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Fri, Aug

IR talks to ….. Andy Wilson, Joint Managing Director of Press On

Large-format digital print company PressOn in Rochester was formed (as Press On Digital) in 2000 by Andy Wilson and Nigel Webster and has since specialised in indoor and outdoor advertising. But the directors recognise that to remain competitive, the company needs to keep developing new opportunities. Already this year, it has set-up an online job calculator, launched a Schools Arts Award and has actively started to recruit across various parts of the business. So how is all this activity expected to impact upon the business? 

IR: 2013 is already proving an active one for PressOn. So what’s your overall strategic vision for the company?

A lot of what you’re seeing now is the fruition of a lot of hard work we did last year. We got a really good marketing bod in who looked at the business, at how we were perceived and we spent a lot of time and money revising things like the logo, our name - so we’re now PressOn not Press On Digital, etc. The Ballpark Cost calculator came out of a brain-storming we had, and the School Arts Award again came out of ideas we were throwing around. Then we looked at timing, and thought not a lot is happening in January [2013] so lets launch a couple of things, and we’ve got other things happening later in the year but it’s all the culmination of all the research we did last year.

Basically, the company needed revamping; it’s 13 years old but still a lot of people haven’t heard of us and we were almost proud of the fact that we don’t advertise or have any sales reps. We were quite content with the level of growth we’d achieved just by referral. But to move on we needed to scrap the old Press On Digital image and start again; we couldn’t market the old Press On Digital because some of the stuff on the Internet was years old. The new website probably represents seven or eight month’s work. We had to ask ‘What are our products?’ because we had tended to react to just what came through the door. So we went back over the accounts to find out just what were our core products, and we found it was floor graphics, wallcoverings, window graphics... which gave rise to the categories on the cost calculator.

Your Ballpark Cost online quote system has only recently gone live. Can you tell us a bit about it?

I think this is unique; I don’t see anyone doing anything similar. I have seen more complicated versions of it in litho printing and what have you, but not in wide-format.

It came about partly because of research we got from the Internet. Say a customer is searching online for a company that does say, floor graphics, and we come up along with three of our competitors - how do we capture that customer? Well, I’d like them to ring us up and talk about the project they’ve got; we’ve got four or five people here who can do account management and talk to new customers etc., but every now and then the phone’s engaged. Or people might want an answer at 8pm or 6am. That might sound unrealistic but it’s actually remarkably common.

So how do we stop customers searching online from going to a competitor? We put up a list of eight of key products and we’re transparent with the costs so they can put in size, number of pieces etc. and get a quick automated price check on a proposed job. OK, some people might want more detail – is it a permanent or removable vinyl etc. The thing is the base cost price of those materials isn’t that different, so we asked ourselves whether we could take it on the chin if, when we did the research after we’d got the job and found the customer wanted something that lasts five months instead of three, could we bear that cost? For the sake of giving the customer the response at the time they wanted it, I think so.

As a quick quote tool the online calculator is very basic by design – but to me the concern would be that it does not produce a realistic figure by the time you’ve fine-tuned the full job spec. Doesn’t that just lead to frustration on both sides?

No, because we’ve deliberately looked at key products that have a pattern - hoarding graphics for example. There is a market rate for those. We know the fitters will do X amount per day so we can make certain assumptions on calculations. So with hoarding graphics, 50m is about £95 per linear metre, give or take £1. But a private developer – and that’s the kind of customer we find via the Internet – can get a nice easy costing at 8pm and go “Have I got the budget for that or haven’t I?”

We do point out that the calculator is giving a ballpark cost – it’ll give an idea of whether something is within your budget.

Is the real aim of the system to bring in new customers then?

A professional print buyer is not going to use it. Someone who’s seen a floor graphic somewhere and wonders if they can do the same thing can search online for ‘floor graphics’, it will lead them to our site then they can quickly see if its feasible.

There are eight product categories currently on the system. Why have you chosen those and are there others you expect to add?

They are simple products with variables that we can calculate. The calculator looks simple but the mathematics behind it are actually quite complicated. There’s a volume discount system built into it and there are different parameters to core sizes etc., so to get those eight product sectors accurate was quite a challenge actually.

Do you see Ballpark Cost becoming part of a Web-to-print offering?

No, definitely not. I’m skeptical about Web-to-print. There are some fantastic companies out there that have it really locked down. But my business doesn’t have the right fit - yet. I’m not ruling it out for the future but the nature of our business means that though we may have eight product categories on the calculator, the real product range is infinite and the resource that would have to go into covering all that on a Web-to-print system just doesn’t seem practical. I think the investment would be too great to justify it at this stage.

I’ve mentioned the launch of a Schools Arts Award. Can you explain what this is all about and its relevance to PressOn’s development?

Basically we make pictures, whether they be stuck on a wall, a truck, a hoarding… Because of the clients we have, we often can’t show their job imagery on our website. At one point we were a bit short of images showing hoarding graphics and by sheer coincidence the teacher at my little girl’s school wanted to brighten up the playground and asked if I had any old imagery they could use. So I said to get a roll of wallpaper and get the kids to create a drawing. We sent it off to a fine art scanner and then printed a 25m long graphic and put it up right along the fence. We thought what better way to test out product capability than let children’s imagination come up with what they want to see, so we created this schools project. It’s still in its infancy, but the point of it is twofold, one to give something back and two, to provide us with marketing material.

We aim to do it once a term. Schools can apply for the award – they basically come up with a graphics idea based on the products they can see on our website. So they might look at the ‘vehicles’ section and decide they want to wrap the school minibus. One of the more recent ideas was for giant board game floor graphics – that’s easy for us to do but nobody ever comes and asks for them because it’s not in the brief. But children’s imaginations will come up with things. It gives us something we can go back to our client base with and say “Look what you can do”.

Since it’s foundation in 2000 the company has been primarily focused on indoor and outdoor advertising. Is that likely to remain its focus?

The focus is to be a service provider. The thing with digital wide-format print is that its scope is massive. I think the key – and some people will argue on this – is not to specialise. We are very good in say six or eight particular areas but I think the important thing is to have a good spread. And that is with customers as well; you need a bit of agency, a bit of direct client, a bit of retail, you need design clients – you need a good mix. And you need to look at what areas they are in – for instance, in 2009 the construction industry ground to a halt so if you were specialising in hoardings you were in for a rocky ride.

You have quite a recruitment drive going at the moment. Is there a specific development angle there?

We’ve already bolstered the finishing department; that’s twice the size it was this time last year. We’ve rearranged the company and taken on more space by putting in a mezzanine and invested in new kit – all this has required time and investment over the last year. This year the focus is about moving the customer focus back.

We have a brilliant team here; they’ve all worked really hard and through some challenging financial constraints over the past few years as everybody has. But we’ve stabilised the business, seen a sustainable growth over the last three years and it’s important we maintain that – and to do that we need to bring people in now to assist the guys who are working 12 hours a day. That can’t go on and if we’re to continue to grow we need to give them support. So the recruitment drive is a blanket one – we’re fishing really. We need someone to handle our social media and marketing – that’s a full-time role I believe.

We are always on the look out for good staff but one of the biggest problems we have in this industry is that there’s no college course you can go on to learn how to do it; there’s no Degree in Large Format Digital Printing! And though the printed product may look the same, it’s nothing like screen or litho and there is a lack of people with industry knowledge in this sector. At the end of the day we’re going to have to bring people in and train them but that’s not going to happen in three of four months.

Can you talk a bit about how kit investment is moving you forward strategically?

We print a lot of vinyl here and started moving over from solvent to latex printers in 2010. We can now print about 1,000 linear metres of latex print every 24 hours. We’re running quite high in terms of capacity so we might invest again in that. Last year we improved the productivity of the finishing department quite drastically with a Kongsberg installation which opened up  routing acryllics, dibond etc. at a commercial level so we can now offer more of a one-stop shop for signage.

Yes, we have further investment plans but it’s got to lead to sustainable growth. Since the recession bit and a lot of the less scrupulous companies have now deceased, the market is sustaining a much better rate.

An edited version of this interview can be seen as a video.

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