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Thu, Jul

an evolutionary tale

One time photo lab turned large-format print printer, Contact Photographic Services continues to push the envelope as the 2000th company to buy into Océ’s Arizona print technology uses it to find new markets.

If you were managing to maintain margins of 15%+ on your mainstream print would you set resource aside to investigate new markets that may, initially at least, be a very small proportion of your turnover? That’s exactly what Manchester-based Contact Photographic Services (CPS) is doing as it continues its evolution from photo lab to highly specialised large-format print provider. A clever mix of kit and strategic planning means “business has been steadily increasing and things are looking extremely positive for 2011,” according to switched-on founder and managing director Stephen Phythian.


Having been involved in large-format print since its inception in 1985 when CPS had just four staff servicing the exhibition and television graphics market using traditional photo processing methods, the company ‘s first foray into inkjet printing came in the late 1990’s with HP printers. Since then continual investment has gone into ensuring CPS is at the forefront of graphic production for the exhibition industry, with over £1.3m spent in the last ten years, a significant proportion going on developing its flatbed capability which kicked-off with a Zund machine. Subsequent purchases have included a 3m-wide Vutek printer (bought two years ago) and a sequence of three Océ machines: an Arizona 250 GT in 2007, an Arizona 350 GT two years later and, in November 2010, the super-fast Océ Arizona 550GT.
It is by utilising the capability of its three current flatbed machines, and in particular the new Océ Arizona 550GT, that CPS is diversifying into more niche markets as well as expanding its offering to the existing client base. “The flatbeds are allowing us to expand our business into areas where we can get a much higher rate of return,” says Phythian. “Producing big display panels is still our bread and butter work and without it we wouldn’t survive, but more specialist work, while still a small percentage of our turnover, is bringing higher margin so we are seeking out that type of new business.
“White ink has brought with it a new set of possibilities for instance, and we actively market that. It was not available on the first Océ Arizona machine we bought and when we bought the second we made the mistake of not opting for it. We’ve rectified that with our new Arizona 550GT. We’re finding it can print white ink onto film very well so there’s a great deal of interest from the POS market. And we can print white onto coloured foamex, so it’s been a boon there too.
“What you have to remember is that white ink is a lot more expensive than normal inks, so it’s imperative that you charge the client for it, but when they see the result that is not a problem.”
Phythian goes on: “The flatbeds are no doubt expanding our business by allowing us to go into different markets - printing diagrams and logo’s onto carpets for example, printing floor graphics onto tiles. And the Océ Arizona 550GT is brilliant at printing onto glass and acrylics, providing a beautiful quality that really gets people’s attention. And that’s what you need. It’s got a lot tougher to open doors in new markets – you have to have something new.”
But just having something new isn’t in itself enough. “I’ve always prided myself on client liaison – we’re not cheap at CPS and service has always been key. But it’s becoming more difficult to educate people about what you can do because increasingly clients just want an email, not a face-to-face meeting, so getting across your message can be quite difficult.
“We now have superb examples of unusual print applications and we make sure we put resource aside to look for clients that we think might want to see what we can deliver – for instance we’re actively targeting architects with the acrylics for interiors. It’s a combination of burrowing around and using specialist information to dig out the companies you think you need to get to and then we put out specialist emails and follow that through. We’re finding that is a good route to new business.”

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