This Scottish PSP has applied eight years of R&D to a Web-to-print software that is transforming its business model. Could it be something manufacturers take on board and begin to sell to other printers in the sector?
You might recognise the name Matic Media - we’ve covered the company before because it has been somewhat adventurous in it’s Web-to-print (W2P) services development. Now the Glasgow-based PSP is switching up its offering and changing its business model in the face of challenging times, and W2P is right at the heart of the change.
Owned and operated by three brothers - Richard (MD), Adrian (sales director) and Robert, (operations director) - Matic Media has always been very focussed on using technology to streamline processes and drive efficiencies at the operation, which boasts 11 large-format printers with flatbed and roll-to-roll up to 3.2m capabilities. But now its launching an online service using internally developed bespoke software that it expects to make a significant change to how it does business.
“We had 13 local authorities buying from us. We understood how public sector procurement worked but centralised contracts in the Scottish Government has made it challenging over the last 18 months,” says Adrian, explaining that public sector tenders have become less frequent in recent years as cut-backs have bitten across the UK, with Scotland feeling the impact perhaps a little later than in the rest of the UK. This situation, coupled with Brexit uncertainty, has in the McCombe brothers’ eyes created a delay in private sector projects being signed off, which in turn has frustrated their growth plans.
Cue www.GraphicWarehouse.co.uk - the company’s new online offering that provides more than 300 standardised products that are completely scaleable in size. The site offer instant pricing, proofing, editing, delivery dates and shipping calculators. And it’s all very controllable – key because it was lack of control of projects, together with increasing costs of overhead and the lack of tender opportunities in a market sector it was familiar with, that prompted its development.
“Site surveys, measuring, Living Wage, pensions, installations, re-works and snagging are areas we have seen our costs escalating,” says Richard. “As projects increase in size clients’ expectations seem to be becoming more unrealistic, so we wanted to create a business that we could control while reducing waste and improving customer service.”
W2P was an obvious focus. Matic Media has many years of experience in W2P for large-format products, and was one of the early suppliers to discount deal sites like Groupon during their boom. But each product the company developed seemed to be a flash in the pan, like photo canvases - Matic Media manufactured 300,000 unique photo canvases for 200,000 unique customers using its W2P software which powered www.photoartwarehouse.co.uk. It then used its W2P software as the backbone of www.WooWooNails.co.uk, a website that allowed customers to design their own self-adhesive stickers and create designs for finger and toe nails to match fashion accessories. Again, the site had a short-lived heyday but, crucially, the development of the W2P software has led the brothers to a position where they can apply product specifications to hundreds of outputs with total in-house control over the print and finishing quality.
When ask what Richard means exactly by “control” he explains that the cost of reworks, site surveys, installations, out-of-hours work, on-site failures have become beyond frustrating. “I have met so many other signage manufacturers in the last 18 months as I on-board clients to Graphic Warehouse and they all have the same problems. Human error, bad processes and quality issues are a daily occurrence because everything is different - a different wall, floor, stand, shop front, venue…”
The team at Matic Media realised their strength was not tackling the unknown on a daily basis but large-format print production - and software development. “Control” to their minds is focussing on what they are good at, and working with partners where necessary - so Matic Media has relationships with installers etc.
Richard says the directors agreed to grow online sales from 10% of Matic Media’s turnover to almost half their turnover in the 12 months to June 2018. “Unfortunately this has backfilled a loss of revenue rather than being an increase,” sighs Richard. “However, we plan to open the GraphicWarehouse website to existing customers - reskinning it [http://edinburgh.maticmedia.co.uk] to simplify the order process so separate stakeholders within larger organisations can all benefit from our online ordering process - which integrates with our accounting software, permitting credit availability and uploading purchase orders.”
Matic Media has found a space in the market where its hopes to improve its margin by processing more simple printed products and reducing the amount of projects that have additional labour costs (eg. site surveys, templating, on-site visits, installations and snagging). As Richard points out: “We do not have the same margin selling to trade customers - that is a fact - but when you take the cost of project management, pre-production (artwork) and installation the margin is actually better.” He goes on to explain that as the sales revenue continues to increase the overhead of the staffing cost will not increase proportionally, and indeed economies of scale are already being felt.
The business has also reduced its need to pre-flight and proof all jobs manually as almost all artwork is now processed through a module of their GraphicWarehouse. Using this system either Matic Media’s customer service team or the client can create a quote, generate a template if needed, upload artwork, pre-flight, proof and send to the print queue in as little as 60 seconds [https://graphicwarehouse.co.uk/online-proofing.html]. This is supported by a customer service team that deal with online chat, telephone and email support until clients feel comfortable processing jobs independently 24/7, 365 days per year. Delivery times are calculated to account for holidays and capacity as each product is mapped to stock, ink, machine, finishing process, packaging and then reading and writing to carriers’ delivery software through their API’s.
Richard says Matic Media has made attempts to find printer and software manufacturers who could utilise this software to sell more machines or ink. “We think the benefits of simplifying the ordering process which automatically creates the job ticket, specifying ins, stock, printer, finishing processes offers a value proposition of any wide-format printer sales organisation.
“We had quite lengthy discussions with a leading large-format printer manufacturer but I think we failed to convince them that the future is not about software that will support visualisation”, says McCombe, pointing out that to his mind visualisation of a product in-situ can easily be achieved by anyone with basic Photoshop skills, and that the need to see a roll-up banner in full rotation 3D imagery is not something that is needed on an hour-by-hour basis.
“Visualisation of wallpaper projects look great in 3D but how often are we going to use these applications? And this is becoming easier with software like Sketchup that has established huge support forum memberships. But software that will quote, create templates for bespoke jobs, upload artwork and preflight in real time - sending the approved artwork directly to a print queue with all the works instructions - does not just save hours but days with less labour and better communication between the client and service provider. What’s more, the commercial litho and small-format digital service providers are already years ahead with this,” he says.
Richard firmly believes the future is in end-to-end workflow from client-side electronic device to delivery of the manufactured bespoke product. “There is nothing commercially available that does this,” he says.
By developing its own software Matic Media hopes to drive efficiencies and also gain access to a larger potential market. Via its W2P portal Richard believes the business is no longer geographically restricted but can comfortably service the UK and begin to develop in European testbeds like Ireland.
So will Matic Media turn into a purely online provider? Richard thinks not. “We still want and need to service our existing customers in a geographically economically viable market, but being based in Scotland makes it difficult for us to complete throughout the UK. We can’t be competitive carrying out installations in the South East where there is a higher concentration of work but also competition - but, we can compete with goods that require supply only.”
And to what extent does the company now consider itself a software developer? “The R&D behind what we have achieved comes from a deep understanding of selling large-format print products. For instance, we have first-hand experience in dealing with a range of problems found with distance selling, so we have identified carriers who will deal with ‘dirty freight’ - anything longer than 1.5m - and API’s to allow instant communication for calculating shipping costs of larger items etc.,” says Richard.
“We have ironed out issues and added 100’s of customisable products to GraphicWarehouse. We are keen to find partners that would like to share this experience with their own network and take this to the next level where our industry can compete with the big guns who will have the budgets to develop their own solutions and push out the smaller PSPs.”