‘In a digital world print stands out’

Jo Francis
Monday, March 20, 2017

PrintWeek was extremely proud to welcome Robert Keane, the chief executive of Cimpress and the founder of Vistaprint, as the first keynote speaker at the inaugural PrintWeekLive! event.

Suffice to say Keane’s address included valuable food-for-thought and inspiration for attendees no matter what the shape or size of their own businesses. And afterwards, we grabbed the opportunity to catch up with him and with Diane Swint, vice-president of web services, for some further questions. 

In his keynote address Keane spoke about the “relentless technology change which is impacting so many aspects of business” and shared his broad perspectives on how companies can succeed in a fast-changing world. 

“I really believe the future of our industry belongs to the many different companies that embrace these perspectives,” he stated. “I’m very optimistic about where our industry is going. That said, there is this unstoppable tide of technology change which we all deal with every day and clearly that can lead to discomfort for all of us as we have to reinvent ourselves to survive, much less to thrive.”

He outlined four key perspectives. Firstly, specialisation. He said: “In this vast market being a generalist is a very difficult if not impossible task. I believe you need to be laser focused on some component of the market, understanding those needs better than anyone else, and then really focus on delivering,” and cited the needs of a classic Cimpress customer, a small business with less than 10 employees, as an example of this. 

“As we’ve gotten bigger we need to constantly become even more specialised,” he added. 

His second belief, in the power of focusing on things that won’t change, was inspired by reading something said by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “He said if you want to build a successful business don’t ask yourself what will change in the next 10 years, instead ask yourself what won’t change,” Keane explained. “For me that illustrates that you need to be pretty flexible about pretty much everything in your business except those long-term things that won’t change. For us, we believe small customers needing small order sizes won’t go away. 

“Twice in the history of Cimpress, in pursuit of customer value drivers we believe won’t change, we’ve chosen to utterly change the way we operate as a business. Reinventing a business takes years, it takes trial and error, and mistakes. But once you get there you keep modifying and improving.”

Thirdly, Keane stated that the future “will be very much won by companies that embrace partnering”.

“Today we have literally hundreds and hundreds of print providers, partners who can help us with breadth and depth of product,” he said. “On the same customer facing side is Cimpress Open, this is very recently out of beta and is an early version of where we hope to be in future. What we are trying to do here is expose the power of the software into clearly packaged micro services that can be used by third parties to develop tools and services. I hope you will be amazed about the functionality we will roll out.”

Fourth and last, Keane spoke about embracing customer-focused competition. “We all have a natural inclination to consider competition as harmful. Speaking from experience, without the competition we’ve had, we would never have driven ourselves to improve as we did. 

“If you look at our brands, we are never the lowest price in the market. It is true that our trade-only brands, we will support those brands when they need to compete with other people who drop prices, but we really ask them not to lead price wars. We prefer very strongly that we take that money and invest it in innovation.”

Keane also predicted that the printing industry of the future would involve “a network of winners”. “When I think of the aggregate effect of those different behaviours I really think our industry is going to evolve into something that will look very different to the industry of the past because of the technology change. But it will also look like a network. Not one winner or not even a handful of winners, but rather a network of winners each of them who specialise in a different area and work together to drive that customer value.”

He concluded: “I really look forward to the next decade of building this customer value together as an industry. I’m very optimistic about the industry, not just the Cimpress brands and I look forward to doing that with you.”

Then, before Keane took a whistle-stop tour of the show floor, there was just enough time for PrintWeek to fit in a few further questions. 

PrintWeek What were the key mistakes you made in terms of things we can learn from?

RK It would take hours to talk about them all! One of the biggest problems we’ve had in recent years is staying small as we get big. We recently re-organised ourselves as a company, to reflect that. Early on, the Vistaprint brand was overly reliant on discounting, the image was very much ‘free everything’ and that did degrade the value of the brand. Whereas today we are really celebrating what print and our products can do for the image of a business. 

Tell us about Burton upon Trent. We got tremendously excited and then obviously you changed your mind. 

We take the UK market very seriously, it’s a really critical market for us. We also realise that speed of delivery is very important and especially with the pound, British manufacturing is very competitive. We seriously looked at opening up here. In the end we looked at the assets we have in the Dundee plant and importantly in more and more third-party partners we are rolling out to who already have plants. And we felt we should really work with potential partners who are established British printers, as we do in Germany and France with our WirMachenDruck (WMD) and Exaprint brands, and the relatively small but highly efficient plant at Tradeprint.

It’s just 15 months or so since we bought WMD it is extremely successful in the highly competitive German market, with zero production plants and partnering very extensively with 30 or 40 great suppliers. The UK production plant planning process started before that, and then we took the learning from WMD and looked at the Tradeprint capabilities, and felt that we should stop that project and instead double down on the partnership and the Dundee facility. 

How is the team in Dundee doing?

The partnership with Exaprint is working very well, it combines what is a very efficient plant in gang-run printing of rectangles with a very broad and deep product line from Exaprint. That product line has not yet been merged into Tradeprint but you’ll see that over the next year. Tradeprint has been a great investment and it’s growing very strongly, primarily by helping our customers grow their products beyond printed rectangles. 

It’s so competitive in trade printing, some people think there’s going to be a big shake-out. What do you think?

It’s hard for me to say, I know that we have a very large and profitable business in that area because of our scale, and I see that scale as critical. We tenaciously hang onto what we have, but we see our growth coming in the expansion into other areas.

Does Tradeprint’s location preclude it offering some potential services, such as same-day printing and delivery. Is that something you’re looking at?

We already offer that in Sao Paolo, Brazil, order by 10am and we deliver by 5pm in the afternoon. We certainly think the world is moving towards that. In the Tradeprint world, we do see speed as very important and speed is something where Tradeprint has differentiated itself, we’ve often had next-day delivery. As for same-day, that’s something that could happen in the UK but saying that we have ambitions to do it sometime in the future doesn’t mean we have to own the production facilities. That’s the model we have in Germany where we have 20 or 30 different suppliers and where we configure digitally and print close to the end customer for very fast deliveries. 

The National Pen buy was very interesting. What’s next, do you have more acquisitions in mind?

Certainly in the future we’ll do some more acquisitions, but we feel like in the last two-to-three years a lot of the acquisitions we’ve done have put in place the core building blocks for the next chapter of the business as we go to mass customisation. Although I can’t rule out any more acquisitions, I think you’ll see much more of us taking what we’ve learned in one part of the business and applying it geographically to others. 

How is Cimpress Open progressing? 

Diane Swint We’re in the high learning stage, making sure we are providing the resources and products to our customers. Over time our vision is to expand the APIs that are available. Two main products at the moment, we’re in the early days and getting incredible feedback from the partners we do have. 

What are your aspirations for it?

DS We have an audacious vision. The most interesting part about going to market is watching how different partners utilise our services. We have some partners whose main business is printing products. Then we have partners who don’t print, but are looking to augment their existing business model. Those customer needs are quite different. Our job is to take the complexity out of mass customisation and serve it up. 

 What news of your Landa presses, have you got a delivery date yet?

RK We’re under NDA there but we’re very excited about the opportunity there, but we also buy from Komori, from Heidelberg, from HP... we’re happy with the progress we’re seeing from Landa but it’s just one piece of the puzzle, not the only piece. 

It’s good to hear you’re so optimistic about the future. Can you tell us a bit more about why that’s the case?

One of the reasons I’m very optimistic about the printing industry, is because the world of Google and Facebook is so full of directly competing product advertising. The physical tangible products – an insert, a product catalogue – actually stand out and customers react to that. And that requires print. In a world that is increasingly digital, people really enjoy the tangible aspects of print. And that is one of the reasons I’m optimistic that print has a bright future. 


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