On 22 April 2016, Ramu Ramanathan along with Rahul Kumar of PrintWeek India visited the IPP plant in Noida and sat down to chat with the mother-son duo of Amila and Rishabh Singhvi.
Noida-based International Print-O-Pac (IPP) doesn’t need introduction. Over the years, the company, which started as a pre-press house, has established itself as a major player in all aspect of printing, except label. What’s more, it is among the few major business houses in India run by a woman, in this case, Amila Singhvi.
The PrintWeek India Printing Company of Year 2010, IPP made all the right moves at the right time, scaling up from pre-press to commercial to packaging. This trend continues as the company continues to expand, diversify into new technologies and invest in new equipment. Unlike other major players in the field who are diversifying geographically, setting up plants in different parts of the country, IPP is looking to consolidate its position from its 12-acre site in Noida.
And, the company’s major focus has been customer service. “Service is an area people from our trade do not want to focus. We are a service led manufacturing company. We are working on drive demand,” says Rishabh Singhvi of IPP. “A mix of people, technology and material towards customers will make you successful. You have to keep in touch with your customers and keep inventing yourselves.”
Ramu Ramanathan (RR): What was the reason behind investing in the Komori Lithrone GL40?
Amila Singhvi (AS): To add scale and for value-addition. Our focus is on value enhancement. We can print on substrates other than paper and board, like PET, MET PET, PP and PVC. We need such capabilities for innovative book and stationery covers. We may take up production for newspaper inserts andpoint-of-sale materials printed on special surfaces. With this press, we can print substrates from 60 to 600 gsm. It is primarily intended for packaging print, but will be beneficial for other verticals too.
RR: How much will it add to your converting capacity of paper and board?
Rishabh Singhvi (RS): It will add 20% to our existing print capacity. We may add more capacity towards the end of this financial year. We are planning one more press with similar configuration and commensurate post-press capacities as well.
RR: What would be your scale after the expansion?
RS: We are running five lines and will convert 2,000 MT each month post the new investment. For packaging only, we have the capacity to print 11 million sheets on a monthly basis.
RR: (To Amila Singhvi) You just returned from London Book Fair. What are the significant trends you picked up?
AS: We felt that London Book Fair met with positive response after a long time. There is yet a significant and growing market for books in many parts of the world. Digital and books will co-exist. Within books, the textbook market is a significant segment. Indian and the African markets are vast and have our focus.
RR: Many mid-size printers who are looking to expand ask me what’s next?
AS: Mid-size printers could consider consolidating to form a viable entity. Alternatively, they could pursue value addition and improve profitability. Merely chasing top line growth does not help. The bottom line is more important. That said, diversification is not as easy as people think. Stepping into a new segment is always a challenge. There is a learning curve involved. So, detailed homework is a must before taking decisions. Look at the market, everyone considers top line and no one speaks of the bottom line. Marketing people consider the order value and not the margin. We encourage our marketing associates to understand cost. Investments are huge so there have to be margins. Viability is foremost.
RR: How can we fix it?
AS: Each person needs to fix his own. Set a minimum pricing benchmark for the company. Learn to say 'No'. Offer 'no regret' pricing. In case business does not materialise, so be it. Learn from past experiences. And from past mistakes. Share information. Encourage honesty. Track your costs carefully for no one will pay extra.
RR:Most printers are looking over their shoulders. Plus they do not have a clear roadmap. The old guard thinks if you are not doing well in commercial print, they diversify into packaging ...
AS: Nothing comes easy. Packaging is not for everyone. Not only is it capital and labour intensive, it requires consistency of process and product. The market is demanding and unforgiving. One should look before one leaps.
RR: What is your business structure?
RS: It is a two-in-one structure. There is one mindset for the book business, and another for packaging which is essentially based on different characteristics of each business. The manufacturing facility is separate, as are sales and marketing. There are common support functions such as pre-press, IT, purchase, finance and commercial. There are silos within for each business. Each division has a business head and a manufacturing head. Thus, the two units under one company give us the requisite scale. It is a mix of value and volume.
RR: How does it work in terms of team structure?
RS: We have been fortunate to have a reliable team of senior professionals, most of whom are associated since long. They have an understanding of our culture, values and of the customer. Experienced business and manufacturing heads are ably supported by a capable, aggressive team.
RR: How do you maintain the skill levels of your workers?
AS: Training is most important. Skill training is required at every level. We emphasise on internal training and re-training. We have stability in that sense, with low attrition rates at mid and lower levels. We also have external people to train us. We encourage industrial training and general skill upgrades. Our supply business partners also support with regular programs to imbibe new technology and work practices. We try to inculcate all of these.
RR: What is the marketing strategy at IPP? Do you have one?
RS: A customer-centric approach. Easier to say but tough to do. There is a cost to it. One needs to strike a balance. This means being more flexible, broad-minded, always considering a situation from multiple perspectives. It also means that our team sometimes has to work under undue and unrealistic pressures. The demanding nature of the business has to be understood by all those involved. It is just not good enough if you do your job perfectly. One has to keep the end result in sight. I usually tell my team that we may not be the biggest but we want to be the best. Our customer should say that we are the best.
RR: How so?
RS: In business, you can either be a cost leader or a product leader. In converting, it is not possible either to be a cost or product leader. There is no cost advantage as everyone is sourcing from the same suppliers and selling to similar customers. It is not like that you are manufacturing something that someone else does not. When you cannot be cost or product leader, then the next option is to be customer-centric.
Nowadays, funds for investment, knowledge and information are available to all. Everyone is at par. It is only the customers' confidence that will generate sustainable long-term business. Service is area people from our trade do not want to focus. We are a service-led manufacturing company. We are working on derived demand. Except Paperisto, we do not directly sell to users. We sell mostly to other businesses.
AS: The management needs to be closely involved and pay close attention to details. No matter how good a professional team one is able to develop, close day-to-day involvement of the promoter is a must.
RR: How much of this has trickled down? We are still an icon driven industry. We need a strong leader and he/she drives the ops.
RS: I joined the company with limited practical knowledge. I was fortunate to be armed with good education. From day one, I was given a free hand to learn and to shape the team. I did things my way. I got the best advice and great mentoring internally. Yet it took me five years to get grip on the business.
AS: We are lucky that our second generation is in place, so we were stable. I have seen many organisations which are struggling because there is no successor from the promoter family. In most cases, the second generation is not interested in the business.
RS: When I entered in this industry, FMCG was in a nascent stage. Packaging had just started taking baby steps. Our DNA has changed since then. We were a repro and commercial printing house at that time. Commercial printing has evolved into book, magazine and stationery, which we were not doing at that time.
At this time we saw an opportunity in paperboard packaging. Being a paper-based commercial printer, this was natural progression for us. It was not easy, but we have been reasonably successful.
RR: What are the old methods and bad habits you got rid of?
RS: The mindset. The reluctance to share information, to cooperate, to coordinate. We ensured team leaders replaced star individual performers.
RR: Do you have any strategic approach for marketing?
RS: We work with our customers in a manner where we learn about them and this knowledge helps us to help them better. We have customers who have been working with us from long. They have partnered in our growth. I spend a lot of my time with clients. It is time best spent, in my view.
RR: How do the machine manufacturers and your material suppliers help you?
AS: Now you have multiple choices for most products. Largely, we choose strategic partners from the vendor side. We work with same business partners for a long period of time.
RR: Where do you see IPP in 3-5 years?
AS: We see substantial growth and potential in all our existing segments. We are particularly excited about the stationery business. We see a stable growth in book printing segment and better than stable growth in carton packaging. Packaging will be an important focus area, but we cannot undermine the importance of other businesses. We expect annual double-digit growth. We are also looking at related opportunities and are open to new technologies and avenues. We are also trying to reach new geographies, in terms of more customers.
RR: What is the new big wave?
AS: Print-on-demand for books is very critical. Large-format digital could be promising. Everyone speaks of demand for rigid boxes. We will wait and watch. We are optimistic and hope to expect to achieve sales of Rs 500-crore by 2017-18 depending on how the market evolves.
RR: What are your Drupa plans?
AS: We will look at large-format digital, rigid box machines and cost-effective variable data printing at Drupa. Most of our business partners will be showcasing newer and improved versions of existing technologies. We will look at everything with an open mind.
We have three verticals - carton packaging, book and magazine production and stationery manufacturing. In packaging, we are cautiously expanding and adding printing capacity. We have some spare capacity in post-press, but will be adding more capacity by the end of this year. In book printing, we are adding more capacity in finishing. We have five webs and a battery of sheet-fed offset presses. Increased capacity can also be used for stationery business which is the fastest growing. Paperisto is our home-grown stationery brand. It is IPP's umbrella brand for its B2C business.
The new Komori at IIP
IPP’s Lithrone GL640-C is equipped with UV-IR, and is optimized for packaging and special printing applications. The kit was demonstrated during the Print China show in April 2015, with the machine’s special features, such as the new dryer that contribute to printing on heavy stock and high-added value printing, KHS-AI, PDC-SX (Spectral Print Density Control-SX Model), KID (Komori Info-Service Display) and UV and IR attachments in action.
Educate the print buyers about quality so that distinguish apples from oranges: Rishabh Singhvi
Q: We have discussed how no one wants printing to become a commodity market, but how can printers stop that from happening?
A: Set a minimum price for each sheet printed. Sell viably and generate adequate ROCE (return on capital employed). Invest returns in new technologies, materials and finishes that encourage value-addition and prevent commoditisation.
Q: One next-generation automation which “genuinely” improved productivity at IPP?
A: There are several – the sample-maker, the pile turner, the automatic laminator, the laser die-shop, the online quality inspection tools.
Q: All too often the industry lets itself down with its own marketing. Gone are the days when a printer’s marketing was based on a mail shot, featuring little more than a plant list and an out-of-date brochure. What does IPP do in terms of digital marketing, events, quirky initiatives and social media to engage with existing and potential clients and ultimately demonstrate your print prowess?
A: E-mailers are sent regularly to update clients on new initiatives and developments. Development workshops are organised fairly often. The website is regularly updated.
We make an effort to speak with and meet our clients on a regular basis with actual samples of new work, which they can touch and feel. The ‘real’ experience matters. We are selling physical products after all. The world may be virtually connected, but the importance of personal meetings and face-to-face interactions has never been greater.
Q: Please enlighten our readers about the concept of value-addition. For most offset / packaging printers, it means spot UV (matt/gloss). But at IPP, I noticed the samples had much more of UV special effects.
A: There is a whole range of special effects – matte and gloss contrast, texture, spot finishes, cast and cure, holographic 3D imaging, tactile UV, et al. We evaluate new options on an ongoing basis and working closely with supply business partners to develop innovative solutions and share these with customers.
Q: Years ago, everything probably would have been produced on the same press, screen or maybe litho. Of course, now we have a much wider choice, more options, more flexibility, but with that came complexity when it comes to press passing. I don’t think that Indian printers are necessarily where they need to be colour management-wise. Your view?
A: Colour management is no longer subjective. Values are measured. The buyer is provided such data to reduce ambiguity in decision-making while press passing. We invest in colour management hardware and software and support a workplace culture that encourages such data-based colour measurement. International clients now request for colour management reports and pay premium for such services. Print is now more scientific.
Q: You mentioned the system integration of your Esko with Microsoft Dynamics AX. Please explain the process.
A: We have a Microsoft Dynamics AX customised business workflow. The print workflow is from Esko. We have made efforts to integrate the technical and the commercial workflows with reasonable success. This integration can be improved further. We hope to seamlessly integrate these soon.
Q: Your views on educating your buyer?
A: It is important to educate the buyer on quality to ensure that they distinguish apples from oranges.
Q: The deadlock in narrow-web label printing is similar to what is happening to commercial printing, post the high of 2008, due to sluggish business opportunities, low margins, a flexo arena which is tough to operate in, bloodbath with prices. IPP made a strategic decision to exit labels a decade ago. Why so?
A: To focus on segments that suited our capacities, capabilities and mindset better. In hindsight, it was a good decision.
Q: How do you compare the three lines of businesses (packaging, publishing, stationery) in terms of cost, efforts to achieve high-quality print, business model, market opportunity and the future?
A: All are promising good business prospects. Each business must be managed well to achieve cost efficiency, product quality and customer delight. Any business is good when financially viable. Management must be focused and precise. It is important to read between the numbers, meet efficiency targets and limit waste.