Northprint interview: Stephen Palmer - Ricoh UK

Ricoh UK production print director Stephen Palmer talks to <i>PrintWeek</i> editor Darryl Danielli about the firm's partnership with Heidelberg and the key issue of financing digital kit.

Your partnership with Heidelberg was unveiled in February, and I believe the UK contract was signed in the middle of last month, so have the ‘rules of engagement’ been sorted? We see this as a huge success and not just strategically across Europe. What’s really impressed me is the ‘can do’ attitude of Heidelberg and Ricoh in the UK: we’re not just having meetings about meetings, we’re seeing some real action. We’re running training sessions for the team next week, we’re putting in place finance arrangements and we’ve got an understanding of our respective market coverage and we’ll try not to trip over each other. In fact, we’ve just taken the first order with them.

Interesting, who was the customer?

We’ll tell you more about that in due course.

Fair enough. In effect, though, it’s a reseller arrangement, so how will it work in terms of pricing? Clearly Heidelberg won’t be getting machines for less than you, so will you be going to market with the same price points?

Heidelberg has negotiated a centrally agreed price, we’ve given them some indications of our pricing and I would anticipate that they’ll be out in the market at similar levels to us.

At Digi:Media there were hints of jointly developed products, what area do you think they’ll be in?

It’s early days, but if you take a step back to the early days of digital moving into the commercial print sector, first there was the price objection; digital was too expensive. We’ve overcome that now and then there were the quality objectors who said digital didn’t really match litho, we’ve overcome that too. So now the biggest area we can progress is the workflow, and this is where I think both companies will share their expertise to develop a homogenous approach to their Prinect workflow and our devices to take the best of both technologies and we have the joint innovation council to look at these sorts of opportunities.

In yesterday’s interview, Manroland GB’s managing director Norman Revill said he was surprised that Heidelberg selected Ricoh as he thought it would be a ‘bigger player’...

We’ll we’re now number one in the market, and Heidelberg clearly believes we’re best in class and we are a very big player in this industry and we’re only going to get bigger. The Heidelberg deal will be a key part of that growth.

But the market’s still tough. What are the key issues impacting the industry and your customers?

Finance is the biggest one. The financial sector doesn’t recognise digital as a product with any asset value, which is a shame because machines we put in 18 months ago still have a very good resale value. So that’s an issue and we’re working very hard to resolve that. And then the next thing is market based. We’re looking to help printers respond to the trends towards more targeted marketing campaigns, print on demand, more colour output and just-in-time delivery and that’s where the opportunities and challenges lie. And customers shouldn’t have to manage that difficult transition on their own; we’re here to help them.

On the finance issue, though, surely all digital vendors need to help create a secondhand market and support independent dealers – that way perhaps the banks would start to recognise that digital kit has a resale value?

The risk in going to third parties is that because digital equipment sales is a very quality and service orientated business, unless it’s supported by the vendors directly then it could damage our reputation. But there’s definitely a demand for used digital kit.

But when it comes to printers securing finance for digital kit, surely it’s going to be easier, and much more likely, for the digital vendors to change than it is for the lenders?

It is an issue. But what is interesting is the Heidelberg approach; this could open new doors for us because the products they’re selling do have a significant asset value so you could easily envisage tying the two transactions together. And I think a lot of the mid-sized operations will benefit from this.

Interesting. Back to the show, though – what are your hopes for Northprint?

There are many really, there are short term and then medium and longer term. Obviously we're looking for a return on investment, that’s important, we’re looking to meet new customers and existing customers and close some business, that’s what we’re here to do short-term. As part of the longer-term aim, we’re looking to get the Ricoh name out there and continue to build the brand, which is now a very strong one in the industry.

You’re the biggest exhibitor here, so how are you going to measure success?

Clearly we’re not going to just measure it on orders taken, that’s not really a realistic measure, although clearly we’ll be delighted if people do come to the show to place orders. But you have to look at after six months or a year and ask, did it generate growth in the business; did it really pay off? It’s got to be a worthwhile investment.

But clearly you could have taken a smaller stand and lower cost?

We’re no longer the new kids on the block, we’re one of the biggest in the digital industry now and our presence reflects that.

What are your thoughts on moving the show to Manchester?

We did discuss that internally this morning, and we would probably have to ask ourselves on the last day how this year’s show went. To be absolutely honest, it’s all down to how many people attend. If moving to Manchester would make it a more successful show then we would support that, but we’re delighted to be here in Harrogate and we think this year will be a great success, but let’s see what it brings us at the end.

Finally, then, do you think these sort of small-scale regional shows have a future?

I think so. Probably 80-85% of our customers are based in the Midlands and the North and I think it’s a very good way to develop relationships with these customers.


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