Reshaping the repro house to better fit the changing landscape of print

Barney Cox
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

As it approaches its 50th anniversary, Bermondsey-based FE Burman has evolved from its roots in traditional repro into a full-service print firm. After adding digital print in the 1990s, at the start of this year the firm acquired Trigon Mailing Services to be able to provide a one-stop shop.

Initially the firm offered platemaking and typesetting for printers and then pre-press for publishers. But managing director Michael Burman was quick to see the potential of electronic pre-press and the firm was at the forefront of adopting the latest technology.

“With the advent of Scitex systems and then Apple Macs I saw that traditional repro was going nowhere,” says Burman. The introduction of digital pre-press made it clear to Burman that at the heart of the firm’s services was a new discipline: data management.

There was a need to develop new business to replace what was being lost. “We looked at businesses that were complementary,” says Burman. “We identified digital print, web design and data management and storage as potential opportunities.” But further exploration revealed that clients wanted to do web design in-house and wouldn’t pay for data management; that just left digital print.

So Burman became one of the first UK firms to install an Indigo digital press, back in 1994.

Subsequently, as the firm gained experience in print, it realised that it needed a larger-format machine, and Burman became the UK beta site for the KBA Karat B2 DI press.

Seeing these bold investments in unproven equipment, it is easy to assume that FE Burman is a technology-driven firm, when it is in fact the opposite, according to Burman: “The danger is that we get caught up in the technicalities and not the business. If a technology adds capability then we’d invest – not the other way around.

“What we’re trying to do is to keep print competitive. 20 years ago you didn’t have a choice in how to communicate. That’s fundamentally different now, and we have to make sure print is competitive. It changes the way print is bought. Historically, the client has had a skilled print buyer. My worry is that now that decision is made somewhere else in the marketing department. Our aim has to be to make it easier to use print. That comes back to why we bought Trigon.”

It was a fit that others with a more traditional print background might not see. Mailing and pre-press are both data-driven and FE Burman’s repro background made it easier to see the synergy and also, with its data skills, to exploit it. With the firm’s long-term use of digital print, including personalisation, there is the further synergy of personalised print production playing a part in offering data-driven targeted mailing campaigns.

“There was a business synergy,” Burman says. “We hadn’t offered mailing, but we’d sometimes encountered the need for it. We hadn’t actively sold mailing until the acquisition appeared on the horizon. The reaction from customers was positive from the very outset.”

And as for the future, Burman believes it’s “not about what technology is coming next for the industry. It’s about what problem we’re trying to solve, and that is: how do we make print more competitive? It’s about fufilling a need. It’s about providing the person who needs to communicate with a solution”.


Location Bermondsey, south-east London
Staff 60
Sales £4.8m (2005)
Business split pre-media 25%; print 50%; mailing 25%
Typical work brochures, leaflets, flyers, posters and short-run magazines
Services typesetting, colour correction, pre-press, disaster recovery hosting, short-run print, finishing and mailing

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