NUR gets its bounce backSimon Eccles visits NUR's European HQ in Belgium to ask how new MD Andy Middleton is approaching his role. With some relish, it turns out.
New managers, new markets and the prospect of profits mean that NUR Macroprinters is anticipating a good year in 2008. Although its share price is still pretty low and may yet be blown off course by wider world financial turmoil, its financial projections are that it will go back into the black during 2008 for the first time.
NUR went through a bad patch in the early 2000s and share prices plummeted, but it's been introducing and selling new superwide/grand format machines all along. Its reputation for reliability has recovered, losses have been steadily reduced, while revenues have grown, for instance from $71 m in 2005 to $78 m in 2006. The operating profit in 06 was $0.8 m, against a $10 m loss in 2005. It's likely that 2007 will just stay in the red before fortunes improve next year. "The gains have mainly come by improving efficiency and manufacturing," says Thibault Dejaiffe, European marketing manager.
Andy Middleton is one of the new managers. He joined as managing director of NUR's European operations in April, a few months after Mark Packman joined the USA office as MD. The company is now running Europe as a separate marketing area from the Middle East and Africa.
A Mancunian with a couple of decades of experience in digital pre-press and printing system sales, Middleton worked for Screen in D?sseldorf before joining Indigo in its early days some 12 years ago, ranging across sales in the Far East and South America. His home is still D?sseldorf but during the week he stays close to NUR's European headquarters in Louvain-la-Neuve, south east of Brussels, where Image Reports interviewed him after six months in his new role.
Spirit of success?
As HP now owns both Indigo and NUR's looming competitor Scitex, he's definitely gone over to the other side now. "Why move to NUR? People, product, process. NUR has Rolls Royce products and it's the leading wide/superwide company," he enthuses. "This is one of the most exciting areas in print. When I see what our applications people are coming up with, it's fantastic. NUR has the same spirit as Indigo had prior to HP."
However, he's realistic about NUR's position and what needs to be done. "There are issues on how it is taken to market, ie the NUR organisation. Some of our competitors are very big, such as EFI VUTEk and HP Scitex. So I wanted to establish a physically bigger presence. NUR recognises that it has great products but the brand is not strong enough. That's why 12 months ago it appointed a new MD in the USA, and then they took me on Europe in April. It's mainly all new upper management for Europe."
Middleton has been reorganising sales and support across Europe in his first few months. He brought in another former Indigo colleague, Glynn Evans, as director in charge of the engineering support in Europe. The number of service engineers in Europe have been doubled since then, from 11 to 22 by the end of 2007. He's also appointed Thibault Dejaiffe as European marketing manager - he's done the job before and very effectively, but he's spent the last couple of years heading up sales in France.
More UK presence
"We've hired two new sales people including Steve Larkin, also ex-Indigo, and we'll have two sales people for the UK from January. We're in a position to attract talent. There will also be a new UK channel announced, a UK dealer. Just the one, with a specific market segment. We already sell through Repro Center in Ireland."
"In 2007 we expect a 50/50 split between direct and indirect sales," Middleton says." Most direct sales incremental, ie existing users. We're also expanding geographically - by the end of 2007 we will have a presence in Russia, which is a big market for billboards - bigger than the USA because there's less regulation out there. It's a Russian dealer, but there will be a NUR person there too. That will complete our growth drive into the market for now."
The reorganisation is backed by new machines and technologies. "We are focusing on the areas we are good at: roll-to-roll and flatbed. We aim for the lowest cost per square metre on with UV and we will drive down the cost of UV printing to be comparable for solvent applications. We've started in this direction with the Expedio Revolution, which is our flagship."
Bullish talk, but it seems to be backed by results. "We're seeing real growth on terms both of units sold and ink usage now," Middleton says. "The sales of ink show the health of the users - the more ink they buy the more print they must be selling.
The Expedio roll-to-roll UV range has been launched over the past 18 months, taking in 3.2 and 5.0 metre machines. Roll-to-roll UV is still a relatively new technology, but it's the latest 5.0 m Expedio Revolution that really stands out.
It uses a combination of NUR's own UV ink plus modifications to the curing, he says. "Our formulation lets us get twice as much coverage per litre as previously on the Revolution, meaning it's twice as efficient as normal UV ink. Even ordinary UV ink has four times the coverage as solvent, but obviously it costs more too. I believe that sales in wide and superwide will be driven by the lowest ink costs. With the Expedio Revolution costs we can kick at the heels of HP Scitex solvent printers.
"The higher ink coverage we get is a combination of the ink recipe and the printer hardware, both the ink delivery and the curing technique. This is a very new development and already we have doubled the coverage. In future it will also be available for all the other NUR Expedio UV products."
New technologies, new applications
NUR is taking its new technology very seriously to push into new markets, Middleton says. "We expect to see a migration from solvent to UV, due to the costs and our own very strong UV-substrate compatibility that will allow jobs that were not possible with UV before. So we'll be able to capture still more of the screen print market. As happened with the Indigos, new applications will appear for UV cured inkjets that were not possible with older technologies.
There's another new development on the way NUR to address this, he says, but he can't give away any details yet. It's likely to be announced at the Drupa print show in D?sseldorf in May, where NUR is planning a bigger presence than at FESPA Digital.
The emphasis on Drupa is because NUR believes that big growth is about to come from the commercial print market. "Colour is not a trivial issue when dealing with big worldwide brands," Middleton states. "Some of the people from a sign background don't have the colour knowledge. We're seeing commercial offset printers, who are already set up for colour control, taking a big slice of large customers' spends for multi-format campaigns. By putting in wide format they can hang on to all of the print business instead of outsourcing. Wide format is much higher margin work than offset, so they want a piece of it. So the offset guys are either buying wide format for themselves or they are buying into other companies. All they have to learn is the finishing side and it's not all that different to offset."
That's not to say it's easy, he adds: "One of the major earning points in the business is the application and erection stage. It's as least as important as the printing stage. Most of the successful wide format and superwide users are also experts in assembly. Their logistics and delivery teams can be larger than the printing staff. Imagine the planning needed to deliver localised posters to 300 UK supermarkets all for display on the same day when they open at 9:00 am."
FESPA is currently still the more important show to NUR customers. But Drupa will be more relevant to our drive into the commercial market. It's already proved itself: at Drupa 2004 NUR sold an Expedio every day on average, for more than two weeks, even though it was only a technical demonstrator at the time!"