Is repro having a sudden renaissance?

Simon Nias
Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Things change. Just look at the UK repro sector. A year or so ago, consolidation was rife and rarely did a month go by (or so it seemed) without an industry-shaking merger or a headline-grabbing closure. Anyone considering launching a repro company would have been seen as hopelessly optimistic, ridiculously brave, or seriously deranged. Fast forward to the present, however, and there are signs that repro or pre-media to give it its current title is back in fashion. Within the space of a month, we have seen both overseas investment in the recent Keenes and Wellcom deal and that rarest of breeds: a pre-media start-up.

Both events are equally interesting. On the one hand, the Wellcom deal sees a highly successful overseas company looking to gain a foothold in the UK market, in a reverse on the dramatic exit pulled off by Vertis just two years ago. On the other hand, we have three experienced, and one can only assume sane, individuals claiming that the market is ready for more choice, that the consolidation has run its course and that there is money to be made in reprographics still.

A need for more choice

Former Electronic Solutions chief executive Steve Hobbs, who partnered ex-Admagic boss Andy Huntley and pre-press sales veteran Dean Baker in launching Zone last month, explains why he is convinced that the great big consolidation engine has run out of fuel. “When I started some 30 years ago, repro was very much a cottage industry and over the past 10 years or more that has slowly evaporated,” he says. “There are very few suppliers in this arena that clients can talk to anymore and we just feel there’s a need for more choice. There’s very little left to be consolidated.”

Consolidation phase
If there is indeed no more consolidation to be had, it is largely down to three companies. Between 2004 and 2007, these three repro firms changed the face of the market in the UK. In packaging, US pre-media giant Schawk bought up and merged Leeds-based Winnetts and Seven Worlwide, which had UK offices in London, Birmingham, Salford and Gateshead. In the magazine sector, Wyndeham added both Graphic Facilities and Icon to its burgeoning pre-press division before consolidating the whole lot, together with Argent, into a single London site. Finally, adland behemoth Tag Worldwide bought up Vertis’ UK pre-press firms Vertis PRS and Admagic, following Vertis’ decision to pull out of the European market, and (more recently) Lightbox Creative.

Turning Point Innovation sales and marketing director Steve Emerson feels that now is the time for some fresh blood. “It had become bit of a one-show-town with Tag growing as big as it did and buying up its only major competitor in Vertis,” he says. “I think it’s good to see some new faces on the scene – like Wellcom – and to see a new start up with a fresh approach. I always thought there was room for a boutique or two offering a specialised service.”

Realistically, for Zone to succeed in carving out its niche on the London repro scene, it will need its potential customers to be receptive to an expansion of their supplier base. If Altaimage business development director Nick Finegold, who was formerly technical sales director for Wyndeham Pre-Press, is right in his assessment, then the customers will not be a problem. “Once upon a time, the customers had choice in their suppliers, where they maybe had two or three repro companies – but then they found that those three had become one company and they lost a bit of their buying power as a result – there needs to be competition in the market place – I think that’s healthy and I think customers need to have choice.”

Quality counts the most
Richard Gambling, sales director at Zebra, is more cautious and understandably keen not to see the market flooded with ill-advised start-ups, determined to compete on price. “Technically, yes, I suppose the market could support more choice,” he says. “But it’s got to be a high-quality service-driven offering and not just price-driven.”
Only time will tell whether the market really is ready for the return of Hobbs, Huntley and Baker, and whether Wellcom’s investment plans are brave yet ill-advised, or timed to perfection. Whatever the case, change is ultimately inevitable and some, like Emerson, welcome it. “Change is always good,” he says. “It’ll stimulate the market.”

•    Schawk buys packaging repro firm Winnetts
•    Wyndeham buys magazine pre-press firm Graphic Facilities
•    Schawk buys Seven Worldwide and merges it with Winnetts
•    Vertis sells its London-based pre-media divisions Vertis PRS and Admagic to rival firm Tag
•    Wyndeham adds London-based Icon to its pre-press division
•    Wyndeham consolidates Argent, Graphics and Icon into Wyndeham Pre-Press
•    Tag buys Lightbox Creative
•    Keenes bought by Australian pre-media group Wellcom
•    Zone, launched by adland veterans Steve Hobbs, Andy Huntley and Dean Baker


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