Seasonal grafters deliver festive spirit

By Max Goldbart, Monday 27 November 2017

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It may be the most wonderful time of the year but for print, Christmas can also be the busiest.

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Advent calendars are becoming increasingly creative

While workers in many industries can use the festive period as an opportunity to wind down, visit family and eat too much, for many print companies this period is crucial to a strong sales year.  

But alas, in its Q3 Printing Outlook survey released earlier this month, the BPIF highlighted subdued
output predictions for the Christmas period, which, if realised, will represent the weakest Q4 performance for five years. 

“We don’t know what the actual results will be for Q4 but I guess the expectations for the quarter weren’t as you would expect they would be,” mulls BPIF research manager Kyle Jardine.

But Jardine is no Scrooge and he believes that the upsurge in Q4 performance in 2015 and 2016, following sharp downturns after the financial crash, may yet point to positivity, a belief confirmed by a number of those companies contacted by PrintWeek. So just how is the sector adapting to the festive period this year and could Jardine’s research represent the ghosts of Christmas past rather than present? 

“Christmas is the only peak season where everything is busy,” says Funky Pigeon general manager Grant Bewey, who has presided over year-on-year growth since joining the print operation in 2011. 

“You have other seasonal peaks – things like Mother’s Day, where flowers will be busy, or cushions – but for Christmas every product line we have is busy.”

The Guernsey-based print operation is expecting anything but a slowdown, with the personalised greetings card manufacturer bolstering its offering in line with previous years and offering a wider variety of items. 

With the extra complexity of shifting most gifts from the Channel Islands to the mainland, the 25-staff firm, which runs four HP Indigos, brings in around 90 temporary workers, spread over three shift patterns, most of whom are enlisted to aid with the almighty packing task. 

“You can pretty much say from early November to the second week of December, the volume doubles each week,” adds Bewey.

Certain medium-sized commercial operations also report a successful period so far, with Gloucester-based Alpha Colour Printers’ repro manager Luke Ostle overseeing the doubling of its digital capacity to cope with an upsurge of greetings card orders, and Taylor Bloxham Group’s Robert Lockwood highlighting a full order book due to a “number of significant client jobs”. 

Other micro commercial operations ramp up during the period and some have embraced Christmas as a time for diversification. 

Chris Lunnon, managing director of Hertfordshire-based The Print Factory, set up a Christmas card sideline a decade ago and his four-staff home-based outfit is on track this year to print around 2 million cards for schools in the local area, 20% up on last year’s volume and representing 50% of yearly sales. 

He says: “Last year was a low in the 10-year cycle, we went down two years ago and then last year, but this year it’s spiked back up. There is a bit more confidence in the market, a little bit more money about.”

Registering with the scheme in July, participating schools then submit artwork for each child and printing takes place from the end of October and through into December. 

On trend 

Earlier this decade, Lunnon tried to introduce Advent calendars to his repertoire but found the market difficult to crack, something that Watford-based greetings card printer Woodmansterne has had no trouble with since acquiring Advent calendar specialist Caltime in 2013. 

Director Seth Woodmansterne says: “The term Advent calendar, you would hear it and think ‘That’s just chocolate in a box’, but the creativity and the designs have expanded, to include drinks, food and even pork scratchings.”

Using a B2 Speedmaster and screen printing for spot UV and glitter, Woodmansterne says the bespoke goods are flying off the shelves, with its 3D village Advent calendar comprising 24 die-cut items selling particularly well. The firm is now due to feature in a BBC television programme on the phenomenon towards the end of the year. 

Across in Colchester, 100-year-old calendar printer Rose Calendars is seeing an upsurge in orders for its ‘360interactive’ landscape calendars, which use VR technology and have so far won five awards for innovation, according to marketing manager Elizabeth Rose, who tells PrintWeek that orders for this year are up as customers “come back to calendars”.

Thinking outside the box 

For certain companies, Christmas represents a quieter time, and these firms, such as fast-growing trade printer Route One, need to think outside the box in terms of how to keep themselves busy.

“The sorts of clients our customers are working with will be SMEs, so what we genuinely see around Christmas time is that demand does tail off, which presents a challenge more than anything to us”, says its brand manager Jack Wilmott. 

Similarly, within the label sector, Label Apeel’s Stuart Kellock reports on how his Leicester-based firm tends to have produced most of its Christmas label work for clients in the beverage sector by the end of October, ergo it looks further ahead and is now using the time to print labels for protein shakes and nutritional drinks, ready for the January health rush. 

“What we’ve done is taken a very pragmatic view and said ‘When are our quiet times?’, which used to be the backend of November and December, and approached the market that we felt would be able to meet that,” says Kellock. 

Whether Christmas is busy season or a time when a bit of innovation is required to keep on track, it seems that print is well versed in facing up to the challenges it brings. And if the annual BPIF Christmas Carol Service is anything to go by, it’s also pretty well versed in that bit of Christmas cheer.    

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