New companies, particularly those entering the supplies channel, don't have many of the essential resources to get themselves established in the wide-format sector and machine manufacturers are reducing in their numbers as the large gobbles up the small to leave a honed down version of digital display print options as we knew them a few years ago. Some might grumble and say that, by streamlining and refining the source options for printers and associated materials and inks, choice becomes restricted and prices rise as a result. Others are of the opposite opinion as bringing the supply chain under the umbrellas of a few specialist companies means that the hitand- miss element is removed from ordering and that larger organisations have the ability to optimise warehousing and logistics, resulting in a broader selection delivered in shorter times with consistency in product.
We've been in a position where we've had materials' specialists taking on printing machines, and vice versa. These have been largely successful in their own right and there haven't been any major disaster stories leaving trails of bad memories across the industry. During the last couple of years we've watched Fujifilm make strong moves to consolidate its foundations in wide-format digital print and, although acquisitions such as Sericol and Dimatix might at the time have appeared to be poles apart, in truth these have made perfect sense. HP is no stranger to growth via acquisition, and Fujifilm isn't any different in wanting to maintain a steady growth pattern. However, where HP has stuck to distribution via channel sales for most customers, what Fujifilm Sericol has decided to do is to take on another business's successful sales formula and use it to go direct to the end customer. Historically, Fujifilm was formed in Japan back in 1934 as a government initiative to produce photographic film for domestic use and has grown steadily since then using acquisition and its own profitability to take firm hold on the pre-press and expanding digital markets, including graphic arts films and plates as well as other technological divisions. The Fujifilm eye was never far off the ball but two significant acquisitions added to its serious intention to become major player in the inkjet market. Following its acquisition of Sericol, the following year saw the purchase of Avecia and, of perhaps greater immediate significance because of its major position in print-head development and manufacture, also taken on board was Dimatix whose Spectra products need no introduction. The diversity of its acquisitions enabled Fujifilm to spread its net far and wide across the digital inkjet arena and it wasn't long before the company started being noticed as a major supplier of systems. Inheriting Inca Digital's machines as part of the existing Sericol distribution set-up, private label products started to appear on Fujifilm's stands at trade shows and, before long, the only missing link in the supply chain was a decent line of materials and finishing products. Machines need inks, and these come from the Sericol arm, with print-heads being accommodated by the Dimatix branch of the family. For Fujifilm Sericol there was already the realisation that screen-printing ink sales were starting to decline whilst inkjet alternatives were on an upward, almost parallel, curve. The company needed to position itself so that it could maintain its profits in the screen process sector but grow its digital business and the decision to move into system sales was complemented by wanting to provide customers with a complete package which included not only the hardware but also inks, materials, software and RIPs and full after-sales support.
Thus, Fujifilm has now made a shrewd move regarding channel and how it planned to create this interaction with its customers. This led to the acquisition of Colormy which, at first glance, might just appear to be a German supplier of wideformat products to the local market. However, the Colormy business model is an interesting one and its local market had proved to be a valuable test-bed for a formula that could work in other countries.
The history of Colormy is that of a family business which was formed 40 years ago to supply diazo papers to the architectural and engineering markets. This, ultimately, saw a move into wide-format when the company became the first in Germany to concentrate on this growing sector by forming an exclusive partnership with Rexam, now known better as InteliCoat. Martin Schnor, the son of the founder of Colormy (which is pronounced Colour-Me) who's been running the company for some years, has poured his own infectious brand of dedication and innovative marketing strategies into the business and turned it into a highly focused organisation. Today, under the Euromedia brand, the emphasis is on specialising in the entire wide-format market and its requirements for an efficient and consistent service package. The typical customer base comprises print service providers, sign-makers, screen-printers, pre-press specialists and photolabs, augmented by copy shops and exhibition contractors, plus agencies, photographers and fine artists. Based in Cologne, there are 80 employees with concentration being on consulting by phone instead of acting as traditional sales representatives. Colormy has its own brand, Euromedia, and 80 percent of the company's business lies in consumables for, after all, a printing machine is only sold once but is always hungry and requires regular feeding with inks and materials. What makes the Colormy business model so different? In addition to the fact that it has been driven by a man with a passion for the wide-format digital printing industry, it goes much further than simply acting as a sizeable repository for materials and inks. As Schnor points out, it's those added extras which are needed to complete a job that are so often missing - frames, nuts and bolts, banner stands and other vital requirements - not to mention help in selection and how actually to use all those elements which turn an unfinished application into the finished result, with the knowledge that it'll all fit together and work.
Schnor puts his belief in making his customers 'partners' and that, by using this approach, they can build up long-term relationships with the well-versed work-force at Colormy. Appreciative of the fact that all users of wide-format digital printing technology have a broad choice of suppliers, today it's vital to offer a few extra ingredients to the channel mix to ensure that existing clients return time and time again. With tight margins and strong competition, a direct yet flexible approach is usually the most effective. Strong product knowledge and how to achieve and finish a particular application is a cogent part of the sales mix, with all materials and components actually being able to achieve what they set out to do.
Successful in Germany, there is absolutely no reason why the Euromedia business model shouldn't work elsewhere and the appeal in Colormy to Fujifilm Sericol lay in the fact that here was a ready-made, established and well-proven sales and distribution operation which dealt direct with end users. The emphasis on branding has also been taken care of, as Euromedia has already become a familiar product name in Germany and should be easy to move to other countries. From Schnor's point of view, the acquisition of his company by Fujifilm Sericol acts as a tremendous complement to Colormy's current product offerings and will also enable this business to continue on its own successful growth path. Concentrating on the name Euromedia, what Fujifilm Sericol intends to do is to roll out the Colormy model to other countries, starting with the UK. But, in a segment which is ripe with suppliers not all of whom are doing particularly well at the moment, it needs to to offer something a bit different to make it a success and to enable it to grow. Competition amongst sales channels is fierce, with many dangling large and juicy carrots to tempt users to buy from them. Two years ago I carried out an independent survey on who buys from whom, where and why and the criteria at the stage that determined why people used a particular sales channel showed price and fast delivery ranking well ahead of brand loyalty and range of products. Despite this, end users want to know who they're dealing with, and prefer familiarity and good communications, which again, are part of the Euromedia mix.
Tempting though the lowest deals might be, there is usually a compromise which enables cost cutting to be effected in the first place; it doesn't take rocket science to work out that sourcing and selling low quality, offering little in the way of service and follow-through, will keep prices down. The principles apply everywhere, from domestic applications such as basic food and clothing supermarkets through to business environments. In any production industry, taking a rock bottom approach to quality can have nasty repercussions when the end customer is the one who has to suffer if it all goes horribly wrong. Quality doesn't merely lie in the product; it also needs to be an integral element in the whole purchasing process, including the people and the logistics involved.
Cynics might say that Fujifilm Sericol couldn't have picked a worse time for launching a new UK venture. After all, we're teetering on the brink of a recession and everyone is struggling. Conversely, a tougher economy should make print service providers sit up and work out ways of adding value to their orders, and this another area where the original Euromedia template can bring benefits. Schnor has watched and witnessed what people buying materials and consumables really want and their needs tend to extend beyond just buying a few litres of ink and some rolls of material. Putting together a complete application can involve various component parts, depending on the job, but even a relatively simple pop-up or exhibition graphic needs a frame and fixings that are compatible with the print method and substrate being used. With the Euromedia service proving to be a success in Germany, Fujilfilm Sericol has made the decision to target the UK next, and October was chosen for the launch of the new venture. In a sense it's a shame that it's fallen outside of our annual exhibition calendar but it gives the operation a few months to get stuck in before next year's trade shows come round. Other European countries will follow, probably with France and Spain being the next two in the line-up. The demographics and respective geographies of all three potential new areas are very different from the German organisation but there's absolutely no reason why each shouldn't be successful in its own right with the backing of Fujifilm Sericol's world-wide experience being complemented by the slick and efficient running of Schnor's Cologne business. Brand loyalty tends to be superseded by price and delivery in the UK, an important element in the mix is that customers need to know that they're dealing with the best knowledge levels and understanding of how their chunk of the wideformat market works. Fujifilm Sericol needed a personality capable of a challenge and already acknowledged in the industry; the company's appointment of David Burton should ensure this new venture is in the best hands. Burton is now the company's large-format business development director for Europe and he's been quoted as choosing the Broadstairs based company "because it has the best wide-format portfolio now, the clearest vision for the future and the soundest strategy to achieve it."
Burton has been a familiar face at B&P Lightbrigade for several years, and he brings to Euromedia a successful background in building a profitable digital reseller business which spans hardware, software, materials, inks and consumables. He's the first to admit that the key to this venture is product knowledge but he can see beyond the parameters of merely becoming another supplier in a burgeoning marketplace which, he believes, has been "marinaded in bad service" for too long. The new operation is designed to be based on client importance and focus, and will function as a programme of management, co-operative marketing and technical support designed to help customers win more business. For example, there will be external sales training opportunies, off-the-shelf promotional templates which can be sent quickly and easily as direct mail-shots, plus call-centre follow-up services. In addition, training opportunities include niche but growing areas, such as vehicle wrapping, as well as finishing options.
Turn-round is also vital in terms of speed and efficiency. The Cologne operation guarantees orders placed before 8.30 pm being delivered before noon the next day, and this principle will continue in the UK. It's anticipated that the main client base for Euromedia will be smaller- to medium-sized companies with wide-format printing machines up to 2.5 m, using all the ink types which are available today.
Burton's approach is pragmatic: "Everyone knows that customers can go anywhere to buy their materials, inks and consumables, in the same way that it's an open market when it comes to printer sales. Where Euromedia differs is in the partnership approach it has with its client base, working more on a consultancy basis and providing complete solutions rather than a medley of components which need additional items from other suppliers before a finished sign or display can be manufactured. A single-source channel will make life easier and, at the end of the day, increase overall efficiency and save on costs."
Fujifilm Sericol's Michael Bush, marketing communications manager, comments: "Fujifilm Sericol's history in service and distribution gives Euromedia an excellent point from which to develop its own channels in the UK and elsewhere. We already have a secure ink-jet strategy with optimised UV-curable products for print-head and printer OEMs, and our Color+ after-market solvent-based family complements this, along with our 'system sales' approach where we concentrate on supplying complete packages which are optimised for applications.
"We wanted to build on this strong foundation by growing our digital business whilst maintaining our profitability in the screen-printing side of the business," Bush continues. "The Euromedia brand and our acquisition of Colormy enables us to inherit a company's operating strategy which concentrates on the systems' approach, with strong focus leading to excellent customer relations. This proven business model gives us an immediate presence in wide-format printing and will enable us to grow in other countries."