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Conversations from Singapore and Vasai: A new way of thinking - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

16 July 2015

Noel D’Cunha has been globe-trotting around the planet from Singapore to Israel, and from his adopted home town, Vasai to Jaipur for the LMAI Conference. As always, he tries to keep up with the many worlds of print in his independent and always stimulating Sunday Column. Case studies about print in India are rarer than you might think. In this Sunday Column, the silence around print firms has begun to give way. A different and a new way of thinking is emerging.

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The three print CEOs with their interesting inputs are: Karan Kapur of JK Label, Jit Khoon of Singapore-based Winson Press and Kapil Roongta of Okay Paper Products.
 
The past 30 days have been a whirlwind.
 
The highlight other than one de-planing on a flight to Frankfurt; none of my bags going astray on the carousel; plus a tete a tete with three print CEOs, two Indian and one in Singapore.
 
Karan Kapur of JK Labels is a lively and enterprising entrepreneur. Like his generation, he is on the go. He made a forceful presentation to my colleague and online editor of PrintWeek India, Tanvi Parekh and I, spelling out the vexed issues in the label industry.
 
During our interaction, he was livid about the concept of ‘reverse auction’. He kept on uttering the word ‘madness’ and said the whole thing is just absurd. Tanvi and I asked him, why?
 
“First it's online, and there’s no notion of the overall standard of what the buyer is looking for,” he said. Then he proceeds to ask – how will anyone who is sitting on the virtual side of the world be able to demonstrate the different between one company from its competitors?
 
Reverse-bid auction is a method of finalising a procurement online, and only one thing matters, getting the lowest possible quote. It perhaps could be a nice way of decreasing procuring cost, however, for the purchase of commodity products for office requirements. Not service oriented products like printed things.
 
“Printing cannot be commoditised. There’s infrastructure process, skill, and ability of the service provider, which is a prominent part of the buying criteria, and all this should mirror in the offer,” he says.
 
It’s a situation that is polarising the industry.
 
Bloodbath, say some. Opportunity, say another.
 
While it is all good to identify potential suppliers and invite them to participate; the trouble starts when firms are pitted against each other in the form of online bidding.
 
“Here I am sitting on my computer, am happy that my quote is the lowest. Then in the dying moments of the deadline, incremental discounts follow, someone introduces a new low price in the last couple of minute and all hell breaks loose. There’s extension of time, triggering another round of declining offer. And the madness sets in.”
 
Many a times, the process falls into the realm of being a farce, and the bids simply too low to be realistic. Kapur says, it’s an unhealthy way of doing business. “Sometimes I fail understand how can one operate with quotes, which is sometimes in the deep negatives of what I have quoted.”
 
Technology is not a magic pill
 
Then I met Jit Khoon of Singapore-based Winson Press during my Singapore trip to attend the HP Excellence Award 2015. Jit Khoon has learned the business of running a print firm the hard way, guiding his company through tough times.
 
Readers will recall the printer who charmed us during the BMPA-Ricoh Print Summit 2014 with the folklore of the hard lessons he learnt during the transformation of his company in “the tough times”.
 
Established in 1965, as a print brokerage firm, Winson Press has grown over the years and today it caters to packaging, labels, commercial printing as well as photobook segments.
 
Khoon described how in 2002, when the company’s elite client shut shops it lost 50% of its business. Again in 2008, a multinational company closed Singapore operations that resulted in 25% loss of business for Winson.
 
Seated in Singapore on a crisp day, technology is non-stop he says, but we need to understand it first. “It’s not a magic wand that will solve all your problems.”
 
He places importance on people down the line in his company, building strategy and process. “People who drive the technology, hold the key,” he says.
 
To increase the productivity of your people, you have to invest in them and have in place key performance indicators (KPI). Measure the key things, critical accounts, how to increase this, take feedback, and so on. “We have a white board on which, we keep a scorecard, continue tracking the scores.”
 
Khoon adds, KPI makes it clear what actions are needed. “In our case, the marketing guy knows what orders he is getting and the production guys know that they have to execute them. In tandem, they work the magic of seamlessly producing the product, even as the pre-press and the production team try to save on wastages and such.”
 
Finally, Khoon says, KPI has a cascading effect on other performance measures. “For example, when a quality product is delivered to the marketing persons clients, it improves his performance measure. He is assured that he can work without any distraction of having to prod the production team, instead concentrate on developing his relationship with the customer.”
 
Khoon also shared five practices that he has implemented in his organisation:
 
• Invest in building positive culture
• Invest in people
• Stay focused and keep repeating it to yourself
• Keep score and follow the action (KPIs and quarterly targets)
• Daily and weekly huddle to share employee experiences
 
As I exit the Khoon den, I cast an eye on his book collection. It's a nice mix. From Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, Jugaad Innovation, Great Game of Business, Mastering Rockefeller Habits and The Toyota Way among others.
 
More than just, Okay
 
My third interaction is with Kapil Roongta of Okay Paper Products in Vasai, which is 65kms north of Mumbai. Once upon a time, this idyllic village was known for the battle between the Marathas and Portuguese rulers, today it is a growing printing hub. Until 15 years ago, there were just two print companies, today there are 250+ print packagers.
 
Okay Papers is one of them. The Mumbai headquartered company has a four-storey building with printing and post-press capabilities. A refurbished Heidelberg CD 102 five-colour press was being installed. There’s a Bobst Novacut 106 and a Bobst Ambition folder-gluer too, among other equipment.
 
But what impressed me was the concept of 0% rejection and 100% perfection line, which Roongta says, was placed by his father, Prem Kishor Roongta. He is the mentor for all of us.
 
So how does he achieve this, and what’s thought mantra behind it?
Roongta says, “Packaging is a chain process and with many of them. So we need to zero down to the point where things go wrong. We scrutinise, reconcile the process which goes wrong, and why it is going wrong. Simply put, we prepare ourself so that we do not fail, because when you are failing to prepare and you are preparing to fail.”
 
Roongta has a dedicated team of five people for the zero-percentage rejection and 100% perfection concept. “They monitor the end process thoroughly, where in they have good and the bad cartoons. Bad cartoons are further reconciled and are documented and given to the operators and if required, they give the training to the operators. They monitor it so that it is managed properly.”
 
My three take-ways
 
My take-way from these three visits are:
 
As the professional print market grows, the need for good trade practise will increase. It is no longer a viable proposition to do everything oneself, top down. The big question everyone is asking – who will be the customer and what does this customer want? Sometimes a simple vanilla printer is not the answer. It may be creative agencies, cross-media firms or even other packaging pre-media firms.
 
The danger in all this, one cannot remain a typical ‘print’ company, anymore.
 
The second mantra is: technology will play a bigger role.
 
Think web to print, think cloud, think ERP: today resources are being better utilised, plus there is a clear value on cost and above all, a superior experience for the client.
 
This is interesting?
Because as the Indian print economy gallops, there shall be more print projects not fewer. And herein procuring a print job is the easy part. Most of us buy and sell on eMails and Skypes, these days.
 
What happens post sale?
 
That holds the key.
 
In all this positive outlook and bullishness, as Karan Kapur warns that prices will continually come under pressure.
 
Today as packaging firms start to reinvest, there will be excess capacity in the market place. And at times, silly prices will rule the roost.
 
Here, a print CEO has two choices. Sell low, and sign the death certificate of the firm.
 
Or else nurture a deal which is based on mutual respect!
 
Roongta says, "The print buyer needs someone to produce their jobs, you, the printer needs orders to keep your equipment running. The relationship is interdependent. Both buyer and seller are in it to make money. For a business relationship to be successful both sides must feel they get a fair deal."
 
Communication is key, as Khoon says. I concur.
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