Briefing: Industry mulls reasons for HP's decision to close scheme

Simon Nias
Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Despite a successful roll-out across EMEA - and a rapturous sole UK subscriber - HP is winding up its Print Station scheme. So what went wrong?

There is no question that the concept is good." Hearing Tony Barnett evangelise the HP Print Station scheme is a slightly surreal experience. That the John E Wright managing director is a total convert to HP’s gospel of marrying its technology and marketing savvy with high-street print businesses to create slick, HP-branded, print operations is not a surprise. Given the growth across the UK’s four existing HP Print Stations in the three short months since the scheme’s UK launch, Barnett’s enthusiasm is, if anything, understated.

"We’ve jumped five years ahead in the space of a month," he says. Okay, maybe not that understated, but the fact that HP pulled the plug on the scheme before it really got rolling in this country makes Barnett’s comments all the more surprising. Why has HP been turned off the idea when its only UK print partner is ecstatic about its success?

Infotrends’ senior consultant Barney Cox wrote in a recent blog that the sudden withdrawal of the scheme recalled the backlash from US quickprinters to HP’s MarketSplash and to the ‘send to FedEx Kinko button’ that Adobe briefly incorporated in Acrobat a few years ago and wondered whether Print Station met similar resistance. Not so, says HP’s François Martin (see opinion). He says it’s simply that HP felt its marketing bucks were better spent boosting traffic to Indigo- and Scitex-equipped print firms.

It’s hard to argue with that sentiment, especially as HP is already putting its money where its mouth is and engaging with end-users such as ad agencies and brand owners to promote the benefits of digital print. However, Barnett talks of "extraordinary growth" across the four John E Wright stores that have had the HP Print Station makeover – especially Leicester, which he says has practially doubled its page impressions – so is HP missing a trick by reining in the Print Station programme on the assumption it won’t generate much business in developed economies?

Gap in the market
HP launched its Print Station programme in South Africa in May 2008 and had rolled out 57 co-branded stores across EMEA by the time it announced the scheme’s closure last month. The Print Stations themselves are, according to Barnett, filling a gap in the market and for that reason he is adamant that they will outlive the end of HP’s direct involvement in the scheme (at the end of October 2012). "The concept is here to stay because it delivers something that isn’t out there. It’s not just a copyshop – we call it a print café – students can go round there and knock their coursework out in two hours, in a nice environment, helped by fully qualified personnel," he says.

"That’s where we’ve found it most successful, with people who are at university and who have just left university, so it’s very much a young persons concept; we reckon 19 to 28 and we’re staffing accordingly with graduates in their late twenties."

One might assume that Barnett would be disappointed with HP’s decision to close the scheme almost as soon as it had got started (on this side of the Channel), but the reality is quite the opposite. "For us it’s fantastic," he says. "We were able to push the idea off the ground with some stong PR support from HP, but whereas before we were advising them, now it will be more down to us with HP there in the background – we’re very lucky because now we can make the decisions and drive it with HP’s support."

Barnett views HP’s continued attempts to involve itself in the printer/buyer relationship as fundamental to their approach to the market. "They provide the ideas and the technology and they rely on partners to be the engine that binds to the technology and evangalises it and pushes it forward," he says.

Pushing forward is certainly Barnett’s intention for the Print Station programme and, in fact, it’s misleading to even talk about the "closure" of the scheme. "We’re going to continue to roll this out because this is making money for us," he says. "We’ve a very busy period coming up in September and October – we’re expecting a lot of business through these four Print Stations in the next two months – then we will start rolling out again."

What’s more, he has a welcome message for any other printers that may be disappointed not to have had the opportunity to set up their own partnership with HP on the scheme. "I’m getting calls every week from people who would like to join us," he says. "Rolling four new stations out in less than two months has been a Herculean effort and I just want to pause for breath for a couple of months, but I am definitely looking to continue rolling out under either John E Wright branding or neutral branding and HP are happy for us to do that."

• HP’s first Print Station opened in South Africa in May 2008 and 57 stores have been opened to date across EMEA, including four in the UK. HP has announced the closure of the scheme, following a transition period that will run until 31 October 2012
• HP’s decision to wind down the HP Print Station scheme by November 2012, which it announced last month, has come as a surprise given that the first UK print station, at the Nottingham branch of John E Wright, only opened in June
• It has been mooted that HP’s decision may be the result of a backlash from printers concerned that HP is crossing the line between supplier and rival. However, HP has stated that it wanted to focus on stronger growth areas
• According to Tony Barnett, managing director of John E Wright, the four UK print stations have been a hit with architecture and design students and recent graduates
• HP says the announcement does not rule out the opening of further Print Stations, using the HP Print Station branding, until 31 October 2012, or neutral branding from 1 November 2012


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