Wed, Jul

IR Talks to... Kelvin Bell, sales director, Vpress

Earlier this year Web-to-print specialist Vpress partnered website developer Making Websites Better (MWB) to bring out e-commerce solution CloudToPrint, promising printers a ROI within days. Sounds miraculous - so I asked Vpress sales director Kelvin Bell to elaborate on this, and on the urgency for printers to adopt ecommerce in general. 

E-commerce has become ‘the thing’ during the Covid pandemic as online sales soar, and you have made the bold claim that printers must move their business online within the next two years “or they will cease to be relevant.” How do you respond to those saying this is just typical talk from a solutions provider?  

Within this industry over the past 12 months, all of us in senior management have at one time or another pondered on what is next for ourselves, our business and our staff. The level of uncertainly has been the driver, making us look at what we do differently, and even work differently - as have the people who used to come us.

There is a ‘new normal’, a phrase hugely overused but still with value and meaning for many of us - our customers don’t go to work or events anymore, so we have to find a better way to engage them. Likewise, they have to find new ways to engage with their own customers and supply chain - cue ‘online’ solutions.

Even before the pandemic, there were two things customers desperately wanted from print businesses: procurement on demand, as often they don’t work the same hours we do; and the option to get a price for a job they urgently need, and at their convenience not our own.

Let’s look at the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) markets. B2C is fickle and price driven, and one that you can always buy cheaper within. However, if you can add value to your engagement of potential customers and make the user experience a convenient, even a fun one, then you can take great products to a huge market. At the start of the pandemic Amazon employed 100,000 extra employees as it saw what was coming. Online purchasing is growing - that’s widely recognised. You have to ask yourself whether you are going to be part of that buying pattern or not.

 The B2B market is of course very different, one more based on relationships, brand management and contracts. However, this market is more mature in its online procurement than the B2C market as ERP/CRM [enterprise resource planning/customer relationship management] systems like Ariba, SAP, Oracle have been around for over two decades managing what people purchase. Many UK councils use Oracle for instance. There is always a cost to engage with these systems, but the benefits far outweigh them, and these systems are increasing in market dominance not decreasing.

The pandemic has only accelerated this ‘remote’ engagement of customers and suppliers. So, if we have moved so far online in just 12 months, on a journey that we were already upon, how relevant will a print business be if not online?

 Large-format PSPs have not been ignoring ecommerce - some have thrown a lot of money at W2P/e-commerce systems over the years for little return. Now, CloudtoPrint has been developed as an off-the-shelf ecommerce solution for print SMEs that will start making them money virtually from the off, and many are incredulous. How do you convince them?   

Forget so much the budget and concentrate on the strategy of taking your business online - where does a business want to go to grow?

If you want a ‘quick win’ it is achievable in B2B, but in B2C it takes time to get established and find the right product, at the right price, for the right market. Ecommerce is a journey not a destination, and to start making moves online you must plan ahead but remain flexible if some things don’t work out. If your business has been online for some time and its not working, then I would say you are the problem, not the market, as you make the decisions. 

CloudtoPrint is a first step to you getting a return on your online investment. It is an affordable way to tie up existing technologies (Vpress-W2P/WordPress-website/WooCommerce-ecommerce) for a fixed price with a result supported by MWB. But this is just the start of it, as once you are up and running you need to have someone to drive how it works and how it performs for business.

If you have taken your business online by dabbling in your website and throwing money at it only when needed, give up and understand you are an awesome printer but let someone manage your ecommerce for you. CloudtoPrint - up and running - will allow people to pick a product, edit it, order it and have it waiting ready to go on press (optimised) for when you get into the factory, with the money already paid into your account.


From a technical point of view, what large-format PSPs can/can’t use it? There must be sticking’ points?  

Naturally, there are limitations on the kind of products you can offer, and some of these limitations can be around file sizing etc. However, if managed correctly for the right products these can be overcome.

Production-wise, there are no known limitations, as the solution can submit jobs into any FTP/SFTP and/or workflow/MIS, reducing production administration significantly. You can even personalise large-format jobs en mass from a spreadsheet, provided the correct products are selected (pop-up banners, posters etc.). If you don’t have an automated workflow, Vpress provide you with Coreproduction, a job management tool to help get you organised and a pre-cursor to a true workflow or MIS.


The marketing materials stress that those buying into CloudtoPrint get a handholding service as part of the deal. How bespoke is that to specific users? 

As we don’t know what the skill level of any particular PSP is going to be we have to offer this. We certainly don’t expect everyone to a professional ecommerce expert from day one, so we offer some guidance and support both from MWB and the management of the website as well as from Vpress and how to manage/configure your workflow. We even offer one day’s training in how to build templates within the system.

Being UK-based, Vpress is always here to offer support and partner with PSPs to help them grow their business online. Our motto is ‘partnering customers to success’, something we have been doing for over 20 years.


Do you see specific issues in relation to the large-format digital inkjet sector’s operations and requirements - and how are you dealing with those?  

I see more issues in ignoring online markets for any PSP at all. There are always technical issues depending upon what people what to achieve, so it needs to be qualified further and while some agencies are seeing this as the printer taking control of the client engagement, this short sightedness can be overcome by working with agencies and print managers and providing them with a proven, working solution into print production, tying them in longer-term and with scalability giving them better pricing in partnership.

 Truly, I think the biggest issue with PSPs adopting ecommerce is not the technology but the mindset of change. I am guilty of this myself, but once you embrace the concept of change you obtain the transparency of the benefits coming into your business.


Do you have any large-format PSPs using CloudtoPrint yet - and what kind of numbers do you expect to get on board, say, by the end of 2022?  

Very few, but some who are doing very well. The print industry has generally been slow to adopt online ordering despite its advantages, large-format even slower. There are some rock stars out there, but there are more people moaning about how it would never work for their business or their customers (if I had a penny for that one!).

The internet is 50yrs or 37yrs old depending upon your school of thought, and online ordering for print is 25yrs old. In 2019 we only estimated 40% of printers trading online using Web2Print. By the end of 2022 we are expecting that number to be around 60-70% a growth rate of 50-75% in just two years. 

Print is just one product that people order when they need it, but the term procurement covers off everything and it is this that is, or will be, driving how we engage with print - if it is too complex, or more importantly not there on-demand, then there are hard times ahead. But, if print is easily available, and engaging over other media, then it has a long life to yet!


Given the rise and rise on online ordering, do you expect to face many challengers in the CloudtoPrint space, and how do you see that impacting your offering - and its users?  

The key challenges are the ones we are addressing now - the huge growth of mobile (yes ordering large-format from a mobile device) as Gen Z (tomorrow’s print buyers) skips the use of PCs to continue using mobile devices for ecommerce.

Job Submission has been another challenge, not only uploading files from anywhere, but making changes to the parameters (finishing/embellishment) of that job as decided by the customer.

With ecommerce, as you overcome one challenge more appear - that is the nature of the technology. Vpress does not use anyone else’s software, which gives us a head start to address challenges as they arise. 

If anyone has any doubt about how any for of print will be in the future, just look back from where we are now and see how far we have come on other areas!

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