Step back from the finishing line

Des King
Thursday, October 23, 2008

I've been wondering about trade finishers moving upstream with an eye to digital print. A smart move and perhaps the start of a trend? The BPIF special interest finishers' group has recently been glad-handed down at HP Bracknell's headquarters. A Cheltenham-based finishing specialist has snapped up a nearby digital print supplier. It might be premature to talk up a trend, but it could well be the basis on which to build a creditable proposition.

HP marketing manager Julia Cole is somewhat circumspect, saying: “We need to educate all parts of the printing business as to what digital can do, because clearly it gives new applications”. However, she confirms that “we have had finishers approach us with an interest to seeing how they could reposition their business model to incorporate a digital press. It’s early days though.”

No it isn’t, reckons BPIF’s Bob Thomson. “As the trade becomes more competitive and printers bring finishing
in-house, we’ve been trying to encourage finishers to widen their depth of service. At present, not all print companies have digital capability, so this could well be a potential opportunity.”

It’s one that Finishing Matters appeared to have spotted when it acquired a neighbouring digital print firm. However, it transpires that it had always intended to create a short-run business, but had only been able to get the fledgling enterprise off the ground by processing book-binding and folding orders as part-time evening work. Trained at Xerox, which apparently verses its employees on all aspects of the print business, this was something co-directors Matthew Magovern and Adrian Prewer were eminently fit to do.

The only fly in the ointment is that trade finishers might be wary of straying beyond their remit lest their customers take commercial umbrage, says Thomson. Even so, he points out a stark truth. “Finishers are either going to have to move back a step and offer print as an added facility or move into fulfilment. Whichever they do, they’ll be competing with other companies, but my concern is if they stay as they are, trade finishing could go the way of the graphic repro industry.”

Fears of sending a mixed message to customers are belied by Finishing Matters’ experience. Prewer confirms a healthy proportion of its digital print orders are from customers that had only been looking for finishing solutions. Furthermore, “half of them are litho printers placing digital jobs, who now expect the print to be fully finished”.

Despite his own Xerox pedigree, Prewer reckons “an experienced finisher shouldn’t need any different training” to handle a digital system. The stumbling block he identifies, however, might be one of entrenched mindset rather than technical proficiency.

Trade finishers are already the can-do extension of many commercial printers. Nevertheless, they face the reality of more and more finishing equipment being installed in-house. The attribute to focus on here is service. Wherever you choose to position it within the established hierarchy, digital print is revolutionising the way the industry is perceived: less engineering, more marketing. The squeeze is on, so trade finishers should be encouraged to think what might once have been the unthinkable in order to expand.


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