John Boland is co-founder of custom workwear and safety signage company HiVis.co.uk, which has seen its in-house large-format print operation take-off since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. His take on developing that side of the business may well help you do likewise.
It’s what you all want to know - how do you grow your wide-format print turnover now? Having grown his from around £300,000 in 2019 to “at least £1.5m” in 2020, here’s someone who may be able to tell you how to do that.
1. Corner your market
Remember, even in a recession you haven’t already cornered all of your market. There are still many customer avenues or streams you haven’t tapped into, or that know you are even around and what you can do. Social media is the obvious route to changing that these days. We find the Facebook and Instagram are a great way of showcasing your products and services, and word-of-mouth recommends via these channels go a long way.
Also, cross-sell by dropping simple flyers in every delivery you send out, advertising other products or promo offers - even free sample products if you can manage it. We have a habit that if a customer spends over x amount on our website on any of our products, say printed banners or signs, we drop their logo onto another product like cheap T-shirt or mug and send that with the delivery at the same time. Cost is minimal as printed together and ROI is can be quite good by cherry picking customers maybe with a certain amount of staff or turnover.
2. Outsource for longer-term income
Don’t be afraid to outsource if a request comes in for something you can’t handle. We outsource probably 10-15% of our work, resulting in lower GP and sometimes even loss leaders, but referrals and orders for other items from those customers pull back the initial investment and all add to the bottom line.
3. Move old machinery on
The cost of machines these days is as low as it’s ever been for what you get, so I feel that if yours are not performing at peak output, and the warranty cover doesn’t quite cut it, move them on. There are many smaller businesses looking to buy on auction sites - or go down the part-ex for new. The downtime versus production cost for us is important as we run a 24 hour shift pattern so machines going down through the night mid shift isn’t good. Luckily with our Roland machines - mostly all still in warranty - issues are very rare.
4. Deserving of the extra cost
Having mentioned downtime and warranty, we always get the gold or platinum Roland Care warranty. The service has been excellent, and again, keeps the output at peak until it drops and it’s time to sell. With telephone support, a next day/two day service visit and telephone support, we wouldn’t switch. The days of YouTubing solutions has long gone and just doesn’t work when operating at full throttle most of the time.
5. It pays to be genuine
Always stick to genuine inks and parts is our mantra. We tried other options in the early days - no names mentioned - but they never lived up to our standards and can invalidate warranties. We had blockages, seals worn, poor print quality and less tough prints. Being sold the “next best thing” and “bulk ink systems” wasn’t for us so we swiftly switched back to original inks and parts.
6. Spotlight on media storage
At one point during lockdown we were growing the wide-format print part of our business so quickly that we purchased storage containers outside for the pallets of self-adhesive media and laminates. Two weeks later the self adhesive rolls wouldn’t work as well, weed as well and various other problems. So my top tip is to always make sure your storage area is within the recommended temperatures of the media its housing. In our case, the temperature inside the shipping container got very hot during the long spells of lockdown sunny weather - an oversight that easily halved our output/income.
7. Offer express turnaround
A major acceleration in our business and turnover came when we set up our express turnaround service. Our customers have three choices now - same day, three day and standard seven day turnaround - the first two being chargeable (depending on the amount/size of the order). This is not to be confused with a delivery service. It is a service where you pay extra to be slotted in the front of the production queue, and generally these “express” services are printed on the nightshift.
Our figures show that almost 40% of the orders that come in daily now choose one of the express services when presented as a chargeable choice - thus generating extra income for orders that may have even been turned around in that timeframe anyway if production levels weren’t too high. We now have a dedicated department for our express services, but lately the demand has outstripped our ability and speed at which we can install extra machines and staff to keep up, so we had to suspend it for a week or so!
8. Use resellers
We find resellers and drop shippers such as office supply companies, trade counters and the like, to be a great resource for reselling our products - usually at a lower margin but order volumes tend to be up, as most of the big office supply players have thousands of customers on their books.
Setting up online resources in the form of dedicated reseller websites for them to use when pricing for when they get inquiries allows them to resell for you. Even simple PDFs, as long as the pricing structure is easy to translate - after all, you don’t want to have to babysit every order for a company as that can soon whittle away any resell profit.
We look at the possible lower margin to be to be offset against the cost saved for us not having reps and ancillary costs of sales reps on the road.
9. Track and trace
It goes without saying that a reliable shipper is a must, and we have tried pretty much all of the big names. At the end of the day no shipper is perfect, but end-to-end tracking is a must as we all know. Most now provide texts and email updates to customers - but here’s a good question: which are going to charge you the best prices for oversized parcels? We’ve learned to always get the shippers outsize charges for the dimensions.
10. Put price down the agenda
Overall, I’d say speed, quality and reliability are the main factors in growing the company. Price is not the major factor, contrary to some opinions, so we use this as part of our mission statement. We also find that being too price focused when we buying equipment or media etc, can lead to shoddy supply in the likes of eBay imports etc, and poor results, which is why we stick to genuine reputable suppliers - to ensure good service and having a plan B should things go wrong.