”
Creechan also maintains that, with deadlines getting tighter, a key advantage can be provided by ensuring that the company has the best and most up-to-date technology available.
“One of the things we do here is we have a very aggressive reinvestment policy. Our oldest piece of printing equipment is two-and-a-half years’ old.
“Turnaround times are becoming less and less and if you don’t have the latest equipment that is capable of delivering then you won’t be getting the business.”
Attempting to provide an edge, something that competitors aren’t also offering, has led the print companies of Scotland into various different areas. Paramount, a print company specialising in envelopes, has found that the ability to provide environmental solutions to its customers has proved an advantage. Sales director, Gordon Hunter said: “I’d say that over the last couple of years the environmental aspect has really come in. It used to be ‘Have you got an environmental programme?’ Now it’s ‘What will you do, what are you doing with your organisation to help the environment?’
“I think when we look at a lot of the companies we deal with, they don’t have landfill capacity now. I also think they’ve got one eye on the media as well, making sure that they don’t get reported as ‘Company X wastes this amount of paper every year.’ If we can put an environmentally-friendly aspect in our tender it tends to help us.”
The company has recently been contacted by one of its suppliers to say that there will soon be biodegradable parts available to incorporate into its envelopes, providing a further environmental advantage to its service.
Whatever the strategy being undertaken by different print companies, the message seems to be the same: that the market in Scotland isn’t getting any bigger. Creechan said: “I think it’s been extremely competitive in the last five years, and there’s no sign of it letting up. What I do think is that the weaker printers are falling by the wayside. There’s still overcapacity in Scotland.
“Undercutting on cost is still a definite problem. What tends to happen is that companies who are struggling from a cash point of view figure that the only way they can bring cash in is to be cheaper. It’s their only route into the customers. When there’s this over capacity in the market that’s always going to be a factor.”
“Part of my job is to visit other printers because we are trade printers for the other companies,” remarks Hunter. “In the last month I’ve seen around 50 printers in Scotland and seen maybe four or five happy faces. That can be very bad for us, of course, because we get a lot of our business from these companies. People commission us to print their envelopes because we have specialised machinery here to do it quicker, but when there’s less work going through the other printers tend to do it themselves.”
The last couple of years have seen several casualties in the Scottish print industry and, if some print companies are continuing to exist solely on a cheapest-quote-wins basis, then there will probably be several more to come. However, the companies that are concentrating on separating themselves from the crowd and providing something different, whether it’s increased personalisation, the latest technology or environmental solutions, should soldier on. Perhaps the industry will emerge stronger as a result.