Re-energise your firm with W2P

Jenny Roper
Monday, March 24, 2014

Exploiting the full potential of W2P helped bring an old-fashioned firm bang up to date.

The challenge

Trevor Price knows all too well what happens to print businesses that fail to move with the times. The managing director of Glasgow-based commercial printers 21 Colour had first-hand experience of this when he, along with business partner and sales director Phil Cole, and two others who have since left the business, took over Lawn & Miller printers in the summer of 1998.

“They’d been going since 1933 and were just an old jobbing printer. They turned over £400,000, and had been doing the same business for 60-odd years, pretty much,” reports Price. 

Seeing that this kind of business couldn’t be sustained for much longer, the new team decided to overhaul the operation, vastly expanding its range of products for when it reopened as 21 Colour after the summer holidays.

The trick since then, has been to keep up with a world which changes “every three years”, in the words of Price. Indeed it was around three years ago that Price decided the company needed to future proof itself in a way that acknowledged that the “traditional way of interacting with customers really would have to move with the times”.

The way to keep ahead of the march of change, Price decided, was to invest in web-to-print.

The first system the company adopted, in the summer of 2011, was an entry-level, pay-per-click product was an ideal entry point into the world of web-to-print in many ways, reports Price. But the company quickly realised that something more sophisticated would be needed to persuade customers to actually adopt it and to really make the company’s life easier.

“In principle, the system was good,” says Price. “But the problem was it was a standalone bit of software – it’s basically just a web storefront for your business. You can do a small amount of editing. But all you do is generate a PDF and email that says the customer has created this PDF and they want 50 copies and this is the specification. You then have to get a human being to receive the email and process it.”

Customers were consistently responding to Price’s W2P pitch with encouraging words about how impressive the technology looked, but saying they didn’t really see the benefit to them, reports Price.

It was after one such slightly demoralising meeting that Price had his ‘eureka moment’. “I had demo-ed it to a customer who had said ‘that’s great, but I can’t quite see the benefit to us so we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing’. I was in a lift at one of their hotel sites and there was a poster on the wall on the lift,” reports Price. 

“I thought that’s horrendous, I can tell it’s not in brand guidelines, they’ve stretched the logo, it’s insipid and I took it off the wall to show to the customer.”

When presented with the print the customer explained that the offer had been printed on a desktop printer, as the hotel liked to decide special deals just the night before offering them to ensure their relevance to hotel residents.

It was then Price realised the value not only of an effective, easy-to-use W2P system, but also the value of a system they could use to generate brand guideline-friendly PDFs to print themselves. People, he realised, would be willing to pay decent amounts for the ability to use 21 Colour’s system to generate print-ready PDFs, even if 21 Colour wasn’t doing the actual printing.

The method

Price wasted no time in researching a more advanced W2P system able to offer this service. “I looked at everything that was around. I spent a whole two days at Drupa wandering around looking at everything,” reports Price.

The solution he landed on, mid-2012, was a more expensive Tharstern E4Print system with a Chili Publish interface. Price’s conclusion at the end of his research mission was very much that you get what you pay for, and that it was worth splashing out on this.

“I was desperately going around trying to find something half the price of Tharstern. But I had to admit in the end that you get what you pay for and better the devil you know,” says Price.

This last comment refers to the fact that another factor in Price’s decision was that the W2P would link seamlessly with 21 Colour’s existing Tharstern MIS. 

The company also decided it was well worth investing a decent amount in personnel to support the W2P software. “We employed someone to do solely W2P stuff, we really had to carry that staff member as a cost to the business,” says Price. “What we’ve learned from past experience is if we try to take a pre-press or customer service guy and retrain them to do this particular task, production pressures will always get them going back to doing what they did before.”

He adds: “It would just be a waste of time otherwise so we thought we really have to take a leap of faith that this will work for us. We’ve tried lots of different e-commerce business ventures – we launched a photo products business three years ago, we’ve done a few different things and they haven’t always worked because we didn’t have the marketing gravitas and budget to sell them.”

The result

Fully committing to this initiative in such a big way has really paid off for 21 Colour. Experimenting with and pitching the old entry-level system for a year was valuable in learning just what kind of print ordering service would make both customers’ and 21 Colour’s lives much easier.

“The old system was enabling us to get clients editing their own jobs. So it was used as an R&D tool,” says Price.

Now they’ve applied this to specc-ing the Tharstern system, the solution is a dream to use for everyone, says Price: “The old system was web-to-human-to-print. Whereas this connects all the way through our system so we can have it set up so a human being doesn’t touch a printed job before it comes out the back of the press,” says Price.

“It’s so simple for companies to order things like business cards on,” he continues. “Before the HR people in the company would supply a spreadsheet with variable data, we would take the artwork for each card and it would probably take 24 hours to turn a proof around. They would then send that to various people in the business to get approval. Now it takes them about 30 seconds to generate a business card proof.”

This method of ordering is bringing in new customers and more work from existing customers, reports Price. 

As is the catalyst for ordering the more advanced W2P system: the ability to create print-ready PDFs that can be taken elsewhere for printing.

“We have one client who went live at the end of October that has 45 different businesses across the globe. This company holds conferences, and before everyone was turning up with different business cards, different colours with different stocks. A letterhead done in Sydney looked nothing like one done elsewhere. Now whoever’s ordering the print gets a print-ready PDF they’ve created and instructions for the printer who will be printing the job. That keeps everything consistent.”

21 Colour has another customer willing to pay a rental fee for using the software to quickly resize adverts before they’re printed elsewhere. 

“The problem was that a full page ad in The Sunday Times was different to one in The Independent; they’re all different sizes because of the old traditional column widths in newspapers,” says Price. “We have templates set up so they just select from a drop down box Sunday Times full, Sunday Times half, etc. It was costing them £180 every time their agency resized the ad, so this is much cheaper and easier for them.”

The overall result has been good growth for the company. “It’s probably brought in a dozen really really good new customers,” says Price, adding: “We’re predicting substantial growth this year in 2014. We will we hope be at £5.2m by the end of 2014, up from £4.7m.”

The company is nicely ahead of the crowd with this solution, particularly in Scotland, feels Price. 

For 21 Colour, then, taking a leap of faith, investing fully and being willing to offer a non-print service where needed, has really paid off. 

21 Colour

Vital statistics 

Location Glasgow

Inspection host Trevor Price, managing director

Size £4.7m turnover, 52 staff 

Established In 1998 when Trevor Price, his business partner and sales director Phil Cole and two others took over Lawn & Miller, renaming the business 21 Colour

Products A wide range of commercial print including brochures, business cards and posters. “We’ll do anything and everything if someone’s going to pay for it!” quips Price

Kit Heidelberg XL 75 10-colour press, Xerox iGen4, Xerox 250, Roland Soljet, Wohlenberg guillotines, MBO and Heidelberg folders, Muller Martini Bravo stitching line, Horizon bookletmaker 

Inspection focus Offering a PDF generation service as part of a web-to-print offering


Following suit

Price thinks even smaller print shops could make a good go of offering web-to-print. For this, an entry-level system will be ideal. “I think W2P could work even for the smallest of print shops,” says Price. “Unfortunately the thing that will hold them back is the cost of buying the software; that’s where entry-level, pay-per-click systems might appeal. If it’s a small number of orders that are coming through, an entry-level system might be suitable because you often just pay a monthly rental for the system.”

Potential pitfalls

Price says that the main reason the company couldn’t get its web-to-print offering to take off in the first year of trialling it, was because they were thinking more in terms of making 21 Colour’s life easier rather than their customers’. “Think what the system can do for your customer not what the system can do for you. That was the lightbulb moment for us,” says Price.

Top tips

Be open to fully committing to the venture by investing in the right system and dedicate personnel to support it if need be.

But don’t be afraid to start out with a smaller system to test out appetite for W2P, to see exactly what customers want.

Price’s top tip

“Don’t undervalue the system. Don’t do what the print business has done for 20 years and give this away for nothing. Think about how much this is saving your customers and then try and put a value on that. You have to remember it’s cost you money to put the software in.”


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