Discreet trade services for packaging and large-format point-of-sale work are the speciality of Swanline Print in Stone, Staffordshire. The confidentiality part is why the company bills itself ‘the industry’s secret service’ on its Bond-themed website, leading inevitably to movie puns in its brochure, the highlight being “Live and Let Die-cutting”.
Swanline was set up in 2001 with just one single-colour screen press and steadily expanded into finishing and flatbed digital work for trade services. Today it employs 90 people and last year’s turnover was £10.5m, up 12% on the previous year. Over the past eight years it has increased turnover by more than 70%.
A year ago it installed its first MIS, supplied by Shuttleworth. The system chosen had to be highly flexible in order to cope with the diversity of the work that Swanline handles, says customer services director Phil Mansell. “We do work for many packaging companies in the UK all with different needs and aspirations. We are everything to everybody, which as a trade house you need to be, with the infrastructure and systems to cater for this efficiently and effectively.
“Internally we have screen and digital print kit – we were the first in the country to have an HP Scitex FB10000 printer in 1.6x3.2m format, and we have two of those now. We are totally self-sufficient in terms of printing, die-cutting and finishing. Litho print we outsource and use various printers with different formats and ink technologies, so we can give our customers a more competitive price rather than just trying to sell them internal capabilities.”
The packaging work is generally decorative. POS includes 3D FSDU (free standing display units) or dumpbins. “We also use a lot of materials that are unique to digital, such as high-impact polystyrene, polypropylene, Foamex, so we can be very versatile with the kit we’ve got,” Mansell adds.
He joined the company in 2013 with a brief to evaluate existing business workflow and suggest improvements to drive an aggressive growth strategy. “We have enjoyed substantial growth since the business started back in 2001,” he says. “In the past eight years alone our growth has been in the region of 71%. At the same time, technological changes in the marketplace, such as the advent of digital print, and the perpetual drive in the industry for improved speed-to-market, meant the business had to evolve in terms of process and procedure.”
Previously the company had used Excel spreadsheets, he says. “This was fine up to a point but the critical mass was such that the workflows needed to be re-engineered to improve efficiencies. It was my suggestion that we look at an MIS, to which the board was very receptive and supportive.”
He did the research on the available MIS suited to packaging work. “There are four or five main players for our type of business,” he says. “Swanline’s position in the marketplace is unique. We needed a system to cater for the simplicity of screen or digitally printed corrugated packaging, as well as the complexity associated with litho laminated and multi-component POS display units. We developed a nine-point ranking criteria covering areas such as ease of functionality, company financial strength, industry reputation, future proofing, product sustainability, etc, and arrived at our considered choice of Shuttleworth.”
He particularly praises the way that Shuttleworth worked with Swanline: “A lot of companies just want to sell you a system and be done,” he says. “We are very diverse in what we do. They worked very hard with us to develop the system, and we worked very closely with them.”
Swanline has implemented some of the main Shuttleworth modules, but not all of them so far. “We are currently using Estimating, Job Specifications, Purchase Orders, Invoicing, EDI, Quality Assurance and Dashboard Reporting,” Mansell says. “We plan to take on CRM in the first half of 2015.” Job scheduling isn’t being used, he says. “I didn’t want to change the world overnight, as I believe sustainable change needs to evolve over a period of time. So for the moment production planning is done on the existing Gantt charts. We don’t have shopfloor data collection or barcode scanning. The plan is to develop this to get to a position where we’ve got the confidence and ability to take it forward.”
As a trade services operation Swanline doesn’t need web to print and doesn’t have a conventional sales staff structure. “We employ a business development director and sales director, who focus strongly on project management and ensuring our customers’ needs are met,” says Mansell. “Our business model is quite unique in what we offer. We deal with most packaging companies in the UK and we go on reputation. They know that if they come to us we won’t try to pinch their customers, because we are strictly trade.”
The MIS was accepted positively internally, he says. “Because the company had no MIS beforehand, there were no preconceptions. We eliminated the previous frustrations associated with fragmentation and duplication of effort. So we had a transparent MIS, but that also gave us the opportunity to re-engineer the way people worked. People’s jobs changed quite dramatically so what they were doing before isn’t what they do now.”
Putting in an MIS hasn’t increased the turnover directly, he says. “I’d say it has boosted our ability to handle the turnover more efficiently. Satisfied customers are more likely to come back to you. It’s certainly made life easier. Now we have a system that will allow us to put another £2m-£2.5m on the turnover with current staffing levels. It is so sophisticated that it’s taken a lot of time out of the process.’
Pros without cons
PrintWeek usually asks about minuses as well as pluses at this point, but Mansell says there aren’t any minuses so far: “We haven’t got any problems because we are continually working with Shuttleworth to develop the system. For example, when we first put the system in we thought we’d catered for all scenarios on the print side, with anything up to six colours, different varnish finishes, and then one of our biggest customers started asking for neon inks in eight colours, printed on metalised foil boards. Rather than a workaround we worked with Shuttleworth to actually do that as part of the integrated system.
“They are a perfect supplier in my opinion because they work with us. As our business develops one of the key things to me was future-proofing what we’re doing. Whether it’s corrugated board or high-impact polystyrene the principles are pretty much the same. No matter how we print or cut it, the ability is there to facilitate it within the MIS.”
Shuttleworth develops a modular MIS available in a choice of configurations, including commercial print, labels, packaging, large format, direct mail and print management
Current Swanline modules available Estimating, Job Specifications, Purchase Orders, Invoicing, EDI, Quality Assurance and Dashboard Reporting
Other modules listed for packaging use Web to Print, CRM, E-mail Campaign, Production planning and JDF/JMF
Price From around £10,000
Contact Shuttleworth 01536 316316 www.shuttleworth-uk.co.uk
Swanline Print was founded in 2001 and today offers trade-only packaging and point-of-sale work services. It’s in-house printing facilities include screen presses and a pair of HP FB10000 large-format flatbed UV inkjets, able to take panels and sheets up to 1.6x3.2m. Litho printing is outsourced to a number of trusted suppliers with which Swanline has agreed prices and service levels, so it is able to use these in quotations and planning.
In-house finishing capabilities include die-cutting and embossing/debossing. Hot foiling is outsourced, but UV spot and flood varnishing is handled by the screen presses.
Richard Hewitt, quality and marketing manager, says: “We offer a comprehensive range of confidential trade services, giving our customers the opportunity to create niche value added markets in sectors with the least rivalry and thus the best opportunity for margin – all supported by expertly skilled, highly experienced personnel.”
In October 2014 Swanline became one of nine equal partners in CorrBoard, a new specialist corrugated materials plant in Scunthorpe.
Why it was bought...
Swanline has seen rapid growth over the past eight years and needed a more formalised workflow system to respond to the ongoing drive in the industry for improved speed-to-market. The company examined the market and opted for Shuttleworth based on a nine-point capability checklist and the developer’s flexibility, customer service and reputation.
How it has performed...
Mansell says: “As a result of our investment, we have seen a significant decrease in our average transaction time from creation of estimate, creation of job and associated job tickets, to creation and placing of purchase orders. On average, previous time-per-transaction for a simple product was approximately 12 minutes, as opposed to five minutes now. A complex display would take approximately 45 minutes, compared to 20 minutes now.
“Broadly speaking we equate this to a saving of over 500 man hours per year, resulting in better productivity, lower transactional costs and an improved service to customers, in turn resulting in account retention and growth. We anticipate sales growth in excess of 11% this year and we feel that Shuttleworth has certainly been an enabler to facilitate this.”