Sat, Jun

IR talks to... Simon Cooper, MD, Solopress

With a turnover of 200m Euro and over 1m customers, Onlineprinters is one of Europe’s biggest Web-to-print providers. CEO Dr Michael Fries has said that “print companies that embrace industry transformation” will do well, and that he expects online print shops in Western Europe to continue a two-digit growth in turnover over the coming years. So should you be looking to W2P? Given the group’s bold expectations for continued growth, I met with Simon Cooper, MD of UK-based subsidiary Solopress, to talk strategy – and find out where wide-format fits in.

By Lesley Simpson

Solopress has been operating for 20 years and has seen massive growth in that time, now with a turnover of £30m and with double digit growth forecast for the future, and yet W2P is still a low priority for many large-format print providers in the UK. As the still relatively new MD of Solopress, what’s your take on that?

It would be wrong to think that the success of Onlineprinters/Solopress was to do with having a strategy around selling print online. The reality is that the strategy is all about making the business more relevant to customers, eradicating unnecessary costs - so that customers are not paying for your administrative inefficiencies and costs in terms of processing their orders. 

Yes, there are times when you can add value offering consultancy etc., but a lot of the touch points between the printer and customer are unnecessary touch points. To my thinking, what all businesses should be doing is asking themselves, ‘how can we make ourselves more convenient to customers, service their needs more efficiently and eradicate unnecessary costs?’. So, should more PSPs be considering Web-to-print as an option? I’m not sure that would logically always be the right next step. They need to look at their business as a whole and at how well it meets their customers’ needs.  It may makes sense for some to sell product online, but that wouldn’t for me be the starting point.

Also, personally I think it’s important to clarify what we mean by W2P. If people believe the success of Solopress or other so called ‘online’ printers is due to the fact that we sell products through a website then the true essence of the point of differentiation is being missed. Solopress has been successful because it identified the highest volume print products that customers were procuring and then sought to strip out unnecessary admin and processing costs to enable competitive prices. From there it correctly identified that speed was critical to customers and so now ensures that it offers a service on here quarters of products to enable them to be produced on the same day they’re ordered and delivered to customers the very next day. It’s the combination of a highly convenient ordering process with all unnecessary costs removed and a product arriving the next day to a very high quality makes the offering extremely appealing. 

Beyond that, if the question is whether PSPs should prioritise the acquisition of customers through ecommerce marketing techniques and they have identified that this is a low priority, I would be inclined to agree. Even for established business like ours with highly experienced and capable digital marketing experts on board, the cost of customer acquisition continues to go up and could be considered prohibitively high if you were just starting up now.

Cost, time and hassle are the three most common reasons given me by PSPs eschewing W2P. To your mind, are they missing a trick?

In the old days Solopress was a conventional offline printer, and even now it doesn’t only process orders online. Something like 80% comes through purely online, but more than that has some kind of online input only with some kind of intervention. I come back to my point about making your business as convenient as possible for the customer, and sometimes it’s more convenient for them to have you place the order for them! Even if your focus is online ordering, forcing your customer in that direction and giving them no other option may well mean they just go somewhere else.

It is indeed costly, time consuming and a hassle to set up a W2P system, but the only question really has to be about return on investment. I think there’s enough evidence to prove that W2P can pay off in the long run, but at the same time it is a challenging space with very established players dominating. 

For a business that has no presence in W2P at all, they must be very cautious about how they proceed. The key consideration should be, ‘which customers’ needs are not being met and how do I think I could better cater for those needs than the current businesses are doing?’. There’s a famous saying - I’m not sure who should be credited for it - which is, “get big, get niche or get out”. UK print is still worth circa £13bn per annum - within that there are some fairly sizeable niches and I would suggest new entrants should be focussed on those opportunities.

Quite a few of the large-format PSPs that have developed an online print model run it under different branding - especially those set-up for more creative/personalised applications. Is that something you have considered?

I can understand the rationale around doing this, as and when you launch new products you have to assess whether they sit in a natural place alongside your current offering and whether your current target demographic has a requirement for those products. For us, we are very focussed on continuing to support the needs of our current target demographic, which already contains an element of what we describe as ‘personal’ customers and so perhaps that affords us some flexibility in terms of the diversity of products we can offer.

Online printers itself handles a lot of trade print, but you also outsource work. How do you see that situation developing in the future?

Outsourcing can be beneficial where we are exploring new product opportunities but don’t foresee substantial enough volume to justify our own investment in equipment. A classic example would be for fabric printing - currently we source these products from our German manufacturing facility, however, we are considering sourcing that production locally and perhaps then in the fullness of time insourcing the production.

How significant a proportion of the Solopress turnover is wide-format at this point in time?

Currently wide-format represents about 13% of our total turnover at Solopress but this area is particularly exciting as it’s currently growing at 33% year-on-year. That jumped to 38% in March. Off the back of that growth we’ve decided to invest in large-format production and have recently done a deal with Agfa to purchase two Anapurna H2500i LED hybrid inkjet devices. In addition we are buying a Kongsberg C44 flatbed cutter, which will all get installed in a new purpose built 510m2 facility which will also house our two HP Pagewide XL8000’s, our two 3.2m Jetrix RX3200 devices and a Futoba XLD320. 

What we are seeing now is a large-format print demand from our existing customers and from customers who previously would not have dealt with Solopress because we are better known for small-format and that just wouldn’t have been a requirement for them. The bigger product offering we’ll be able to provide will make just make us a more attractive procurement option.

What shape should we expect Onlineprinters/Solopress to take by the end of 2020, and to what extent do you expect other print operations to have tried and imitate your online strategies for growth? 

Recently I was in Germany attending a strategy meeting with my colleagues from Onlineprinters and also from Laser Tryk in Denmark. We discussed the work that we could do collaboratively in terms of improving our software technology, leveraging our scale from a procurement perspective and also sharing manufacturing capabilities. 

I believe that by 2020 there will be far more components of our technology which are shared throughout the group and we will be benefitting from the full scale of our collective size. Locally, we will continue to work hard on serving our customers’ needs. 

This year we have a big focus on improving our service offering having recently added a later cut off time to our website, which is now 5pm for same day dispatch on selected products. Additionally we’re in the process of developing an offering targeted at our professional customers who have larger annual spends, to make sure that we tailor our service around their needs. One thing is certain, we won’t stand still for any great length of time!


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