By Richard Stuart-Turner, Monday 22 January 2018
In the last issue of PrintWeek we posed the following question: ‘How optimistic are you about your business prospects in 2018?’
At the time of writing, more than 40% of respondents had answered ‘not very optimistic’ while the combined total of those feeling ‘very optimistic’ and ‘quite optimistic’ came to just over 36%. The remainder were ‘cautiously optimistic’.
The latest Small Business Index from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says SMEs are feeling increasingly pessimistic because of rising operating costs, weak domestic growth and decreasing consumer demand.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – the survey also found that exporting SMEs remain optimistic about their prospects, with 77% of those respondents reporting stable or increasing international sales.
And British manufacturers are more upbeat about the current global economic outlook than at any point since 2014, according to research from manufacturers’ organisation EEF and insurance firm AIG. 40% are planning for growth in their industry this year compared with 19% predicting deterioration.
Print has its own challenges additional to those outlined by the FSB, of course, but many printers are refusing to get bogged down in the day-to-day and have taken to their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts in recent weeks to share their enthusiasm for the year ahead.
So why are some printers feeling more positive than others?
Having an inspirational and optimistic leader is a major advantage, as a negative boss is likely to pass their woes down through their business.
It Has to Be Brilliant brand and strategic director Tony Kenton, who says he and his colleagues are constantly inspired by the vision of managing director Simon Tabelin, argues that optimism among printers also has much to do with the type of services they offer.
“I believe that the industry is made up of two very definitive markets at the moment – one is jobbing printers, where every day is a mountain to climb, whatever you get in you get in and you knock out and hopefully you’ve got a few contracts in place to keep you occupied and have a few key clients that keep you busy.
“Those printers have got lots to be pessimistic about because trade printers are getting ever more efficient and are able to be more competitive, not just to other printers but to corporates as well, so it’s therefore a much tougher market to compete in.
“On the other side of the industry are those that are focused on being ‘sticky’, which is typically where they are part of a customer’s workflow process. Examples would be producing packaging or a piece of information documentation – something that is an intrinsic part of the product being sent out.
“And the more they sell of it, the more they will need of your services. Companies that work in partnership with their clients are together creating a future for themselves.”
Kenton believes businesses operating in a tough marketplace should be more pro-active in order to succeed. “A lot of people sit and wait for things to come in with nothing happening, but you can’t sit waiting for anything, you’ve got to go out and grab it and give your clients a damn good reason why they should use you.”
The other side
Printers working in thriving markets, such as textiles or packaging, are also perhaps inevitably more likely to feel optimistic than those operating in more sluggish areas. But even in those sectors there are plenty of ways to diversify and opportunities to grab.
Emtone Print is one example of a jobbing printer that has expanded its services over the last few years to add more value for clients.
“We’re focusing much more on creative print and project-based work that allows us to collaborate with our customers, rather than just taking orders. We believe that we’ve got the technology to further explore this in 2018,” says sales and marketing manager Patsy Gould.
“Printers saying that print isn’t what it was are right. All industries change and if we approach our business in the way we did 10 years, five years or even a year ago we’d quickly get left behind.”
Webmart chief executive Simon Biltcliffe also has plenty to smile about. His firm secured a multi-million pound global deal just before Christmas and has quickly recruited four additional people to help manage the contract.
Biltcliffe feels there are numerous opportunities out there for printers, who need to do more to promote the medium’s unique benefits. “For anybody under 30, there’s an absolute novelty and an attraction to the tangibility of print. Combine that with the personalisation of a really relevant proposition and – wow.”
He adds that the biggest prospects for organic growth can often lie within a company’s existing client base.
“As a printer, your customers are entrusting you with their most precious assets – their brand, a big chunk of money, and their client data. All you need to do is have a relationship where they trust you to deliver new things because, whatever it is, it’s going to be less expensive than printing.
“They’re going to be using the same brand that they’ve been dealing with for years and you’ve already got the understanding of their customers. So, you can profile their customer set – with their explicit opt-in – and use clever smart technology to find them more customers like that which you can then help to create new client growth.”
While some areas of the industry undoubtedly have more reasons to be optimistic than others right now, then, scheduling in some time to think about how to add value for new and existing customers is likely to be time well spent for any printer.
“People who are looking at new ways of creating value through technology, through investing in people, through being aware of the modern marketing mix, and by coming up with new, creative solutions are looking at a world of opportunity,” Biltcliffe concludes.
Draw customers’ attention to print’s unique abilities
Charles Jarrold, chief executive, BPIF
The political backdrop in the UK has been a rollercoaster since the EU Referendum. The result wasn’t expected, and what it actually meant hadn’t been defined. Since then, there’s been some catch-up, with the vote interpreted to mean things that will have significant yet uncertain consequences. Addressing these issues and taking full account of UK businesses’ concerns is essential.
Confidence comes from understanding the resilience of your business and the risks to it, so that you can continue to invest and take advantage of any opportunities. Despite general political uncertainty, more specific business opportunities aren’t directly affected – whether that’s increased ability to use innovation to meet client needs, or to improve efficiency in existing operations. In our sector, standing still is being left behind, and is a very significant risk in itself. There’s a big difference between being bold and being reckless, but businesses must continue to think about how they’ll thrive in the future.
Of late, businesses that focus on higher engagement, targeting and versioning have been thriving, and generic high-volume print has been a tougher tale, so it’s worth thinking about where the best opportunities are.
There’s also more opportunity to do innovative and exciting things with print now than ever before due to client demand and how as a sector we have developed. And there’s stronger evidence than ever showing the effectiveness of print, as we saw at the Power of Print Seminar towards the end of 2017.
It’s easier to be optimistic if you have a strategy and momentum that’s delivering. Uncertainty and financial pressure inevitably drag you down.
Without question, we need to continue to draw attention to the unique ability of all things printed. There’s no serious question about the ability of print to engage, but there’s a tendency consider it too narrowly – it’s a huge, diverse and vibrant sector.
Are you optimistic ab out your business’s prospects in 2018?
Asif Choudry, sales and marketing director, Resource
“We’ve always been a forward-looking business and that comes through right from the very top – our managing director Phil Thompson is a visionary. We’re always looking for what’s next and there’s a real sales-focused, optimistic culture here. Optimism is created by the people in a business itself but if you’ve got somebody, or people, at the top who quash that at every corner then it becomes soul destroying. Our staff retention is high because people get the opportunity to make suggestions that change the way that we work.”
Patrick Headley, chief executive, Go Inspire Group
“I think 2018 is going to be a great year, with a number of exciting opportunities for growth and new business. As an industry, we need to get out there and focus on the strengths of print being powerful and direct mail really working as a channel. Nothing beats print and direct mail for tangibility, longevity and response, particularly when it is combined with online. With GDPR allowing direct mail to be used with legitimate consent, and new products coming into the market all the time, there are even more reasons now to be optimistic for the future.”
Nick Green, founder, Printed.com
“The year has just started and it’s too early to not to be excited about the world ahead. There’s a whole 12 months to get excited about. All of us in the online field should grow, we’ve got big brand companies coming to us now with tenders, I’m expecting big changes for all of us in 2018. Outside of our space it’s difficult to read – there are some disappointing stories and some businesses that aren’t going to make it. But the demand for print will still be solid.”