Hunts chief executive Timon Colegrove had an epiphany, which led to a radical realignment of the business, in particular how it relates to clients.
Part of that realignment was how it promotes its products and services, which led it to develop a range of proprietary brands around its core print services.
“It goes back to November 2008 when I heard Michael Johnson (then BPIF chief executive) introduce the concept of customer-centricity,” says Colegrove. “Prior to that I’d never heard of being customer-centric; at that point we were a basic printing company.
“When I joined the industry in the 1980s, printers put themselves on a pedestal – they liked to see themselves as akin to lawyers and doctors – they were special and knew best for the customer, who could have what we wanted to give them when we could manage it.
“The market is very different these days with customers much more in control. Not only do printers have to compete with each other for business, print itself has to fight for its place as a communications medium.”
At the heart of Johnson’s message was the idea that companies could operate at four levels: the lowest focused on price, the next on the product, the third the customer and the top tier being customer-centric. The difference between the third and the fourth tiers being that while the third reacts to customer demands, the fourth anticipates them and actively supports their business objectives.
“It’s about going out to the customer and sharing information with them and being proactive,” says Colegrove. “That really spoke to me.”
As he sees it the print industry is polarising into commoditised price leaders and added-value customer-centric firms. The big risk is being stuck in the middle trying to be both and being neither.
“The customer-centric printer can’t compete on price with the price leaders, then again they can’t compete with the customer-centric model on service,” he says. “I’ve seen very good printers lose their businesses because they were stuck in the middle ground.”
Having decided to take the customer-centric approach, the challenge for Colegrove and for Hunts was knowing what that looks like when you’re selling print.
Colegrove says the answer is to look at things from those customers’ perspective and think about what it is they want to achieve, what their level of understanding of print is and how they communicate themselves.
“Look at how you offer things,” he advises. “We do web-to-print but we don’t call it that. We offer it to clients as a webstore or a marketing portal and show how they could use it.”
Colegrove has an infectious enthusiasm for print and believes it has a powerful role to play in the modern messaging mix: “The promotional print that we focus on is a market that is actually growing because print cuts through the noise of many other communications channels.”
His firm’s challenge was how to promote that to its customers in a meaningful way. The opportunity came when it was time to upgrade one of its presses, which led it to combine its traditional technical expertise with its newer customer focus to deliver a compelling set of print products supported by samples, clear explanations of their benefits and a strong brand.
“We needed to replace one of our B2 presses and HUV came up as an option,” he says. “We ended up getting a Komori LS529 HUV five-colour machine plus coater. We didn’t necessarily need the extra colour and the coater – one of the things about HUV is it’s cured on-press so there isn’t any need to coat to protect it, either for us in production or for the client in use. What they can do is offer the opportunity to do more creative things.”
While the production team at Hunts who chose the press could clearly see how the low-energy UV-curing system on the press offered benefits for both regular work and special effects the benefits wouldn’t have been immediately obvious to the majority of its clients.
“If we went out to our customers and told them we had installed a five-colour press with coater using HUV technology it would have meant nothing to them,” he says. “So, we created the LightDry brand. It’s differentiated from regular print. It’s more robust and it can do things that weren’t possible before such as print on plastic at high quality and put white ink on black paper.”
To highlight the possibilities offered by LightDry the firm produced a sample pack – produced entirely in a single pass on the HUV press – that shows the machine’s potential to clients.
In the year since the installation of the LS529 HUV and the launch of the LightDry brand the firm has had its most successful year to date with sales up 20% to £6m. Colegrove doesn’t attribute that all to LightDry, which is just one of many customer-centric approaches it is taking. That said, it has had a positive effect on the business.
“Realistically we are only doing a little bit of the work marketed as LightDry, but it does engage the customers and helps us to differentiate ourselves,” he says. It may have had a halo effect, helping it to win more conventional work; the machine has certainly been very busy.
“In the past year that press has done 50 million impressions – that’s a lot for a firm of our size. We get a lot of efficiency from it and are able to do work that previously we’d send out to a B1 printer.”
Following on from LightDry Hunts has gone on to develop more branded print products that help to sell the explicit benefits to customers, some of which are extensions of the LightDry/HUV process. One example is what it brands Enhanced Definition, a technique to produce sharper and brighter print on uncoated stock.
“There is a love of uncoated paper but people are fed up with the way work dulls down on it,” he says. “We don’t make the customer do the work, our PDF polisher adapts their artwork for the process.”
The technology underlying Enhanced Definition is again the HUV press along with the use of higher screen rulings and colour management to manage dot gain and ensure the colours and tones remain correct and as strong as possible. Like LightDry the firm has produced samples, this time including comparisons between standard uncoated work and that produced using Enhanced Definition. Another example is High Definition, which uses HUV and FM screening to deliver higher detail and brighter colour on coated stock.
“HUV and FM would mean nothing to our customers,” he says.
The firm is also starting to roll out brands to its papers, including what it calls Diamond White, a triple-coated FSC, 300gsm grade.
“It makes it hard for other printers to match it, as it’s our brand not the mill or merchant’s. It also articulates it in a different and more attractive way than just calling it our house stock.”
It has also reviewed existing products and services so that they also benefit from better branding. While HUV is one of the latest litho developments a few years ago it was Heidelberg’s launch of the Anicolor press, which the firm installed in 2007, that was getting the Hunts team excited.
“We put one of those in eight years ago to compete for short-run work with the quality of the HP Indigo and the efficiency of a Xerox iGen,” he says. “That was pre customer-centric days, I wasn’t making the connections. Now we’re branding it. Digital Litho. When we first got it we missed the boat, now we’re catching up.”
In conclusion Colegrove explains that what Hunts has done is a simple: “The technologies are available to all printers, we just consciously sell them to our customers.”
Inspection host Timon Colegrove, chief executive
Size Turnover: £6m; staff: 60
Sectors Mix of direct clients and work for creative agencies. Sectors include education, cosmetics and automotive
Products Design, digital, app development, print (litho, digital and wide-format), finishing, mailing and logistics
Kit Komori LS529 HUV, Heidelberg Speedmaster 52 Anicolor, two Polar guillotines, Autobond Laminator, Horizon Stitchliner, Horizon Perfect Binder, Promailer, shrink wrapping
Inspection focus Using technology to productise print
Define your market and your approach Choose your approach be it price-led or customer and service-led and stick to it. “I’ve seen very good printers lose their businesses because they were stuck in the middle ground,” says Hunts chief executive Timon Colegrove.
Put yourself in your clients’ shoes Anticipate their needs and support their business objectives. “Go out to the customer and share information with them,” says Colegrove. “Look at how you offer things and show people how they could use them.”
Talk in their language and address their needs “If we told our customers we had installed a five-colour press with coater using HUV it would have meant nothing to them,” he says. The LightDry brand is differentiated from regular print and explains the features and benefits.
Produce samples The LightDry sample back shows what’s possible including the use of plastics, a range of coating effects and the use of white ink for standout effects. The samples show how they techniques can be used to enhance design, not focus on how they were done.
Roll out the approach to other products and services Can the same core technology be used for other products? Can the same marketing approach be used to highlight the features and benefits of other products and services?
Be realistic about how much work will be suitable “Realistically we are only doing a little bit of the work marketed as LightDry but it does engage the customers and helps us to differentiate ourselves,” he says.