Fri, Aug

IR talks to... Richard McCombe

Matic Media Services knows how to make money from Web-to-print. Having established PhotoArtWarehouse.co.uk in 2010 and WooWooNails.com in 2012, the Lanarkshire-based large-format PSP has now formed NextDayPosters.co.uk. I asked MD Richard McCombe about the company’s online development capability and strategy.

Richard, it was back in 2012 when we first talked about how Matic Media was utilising online ordering to help build its business. At that time your focus was on targeting consumers with bespoke products that they would pay dearly for, boosting your margins. How has that changed with the launch of NextDayPosters.co.uk?

Originally, we suffered from seasonality - peaking in the summer months and slowing down in December and January. This eroded profit generated during peak season. Photoart and WooWoo were designed to counter this by accessing markets we normally wouldn’t have access to via the core business model. By reducing administration requirements (sales, customer service, scheduling and order creation) we were able to create an efficient and scalable workflow for wide-format printed products.

While PhotoArt and WooWoo have a streamlined and lean operational process, the Matic Media core business has to adapt to more bespoke projects. This is due to the ‘hand holding’ project-based model of Matic Media’s core business. NextDayPosters.co.uk is the first step within our business model moving towards a product based production model - meaning we start off with a core set of products that be tailored to any customers’ requirement. This framework ties directly in with our founding principles in W2P, ‘many customers, many orders, low transaction value’. NextDayPosters.co.uk is our pilot for moving our entire business model to this new framework while not interfering with our core business.

What would you say to those who’ll feel that by launching NextDayPosters.co.uk you’ve ’sold out’ and joined the cost cutters?
We haven’t sold out, we’re moving with the times! Looking at the small-format litho industry you can see that the landscape is changing at a rate of knots. Many are advocates of W2P and real-time proofing and editing. W2P - it is coming and we are all feeling the squeeze of cheap roll-up and PVC banners.

With 95% of our artwork arriving non-print ready, our administrative overhead is high and online proofing will reduce this considerably. Using our knowledge of the large-format products, we have created an easier way to purchase large-format print. Our clients simply upload their artwork files and receive high quality print that meets their expectations.

We have been using the online proofing in-house for a year - pop-up displays and roll-up banners are simply uploaded. Proofs are generated for the client with notes as to whether it is print-ready or not. Behind the scenes, if approved, the files are output and dropped directly into the workflow and automatically ripped and assigned to printers.

What proportion of the company’s turnover, and perhaps more significantly your profit, now comes via your W2P portals – and are those ratios ones you want to change?
This financial year we predict a 25% of our turnover will come from our W2P portals. The current objective of our online portfolio is to eliminate losses during low seasons. This has been successfully achieved four years in a row. We have now managed to level out the issues of seasonality allowing us to manage our overhead and cashflow.

Do we want this to change? Definitely. Matic Media’s core business is built around project-based sales, meaning we offer the management, scoping, design (or preproduction), printing, production, finishing and installation (or delivery). This means every sale running through our workflow is a batch size of one. This makes quality control, scheduling and administration a challenge.

We want that ‘many customers, many orders, low transaction value’ model to work. Our aim is for 80% of our revenue to come from online sales within the next two years, a dramatic change yes, but it’s where the market is going and we plan on being the best in W2P.

In-house software development has played a key part in your W2P offering. What kind of a journey has that been?
We’ve been lucky. Robert McCombe, my brother and technical director, is in a unique situation in that he has worked within Matic Media throughout his university course in computer science and since graduating has continued as a key member of staff. He has in-depth knowledge of wide-format printing and software development. This has allowed us to develop software solutions no other business our size has accomplished.

We always have the theory, do it on paper first and implement it digitally second. It’s an old fashioned method but it has allowed us to streamline our development process to only develop and improve upon what we already have. We found if we didn’t follow this process you ended up developing systems and tools that have no consequence within the business - in other words they never got used! In the cases were this process isn’t possible - aka W2P - the best practice is having the clearest possible plan for your software solution and having a project manager who is based within the business.

Thus, in our case, our cost of development has been relatively low. NextDayPosters.co.uk signifies a change in this approach with us creating a development team to slowly focus on the management of our online portfolio. We are currently investing in software developers and Web developers as we start striving to become the number one in W2P solutions.

Do you think wide-format PSPs all need to develop their own W2P solution, or do you think there are better ‘entry’ programs available now?
The reason we haven’t used entry programs is that we find they never integrate the way we need them to. Most solutions are print ready file generators. The difficulty in W2P is not the generation of the file, it’s getting that file to the printer, it’s tracking that print through the building, it’s collating the job together at the end - workflow is king. It needs to be streamlined, simple, quick and trackable. You need to be able to open a screen and see exactly where every component of a job is in the workflow.

Systems that tightly integrate with an MIS still aren’t enough, you need to see the actual artwork that is being printed in the MIS, you need to see how it was nested. Why do you need to see these things? Because it simplifies your entire front-end process, suddenly you can predict exactly when jobs are going out, exactly what your capacity is, a customer can log in an see exactly where their order is - not just a predicted dispatch date.

Our W2P is the ‘bells and whistles’, the MIS is the ‘cogs and gears”, but both have to be in sync.
In regards to the question though, it’s down to your volume: if you only have a few orders; a very simple workflow e.g. canvas; or only sell one type of product, then an entry level is probably going to be fine. If you want to start selling in volume you’re going to need a bespoke solution to fit into your own requirements and workflow.

We currently have the facility to offer a white label service which would enable other print companies to be part of this exciting venture - in essence enabling them to offer an online large-format printing service under their own brand without having to invest in creating the technology or infrastructure. We are equipped with the product and industry knowledge to consistently drive the service forward and stay in-tune with client demand.

How has your online presence impacted on your own set-up overall then?
Currently our online business portfolio is capitalising our excess capacity - lots can be printed and manufactured at night. Our new growth plan takes this further, we are investing into shift patterns to further maximise the capacity in the business.

Our sales are headed up on two fronts: the core business is driven by our sales director, Adrian McComb; and the online business is driven by a separate dedicated team driven by our technical director.

Right now we are currently restructuring our workflow model from a one-batch manufacturer system to an auto-grouped scheduled system. This is in preparation for our further expansion of our online hub.

WooWooNails in particular showed impressive blue-sky thinking to my mind. Do you think the fact that you are not a printer ‘by trade’ had something to do with that - and do you think there are still many other markets where LF PSPs could make their mark via an online offering?
I do think the fact that most of the senior management team are not from a traditional large-format background has allowed us to approach the market in ways no one else has, or even thought of. One of our favorite methods of product development in Matic is a team member coming up with an idea and the next day Robert saying “what, something like this…?”. We try not to limit ourselves in what we can achieve or by what the market has dictated and this has allowed to come up with some crazy ideas.

Are there other markets where LF PSPs could make their mark? Definitely - we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. Every production marketplace is moving towards an on demand production system - we can see this in one of our customers, Clockadoodledoo.co.uk. They stock-hold no clocks, the orders roll in from a set of 1000 designs and are fed directly into our workflow from which we print, manufacture and dispatch over 150 clocks a week. Or you can see it on Amazon with Print-On-Demand, no stocking or pulping of books - only printing when the order comes in.

When people say print is dying, they’re wrong. Print is evolving.




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