“That’s where you are going to make the money,” he says. “You are not going to make the money just by price alone – it just doesn’t work like that.”
Hunter recognised that in order to add value and create efficiencies print businesses need to continually invest in the latest equipment. And true to his word, over the past few years, the business, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, has been undertaking a spending spree.
In addition to installing new printers from Canon and Konica Minolta in 2020, the company recently invested in new finishing equipment from Duplo, in the form of a Duplo DFS 3500 bookletmaker and a Duplo DC 618 slitter-cutter-creaser.
But one of DS Group’s most important recent investments was a perfect binder. Hunter says the company started exploring the idea of bringing perfect binding in-house last year.
“Obviously, there was massive upheaval over the last few years and a number of print finishers – certainly around the Essex area – had either closed or had diversified a bit to try and carry on making money and address the changing industry, and had stopped offering a perfect binding service.
“We just felt that we needed to be ahead of the curve and get ourselves sorted out before we ended up in a position where we couldn’t get ourselves sorted out.”
In addition to the pandemic shaking up the industry Hunter says there were other factors that were taken into consideration prior to taking the plunge and bringing binding in-house.
“Quick turnaround is the norm now, isn’t it, and you have to gear up for it because if you don’t you’re going to start losing clients,” he explains. “Before, we were outsourcing too much, and we had no control over the timings.
“A client recently contacted me to say they were flying to the States in a few days’ time, and they needed a couple of samples of a brochure. Could we turn it around in time and get it done?
“Well, yes we can, now, because we’ve got all the kit here, but before we were turning down jobs and we were also saying to clients that we had no control over the timings. We try and turn everything around in 48 hours, but sometimes it was taking four or five days to get the stuff back.”
The reason Hunter can now offer guaranteed quick turnaround times is thanks to the Horizon BQ-160 PUR single-clamp perfect binder the company installed in October last year. The machine, which has a list price of £17,000, was supplied by Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS), and The DS Group uses it purely for short-run perfect-bound books.
Hunter says he looked at most of the perfect binding options offered by rival manufacturers to Horizon and had chats with several people about these options, but he settled on the BQ-160 after speaking to someone who worked for a finishing company.
“They had been doing perfect binding and they had decided to come out of it so I asked them what they would recommend and they said ‘go for a Horizon’.”
So, Hunter took a colleague to see the machine in action at one of Horizon’s customers. “We ran a couple of jobs on it and it did exactly what we needed it to do and more.”
Several different factors sold it to Hunter. “There was the cost, there was the ease-of-use and there was the flexibility in the sizing that it could do. We could go down to 1mm books and there aren’t many [perfect binders] that can do that.”
The machine can produce perfect-bound books up to around 40mm thick at speeds of up to 180cph. It has a simple touchscreen operation and pellet form PUR glue can be used on the perfect binder.
The DS Group setup has the binder running inline with a Horizon CRB-160 cover creaser, a setup that Hunter took advice on.
“I’ve got creasers anyway, but we just thought if we’re going to do it, let’s do it properly. We’d seen it in action on the demo at the other company and the guy that was operating it recommended that we went for that setup. They had a separate creaser and they just said it’s so much easier to have it all inline – otherwise, you’re walking back and forth all around the building from different bits.”
According to Hunter, installation of the machine went seamlessly and his team were up and running and using the perfect binder within a few hours of it being put in place. This was possible due to the machine’s relative ease-of-use.
“It’s not the fastest machine in the world, but it doesn’t need to be. The speed and ease-of-use is exactly what we need.”
He says that’s he’s really pleased with the Horizon and more importantly so are his team who enjoy using it. “They’ve got a lot of confidence in it, which is important because if you haven’t got confidence in a machine you avoid it like the plague, but they’re really confident on it and they just get on with it.”
Hunter adds that to date the company hasn’t encountered any problems with the machine and so far IFS have only needed to visit the factory once since it was installed. “We had them in about four weeks after installation because they asked us to do a demo for another client.”
Hunter says that he has no gripes with the device, nor do the company’s customers – especially when it comes to the quality of work the Horizon BQ-160 is capable of producing.
“I can only go by what my clients say and A: I haven’t had any complaints; and B: when I have done certain jobs – really high-spec jobs – they’ve been really pleased with the work.”
When asked to flag up the machine’s strengths and weaknesses, Hunter responds: “If I’m brutally honest the main benefit is its ease-of-use. The main downside is it could be quicker, but we’ve only got so much space, so we didn’t look at any bigger models because it fitted where we needed it to go and essentially it did what it said on the tin.”
Indeed, the machine has more than matched Hunter’s expectations to date. When he decided to opt for the Horizon he hoped that in 18 months’ time the company would achieve a return on its investment.
“I think it’s slightly ahead of that because all of a sudden – and I don’t know how this happened because all I did was I just went around telling clients when I was talking to them, about the new machine – and we had a sudden influx of work. I wondered at the time where they were getting this work from before they gave it to us – not that they told me!”
With the machine on track to pay its way ahead of schedule Hunter says he would not hesitate to recommend the Horizon BQ-160 perfect binder to other small to medium-sized digital printing companies that, like The DS Group are looking to add value.
“It has created a new marketplace for us, it has added value and it has enabled us to be more confident in our own timelines. We want to be here for another 20 years because this is slowly becoming an employee-owned company.”
It is through investments in equipment like the BQ-160 that add value and create efficiencies that Hunter believes will help the business achieve this aim.
Book block thickness 1-40mm
Cover weight range 82-302gsm
Cycle speed max 180 cycles per hour (cover binding), max 120 cycles per hour (pad binding)
Price £17,000 (list price)
Contact Intelligent Finishing Systems 020 8997 8053 www.ifsl.uk.com
Clacton-on-Sea-based print, direct mail and publishing business The DS Group celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. The group operates from 1,400sqm premises and serves a wide range of customers, from small businesses through to blue-chip clients. It turns over around £3m per year and employs 30 staff. The DS Group has a wide range of equipment in-house, including printers from Canon and Konica Minolta, in addition to a vast armoury of finishing gear. A couple of years ago managing director Allistair Hunter started the process of moving the company to an employee trust owned group and he intends to continue to sell more of his shares over time until the business is fully owned by its employees.
Why it was bought
“We were sending our perfect-binding work out, but the businesses we were using either closed or stopped offering the service,” says Hunter. “We wanted to be able to continue to respond to customer demand so decided to bring the process in-house.”
How has it performed
Better than forecast. It has brought in additional revenue, improved efficiencies, added value and Hunter expects the machine will pay for itself well within the expected 18 months after purchase.