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Sat, Apr

IR talks to... Stuart Maclaren, Founder and MD, Your Print Partner

When Your Print Partner MD Stuart Maclaren founded the company in 2011 with a £70,000 Mimaki direct-to-textile printer, the then 23-year-old thought he could make a good go of building a business producing quick-turnaround fabric print.

He’s just spent £1.5m moving what’s now a £3m turnover group into a new freehold HQ housing a swathe of new print kit. And he’s looking to fill six new jobs. So how come he’s come so far, so fast?

By Lesley Simpson

First, congratulations on being nominated in the ‘Small/Medium Business of the Year’ category in the 2016 Lincolnshire Media Business Awards. 
(call him for result Tue 18 Oct)

So it’s five years since you set up YPP, with a Mimaki direct-to-textile printer and a prediction that first year turnover would be in the region of £400K. What key investments/developments have there been since then to bring your current turnover to £3m?

Well I have to explain that the YPP group has a turnover of £3m – that encompasses the YPP wide-format print division, which has a turnover of about £1.5m, and our other spin-off businesses: Event Ts, our personalised garment service for events which was formed in 2014; Flag Wizard, set up in July 2015; and Santa Sacks, our customised Christmas gift site which started trading at the end of last summer. And we now have Your Promo Partner, which is just going live.

And yes, we’ve just turned five. As you can tell from what I’ve just said about the shape of the YPP group, quite a lot has changed in that time. Three years ago we moved into Millennium House in Lincoln, which was a massive step for us. At that time we went from having 232m2 and one machine to 743m2 and three machines. Since then we’ve expanded rapidly. When we moved in there were five of us. Now there are 25. We added two large-format Mimaki 320 machines – one last year, and one this year – and we installed a customer CRM system.

We also expanded our websites with new product offerings. First there was Event Ts, then we acquired Flag Wizard - a company that bought most of its stuff from us anyway but whose owner was retiring. Then we set up Santa Sacks, also last year. And right now Your Promo Partner - which will be selling promotional goods - is about ready to go.

And now have this whopping new site and significantly more large-format print capacity. Can you talk us through the expansion?
At Millennium House we were running four textile machines and two PVC machines, 20 hours a day, five days a week. We were at 82% capacity on those. When we launched Santa Sacks we also bought quite a bit of CAD cutting kit which has been running pretty much flat out.

Over the weekend at the end of October/start of November, we moved into our new hub in Lincoln, just a few miles down the road from Millennium House (which is now up for sale). The 1950m2 building cost £800,00 and we’ve spent £200,000 refurbishing and adding another 418m2 by creating a mezzanine. Plus we’ve invested about £425,000 in another four print machines - a Mimaki JFX200 flatbed, a Mimaki JV5 320DS, a Mimaki 320 LED PVC printer, and a Transmatic heat rotary press. And we’ve spent a bit more on other bits and pieces.

We’ve increased our stocking capability – taking it from £400,000 to £1m. And we’ll create another six new jobs.

Basically we’re now one of the biggest Mimaki printrooms in the UK. At the old site we could produce about 4,00m2 printed fabric a day. I reckon we’ve taken that up to about 6,500m2 a day.

We really started as an outdoor marketing services company and we’ve done fabulously well with feather flags etc, but now we see there’s a market to be captured with internal textile products so we’re launching a whole new product range again - for exhibition interiors and the like. We’re seeing a real increase in demand, especially for things like backlit textile displays so we’re ramping up our capacity to meet that. We’ll also be able to print things with the LED machine like solvent-free wallpapers.

Customers are coming to us and saying ‘Stuart, what’s new, what can we now do?’ We want to have something new to offer them. We don’t want to just follow trends, we want to set them. When we launched feather flags a few years ago people told me I’d never make a business off the back of that. Now we produce at least 250 a day.

Our business model is different from a lot of large-format/textile printers in that we want high volume, and I’d say 96% of our work comes through the trade. I see our business model as an easyJet type model - high volume, lower margin. It works for us.

Given that YPP has diversified quite a bit, do you still consider it a ‘print company’?
Oh, that’s a good question. With Santa Sacks for instance, as you know, we’ve just introduced other promotional gifts - like hampers - into the mix. But even without all that’s happening with Santa Sacks, YPP has diversified so much. We do lots for events, like furniture, iPad and screen stands etc. The thing is, increasingly people want to come to a one-stop-shop for a whole events solutions say, from design to complete project delivered. We’re even getting enquires to build exhibition/events stands - and yes, even via the trade. Plus there are of course big end clients, one of which wants us to look after 120 shows for them across Europe in 2017, doing the whole stand build.

Again, our business model is looking at what we can shift at volume, and selling them at a price that will get customers wanting them! That’s how we create our markets, and it’s worked with everything we’ve launched so far.

Santa Sacks has definitely been our biggest diversification, but it started last year because we wanted something to fill the quiet time on the printers during the autumn months when everyone has reduced their outdoor marketing budgets. So July 2015 I started thinking, right Christmas must offer an opportunity, especially with the kit we have and the fact that personalisation is snowballing. So we started an online business doing customised hessian Santa sacks. We did 24,000 sacks in that first year. Last Boxing Day we had already started getting orders for this Christmas and now it’s ramped up to over 100 orders an hour. We now have online sales partners in Italy, France and we’re just about to sign one in America. We do all the printing in the UK but they buy from us and dispatch under their own brand. It means we get paid up front so it works well.

Santa Sacks has ben phenomenal really – it has 18,000 FaceBook followers, 10,000 Instagram followers – that kind of stuff, so this year we looked at how we could build on what we had. The upshot is we do stockings as well as sacks now, and do goodie hampers, champagne, whiskey etc. We’ve gone from having one product, nine lines, to having 210 products, 350 variants – all orderable online and dispatched within 72 hours. We hold all the stock – I think at the last count we had 150,000 bottles of beer, 10,000 bottles of prosecco etc. We’ve also partnered with a local company that does marshmallows to include as an add-on to our gift boxes – the demand and scope is just huge. What was coming into us as an average order of £9 last year is this year £22. When you’re doing 100 orders an hour that is really changing our business.

So, to answer your question, yes we still see ourselves as a printing company that’s just using its assets to the best of its ability. We have the staff, we have the capacity, so lets make the most of what we have even when it would otherwise be quiet.

Excitingly for you, Santa Sacks is going to be featured on the QVC shopping channel. How did that come about and what are your hopes there?
Well because I want to capture the public’s imagination for this part of the business, I got thinking, and while people might think that as internet shopping has grown TV shopping has declined, it’s actually the opposite. QVC’s sales have never been stronger. So we approached them, and interestingly they’ve never sold a personalised product. We’ll be their test run! And they’ve offered us a slot longer term if we can get the products people will want to buy.

What else have you got up your sleeve in terms of product offering then – and how would you respond to detractors that might say you’ve taken diversification a step too far?
I don’t want to do what everyone else does, which is why I’m always trying to identity new openings. Now what the business needs is something to provide us with volume in January/February. So we’re now thinking about Valentine’s Day and stuff – but we’ve got to remember that we’re predominantly a large-format print company! Hence, the imminent launch of the indoor exhibition part of YPP.

What do you think YPP will look like in another five years?
When I first sat down with you not long after I started YPP, I said that in five years I’d have a £2m company. It’s £3m. In another five years, I reckon we’ll be turning over £6m. We have an aggressive expansion plan and diversification is part of that. I think we’ll still be a print company, but what sort of print company?