“It was a speculative email from a dealer,” recalls Varnham, whose company in north London produces business cards and perfect-bound brochures for clients including publishers and carton companies. “We weren’t looking to buy a press right then, although we probably would have been in the market towards the middle of next year.”
But the spec sheet of the secondhand five-colour Heidelberg XL 105 press that greeted him when he clicked open his email caused a rethink. Print directors of this world like Varnham are constantly bombarded with machine offers, but it never hurts to research the market, he says. So the XL 105, he explains, “wasn’t an unknown entity; we knew of it and its capabilities”.
Buying secondhand however can throw up surprises, cautions Varnham, who likens the experience to plucking up the vim to buy a secondhand car: “If the dealer comes screeching to a sharp, shuddering halt outside your front door, you have ask yourself if the car has been well looked after.
“Likewise with a used press. We do a lot of high-quality brochure work with a firm onus on quality rather than quantity. So we don’t want a piece of equipment that has been thrashed about and forced to bash out a load of carton work, for example, which takes its toll on a press.”
Then there is the unique experience of moving a very unwieldy and heavy bit of kit: “These are very complex pieces of equipment with a multitude of electronics and engineering that don’t like being moved.
“For whatever reason – and nobody can quite put their finger on why this should happen – when you uproot a machine to move it, even when done correctly, things can come out of the woodwork. However you go about buying a press, it’s dear, and you don’t need that happening.”
Ah yes, the cost. Reasons for buying a press secondhand “boil down to the price”, he says. Take the Speedmaster XL 105. For the spec Imega Print wanted to buy, five colour with coater, you’re looking at anywhere between £1.6m to £1.8m for a new model, reckons Varnham. At the foot of that email he opened this summer was a figure of under £700,000 – at least half the price of a new model.
Cost maybe critical but, on its own, is not enough. “We decided to take a closer look at the the press, which meant going with the dealer, Itec Graphic Machinery just down the road in Stanmore, Middlesex, and looking at the physical machine.”
Varnham homed in on three areas: he wanted a well-maintained machine. Check. He wanted to know what type of work had rolled off the press – as it turned out a similar kind of brochure work. Check. And he was looking for a machine with a low impression count.
“The count when we bought the press was 123 million: for this kind of press, and one made in 2007, that was a very low number. It just so happened the spec was perfect; it had been well maintained and reconditioned, was in such a good condition and was exactly what we wanted.
“Print quality is the number-one priority and the test sheets we did were superb. We also had engineers clock the cylinders, and like building work there was a ‘snagging list’ we went through. There were one or two little bits and pieces but nothing more than you’d expect.
“It’s seven and a half years old and there’s inevitable wear and tear. With a brand-new model you can expect a couple of years’ trouble-free operation, which you can’t guarantee with a used press. But with low mileage and good care you are talking about only normal general maintenance.”
Buying secondhand may boil down to price but securing the finance is just as crucial. On their return Varnham and joint managing director Lynn Tosh were still not sold on the idea. What held them back was neither price nor spec, but the financial package.
So they sat down with Close Brothers Asset Finance to look at the options. The financial package they went with took account that Imega Press wasn’t originally intending to buy at that time. As part of the deal, Imega wanted replace an old six-colour Heidelberg CD 102 with the five-colour XL 105.
“There were negotiations around the price involving such things as how much we paid for the six-colour machine we were replacing, also talks around parts and labour and the all-important warranty – we would not buy a used machine without a period of warranty, it’s an absolute necessity.”
Varnham won’t disclose who owned the press before Imega Print or the warranty length but it was “several months” and a period of time that is “almost unheard of”. What really won him over was the interest rate and the flexibility of the payment plan.
The whole process, from email to signing the deal took two weeks. The dealer was keen to move a machine that had been on site for a while quite quickly so that helped with the finance and facilitating the deal – it suited everybody, says Varnham.
“It also helped we know and trust the dealer, Itec. The relationship with your dealer is extremely important, especially for companies where the cost of a new press is prohibitive. Selling an old machine as part of the deal also helps with timings, financials and delays handing over money.”
Having signed the deal, installation took six weeks: Imega Press had only minor alterations to make to the premises, but had to move an existing five-colour press as well as take out the Heidelberg CD that was going as part of the deal.
The XL 105, which arrived in early August, is helping Varnham’s team be more competitive because of its productivity. The press runs at 18,000sph and has semi-automatic plate loading with off-press quality control. This enables operators to draw down pre-press data to set ink-duct profiles and speed up makeready. Off-press quality control brings the colour up to required standards in 80 sheets, a “huge jump” for Imega Print, says Varnham: “We can make ready in half the time and that’s a conservative estimate.”
Varnham expects his latest purchase to push the company’s turnover from £2.2m to the £3m mark in around 12 months. He wouldn’t be drawn on when his next purchase might be, but is sold on the idea of buying used machines: “Let me get over this one first; we have no plans for another big piece of kit, but when we do purchase, it will almost certainly be secondhand.”
Location Harrow, north London
Inspection host Ken Varnham
Size Turnover: £2.2m; staff: 19
Established Imega Print and Argent Litho merged in 2013
Products Posters, business cards, leaflets and B2B magazines as well as print for pharmaceutical firms and local authorities
Kit Five-colour Heidelberg CD 102, two-colour Heidelberg GTO and Kodak Sonora XP CTP system, as well as the secondhand five-colour Heidelberg XL 105 with coater
Inspection focus Buying a secondhand press
Do your research Imega Print managing director Ken Varnham didn’t need to seek out a particular machine, in responding to a speculative email, but background work on the secondhand market is vital.
Know the dealer Knowing that you can trust the dealer is no less crucial, insists Varnham, and can speed up timelines for money transfers and installation.
Take a close look See the machine in action and make sure you’re able to run some test sheets to ensure print quality is good enough for your needs.
Get a good finance package Try to negotiate the best deal involving beneficial interest rates and payment plans.
Scrutinise the machine’s history Having chosen a press check its impression count, what it was producing in the past and how well it has been looked after and maintained.
Negotiate on price Bear in mind parts and labour as well as the general condition of the press and and don’t be afraid to draw up a ‘snagging list’, taking account of fair wear and tear.
Get a good warranty Varnham would not consider buying a used machine without a period of warranty: “It’s an absolute necessity”.
Move carefully Moving a secondhand press is a unique experience and even when done correctly, things can “come out of the woodwork”.