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Trade Print Economy

With the industry proving more competitive than ever, Rob Fletcher investigates how companies can gain an advantage in business by branching out into the trade print market

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Wirralco offers a range of trade print services, ranging from smaller-format work, right up to large-format jobs

A roll of the dice?

It is no secret that both the sign-making and wide-format markets are enjoying their busiest periods in recent years. While companies in these sectors have been reporting an upturn in business, manufacturers have responded by supplying the markets with a seemingly endless supply of new technology.

Although this may be good news for the industry as a whole, a busier market means more competition for companies operating in the sector. Those in this situation may choose to look for other, slightly quieter markets, where they can use their knowledge and experience to pick up more work.

One market that provides such an option is trade print, with work in this sector ranging from smaller-format runs right up to large-format jobs. With this in mind, how are those companies already active in this market faring and what advice do they have for other businesses considering expanding into this area?

Connecting with customers

One company currently enjoying life in the trade print sector is Wirralco, which offers a range of services to the market. Lesley Graham, sales and marketing manager at the firm, says companies considering moving into this market should place a key focus on developing relationships with customers and helping them win new work, as this will ultimately filter back to your business.

Wirralco has picked out trade print work within both the small- and wide-format sectors as realistic targets for companies new to the market

“It is very interesting as a number of our competitors have entered a price war that has led them to having to develop direct sales which improve their margin,” Graham explains, adding: “For those like us who have remained fully trade only, I think the last few months have been quite challenging. However, as we know, the ‘less than cost’ model is not sustainable, hence the reason many have to start to sell direct which moves them away from their trade clients.

“We always try and develop a strong relationship with our customers, helping them win business and grow their portfolio of services without having to invest in new equipment and skills. I think that growth for our type of business is all about these relationships and how we help our customers sell more—rather than just being an impersonal commodity supplier.”

Wirralco covers litho, digital, continuous stationery, and large-format trade print production, and also boasts a full in-house finishing service, making it very well placed to pass judgment on whether expansion into this market would be a wise move for other companies.

Addressing those firms, Graham has this advice: “The investment is not just about expanding production; it is all about customer service and support—you have to be really focused on who your customers are and how they work with their clients.

“You are one step away from the final user of the product or service so you are relying on your customers selling what you so. I'm not talking about standard printed sheets here, but all the additional added value services, such as complex finishing and laminating, and even through to crossmedia and web-to-print. If you can cope with all that, then yes, it is a good market.

“Offering a trade service is so much more than just the cheapest price.  Of course, we need to ensure we are offering our customers a service that allows them to add a margin, but often we give advice that reduces costs because we have so much experience in the best way to produce a job. For example we might advise a different stock, a different layout or finishing process or even a different press and sheet size.
“A trade service is a full service to us and we want our customers to benefit from all our knowledge. It is all very well just looking for the best price on the web, but you often end up paying more in the long run.”

Ongoing growth

Another company enjoying growth is Venture Banners, which mainly focuses on the large-format sector. Scott Conway, managing director of the company, cites a transparent pricing structure and well-designed websites as some of the key reasons behind its success in trade print.

Conway comments: “We have actively gone out and offered our services to lots of printers that would’ve previously turned down large-format work. Our website and transparent pricing structure make it incredibly simple to include large-format print into your current portfolio of services and on that basis we are growing month-on-month, year-on-year.
“Most of our customers have their own printer but printing banners is not usually a valuable use of resources unless you are geared up for it. When you use us to supply such products, invariably it releases you to concentrate on the more profitable niche materials. We print 15,000 square meters of material every month, so we offer fantastic economies of scale and are most definitely geared up for it.”

Venture Banners prints approximately 15,000sq m of material every month

Conway, whose company was in attendance at The Print Show last year as part of an effort to target new customers and showcase its services, goes on to say that while Venture Banners is enjoying healthy business at the moment, it is critical for the company, as well as others in this sector, to identify future trends if they are to remain successful.

He explains: “The technology for large-format print, in my opinion, has plateaued in terms of print quality, new machines seem to be all about being faster or in the case of LED, more efficient. I am constantly amazed by the superb quality of work produced by our Vuteks and how quickly they churn it out. Of course, in terms of cost, they are very much at the top end of the spectrum.

Venture Banners focuses its trade print service on the large-format sector, utilising technology such as its EFI Vutek GS3250r

“I think over the next few years, the market will move towards textile. Textile print gives you a very rich finish and looks superb; the main issue is it’s still too expensive for most of our customers, unless it’s for a high-end retail store.

“We’ve been patiently waiting for the technology in dye sublimation printing to mature and with the advent of Mtex printers I think it is certainly getting there—so much so we have bought one, though since we are moving to bigger premises later this year. we have put off delivery until we actually move.

“Once the 3.2m Mtex is in place it is our intention to do the same with textile as we have done with our current product line up and make textile accessible for the entire print trade, not just the ones with customers with deep pockets.”

Seeking out opportunities

Looking to the future and picking out markets for potential growth seems to be a key consideration in trade print, according to James Barrett-Bunnage, head of marketing at Tradeprint. Speaking positively about the current market, Barrett-Bunnage says that those companies considering adding trade print to their service offering need to be prepared to adapt for change.

James Barrett-Bunnage, head of marketing at Tradeprint, is positive about opportunities in trade print, but warns that those in this sector must be prepared to adapt for change in the market

He explains: “The UK is the second largest European market for print, and the opportunities are clearly there. Yes, price is sensitive, but not always the prime consideration. Consistency, choice and reliability make the difference.

“The challenge is to adapt to a changing market. There is still huge potential for growth, and fundamental to that growth is earning the trust of offline print buyers with big print volumes who are not yet used to the benefits of online print buying. Customers demand a platform that takes care of business for them; one that makes it easy to re-order, to get quotes and to manage their print business effectively and efficiently. Tradeprint condenses the chain of delivery.

O Factoid: Trade print services are now very online-savvy, often with portals where the user can log on and have access to information such as prices, live order updates, courier tracking information,
and invoices.

“Typically, an end user would request a quote that was passed on to a sales rep, who responded with the quote. With our customer experience systems, we offer the opportunity to create a quote online, building a job and choosing service speed levels, then order immediately. Our low touch production systems take charge from here, scheduling the job and pushing it through the system towards a guaranteed delivery date. Low-touch processes, intuitive ordering and high touch customer care are the crucial factors.”

Tradeprint is one of many companies that has been able to alter its service offering to cater for an ever-changing demand from customers within the trade print sector

Barrett-Bunnage goes on to explain how Tradeprint has adapted its own services to cater for an ever-changing market, the development of which shows no sign of slowing down. He expands: “The online print market has evolved since the early years, when we were among the pioneers. Printers offered the products they wanted to sell; now the balance has shifted, as it has across the ecommerce sector.

Tradeprint is one of many companies that has been able to alter its service offering to cater for an ever-changing demand from customers within the trade print sector

“Informed and savvy customers demand the products that they want, and the online players have to respond to that demand. We believe that we are at the start of a new cycle in a service-oriented market. We are at a mature stage of development where true product innovation within the standard ranges is increasingly difficult, and the arenas of innovation are in completely new customised products and services.”

With so much positive talk about the opportunities available for expansion and growth in trade print, it is easy to immediately think ‘yes, that is the market for us, let’s do it’. However, as experts from three of the most successful companies in trade print have noted, you have to ensure that, firstly you are able to actually take on this type of work, as well as if there is a real demand from customers, as, after all, there is not much point in diversifying if the call for work is not there.

But, as Barrett-Bunnage noted, the UK print market is the second largest in the whole of Europe, and there is a real positive feeling about its future, so, if you are able to meet the criteria and your customers are calling for it, this move could very well prove to be a savvy decision.

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