"Wide-format is growing in India," says Neil Felton of Fespa

By Noel D'cunha, Friday 30 September 2011

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On his first visit to India, Fespa's managing director Neil Felton talks to Noel D'cunha about Fespa-SPAI activities in India and the Asian print market with which he is clearly impressed.

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Is this your first trip to India?
Yes. The first place I wanted to go after I took charge at Fespa was India. I really wanted to understand the vast market that India is, one which may be better than some European market (strangely). I have visited a few top class companies like Classic Stripes and Spectrum Scan. When I spoke to the Indian printers, I got a feeling that they know what their customers want.

The last decade or so has seen the Indian print industry invest in plant and machinery. The mood in the print industry is upbeat? What is your assessment of the growth in this region?
As a federation of 36 national trade associations, Fespa maintains a global perspective.  Asia in general is a growth market, and has arguably not suffered from the recent economic crisis to the same extent as American or European markets. The sources I have seen indicate that recovery has been quicker and more robust, and there is a broad sense of optimism when talking to printers from the Asian region, and their representatives in our member associations. Travelling around Asia also leaves me with an impression of dynamism and entrepreneurialism, which is reflected in my conversations with print service providers here. Clearly each individual Asian market has its own idiosyncrasies and there are challenges in many countries. On the whole though, Asia is on a growth trajectory, so we’re optimistic for Fespa Asia 2011, and for future activities in Asia.

Besides being an experienced exhibition director for business-to-business event, you have held a wide range of sales experience gained from series of media roles. Do you think increased productivity decide profit levels in print?
I am new to the printing industry, but as in most industries, differentiation seems to be the key to growing margins. Historically, printers have tended to chase volume at any price, but downward pressures on price, exacerbated by surplus production capacity in many markets, have commoditised print and made it hard for print service providers to sustain profitability. Fortunately, in the wide- format sector, there are many opportunities for printers to add value and diversify their offering to customers. New substrates and inks, and the increased scope of digital print engines to handle these, gives printers a chance to offer existing customers new and exciting products and services, and to reach out to new target audiences. And technology provides enormous scope to improve production efficiencies, stripping out waste, automating production, improving time to market and enabling printers to produce more with what they have. These factors in combination should give printers confidence that there is always scope to improve business performance, whether looking at turnover or profit.

Fespa-SPAI are organising a series of road shows across India. What’s the objective?
The idea behind doing the road shows is to provide printers with a platform where they can connect with each others, find out information on a wide variety of topics. We do not want to be as an exhibitor organisation, which is good, but from Fespa’s perspective, to take it to the next step, which is to hold more conferences, provide more technical information, where we have leading printers talking to other leading printers. And we are also looking beyond the printing industry. We are looking at the FMCG, finding out what their views are, what sort of things do they require. We are trying to engage with them more. We see these road shows as a start to the way to engage with printer community and the road shows are as important as the big exhibitions. The response to two road shows we have conducted have been good, with 175-400 people attending at each of the locations.  Through the road shows, people who have been using conventional methods are getting to know about new technology. Manual operators are amazed by the new technology and equipment. We plan to conduct 62 such road-shows across India.

There are two road-blocks – finance and training. How does one tackle this?
I have been given to understand that finance is available, subject to requirements, since the transition from manual to semi-automatic machines does not cost as much as say an offset machine. Yes, training is something that is close to everybody’s heart. When Fespa launched Fespa Digital in 2006, the whole process was about educating on how digital was becoming more effective. The same is with screen, particularly in India. We are trying to give screen printers access to information. There’s a lot of information available on Fespa’s website. That said, I think there is a need to do more if we have to become the leading globally connected community, where every player in the screen or digital can get information. It can be the road shows or high level event.

Which best practices have impressed you?
What impresses me is seeing entrepreneurs who take a step back from the day to day business concerns and look for opportunities to evolve their service to customers. Walking around my first Fespa show in Hamburg this year, I was dumbfounded by the sheer colour and excitement of the industry I work in, and the vast array of creative applications for wide-format print.
We recently published our Fespa Evolution study, which explored what leading print service providers globally were doing differently, thus providing valuable examples of best practice for our whole community. The survey divides evolutionary strategies into those that are operations-driven, providing greater speed, quality, efficiency and so on, and innovation-driven measures that deliver new services or products to new customers via new business models. The three most common strategies – followed by over 50% of respondents – were to make pricing a non-issue (56.8%), invest in technology to raise service levels (53.7%) and launch a new wide-format digital service (51.8%). Other popular strategies included developing new processes to fuel growth or enable entry into new markets (47.8%) and selling wide-format services in a different way (45.7%). The study also indicated that 39% of respondents have introduced project management efficiencies and improved inventory management.
Differentiation from competitors is a key element in breaking out of the price-driven, commodity print business, and a significant number of businesses regard certification in international colour standards as a means to do this – 24.1% are already certified and 42.9% are either in the process of gaining certification or planning to do so. Web-to-print is a key business growth strategy for 45% of businesses, while sustainability also remains high on the agenda, with 45% of PSPs surveyed reporting that they have developed ‘green’ printing practices. Indian printers wanting to access the full study can do so via membership of SPAI, our national member association in India.

Plans for India?
As I have said, we are planning to engage printers at a higher level. Following my visit to the two printers, I have come to realise what printers in India can do. And if we can engage these top printers with some of the top printers of the world, I believe we can get a better and proper networking, one that would be mutually beneficial to all. Fespa has a team of 23 people who are pushing Fespa around the world. I would like to see more printers from India visit Fespa Asia 2011 being held in Singapore. A rich timetable of seminars and workshops at Fespa Asia will help printers to find inspiration or practical solutions to many of the challenges and opportunities facing their business.

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