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The importance of being digital - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

06 August 2016

Shailesh Sharma, armed with a BE (Mechanical) degree has project management experience with Tata Electrical and invaluable marketing experience with NRB Bearings. The down-to-earth son of a Railway officer (Deputy GM), Shailesh Sharma launched Inndus Cards and Gifts without any entrepreneurial background.

In the 7 August Sunday Column, Shailesh talks about how to avoid pitfalls in an era of tight margins and the inherent rewards of embracing digital printing technology.

untitled-2 Shailesh Sharma, managing director of Inndus Cards & Gifts

I started my foray in 1994 by printing greeting cards for all occasions and eventually shifted my focus to outsourced printing for the corporates. I have heard from my friends in the industry that the golden age of printing were the 1970’s and 1980’s. Apparently being a printer back then was a licence to print money. Therefore I remain philosophical about the current period of economic upheaval and uncertainty within the industry.

‘Innovation’ is my one-word motto.

When the chips are down, you have two options; you either sell more at lower margins or provide an exceptional quality of products and services to achieve the acceptable margins. In the West, printers charge for products and services. In India, there is also a system of charging just for a print and not the finished product. This has to change! In this day of digital advances and collectable data, measuring KPI’s are easy and ROI has never been more important

At Inndus, we are arguably the first truly and fully integrated digital printing organisation in Mumbai. Our factory sports a Xerox iGen4, a back-up of mid-range colour printers, wide-format printers for POP and signage work and also accessories for post-press processes. Our offset requirement is sourced through partner firms and printing allies. Inndus does not have any equity in these firms but assures them a minimum amount of annual business which in turn encourages them to strengthen their respective companies.

After being in the monochrome and colour printing business, purchasing Xerox’s iGen3 in 2008, marked our advent in the digital print production arena. It was a fantastic new beginning.

The digital journey
Several years ago, I recall starting off with e-serve international company (an affiliate of Citibank) who sought a specific solution. We provided the solution. Since then, we have been in the forefront of providing print solutions to financial consultancies, manufacturing organisations, big banks, medium retail outlets and small graphic design firms.

The winning formula is a combination of proactive planning, understanding the production process, decreasing waste, reducing downtime, increasing output, high production standards and using the optimum capacity effectively.

Though my set-up is a digital one, I do source offset jobs. This is a two way process and my offset printing allies sometimes need digital printing done, necessitating a look at our finishing systems that do not separate the offset workflow from digital printing. A good in-house post production unit, is the answer.

In my opinion, adding digital printing to the business model of every commercial printer in Mumbai is very important in order to be a one stop shop for all the printing needs of their existing customers. They can even use it as a fresh revenue stream to attract new customers.

How to invest in digital printing?
Most printers ask two types of questions. A). What media can I print on this machine? B). What is the price of this machine?

Very few printers appreciate the value addition in terms of the colour management software which can be negotiated as part of your package deal. Even a basic tool can identify and correct file issues before printing. For example: look at missing fonts, spot colours, low-resolution images, mixed source colours, hairlines below threshold, overprints, artefacts, transparencies and PostScript errors. I recall how the right RIP provided a pixel level preview of a raster file to pinpoint the source of the problem (file, engine or job processing). This is ideal for last-minute colour adjustments.

To invest, for starts, you will need a quality digital output kit – and there are plenty of choices. With a basic budget of Rs 30-40 lakhs, a print entrepreneur can start a simple digital printing operation. Having said that one must expect to pay more for greater (and more complex) levels of sophistication.

Based on my buying experience, I have listed 10 basic tips that one must consider before venturing forth into digital printing.

SHAILESH SHARMA'S TEN DIGITAL BUYING TIPS

1. Before you decide to go digital, ensure that the top people in your company, especially your production team and sales force are in agreement.

2. Understand the minimum amount of finance required to start and maintain a digital operation. You may even have to adapt to a different stream of revenue.

3. A strong vendor as a partner, is a huge help. This means inking a favourable AMC and getting a good click charge rate.

4. Location is key. Very rarely is a digital print site a Greenfield project unless you are doing wide-format digital print work and a lot of your work entails fabrication and carpentry. In our case, since our work is adjunct to some of our print partners, we need to have our offset print partners in close proximity.

5. Look at available space on the production floor. Calculate: equipment list and headcount.

6. Be very clear on your business model. Will it be B2B or B2C? Alternatively, will you be competing with the vendors at Andheri Station or Nehru Place? Will you use an in-house marketing team? Or will you depend on advertisements or word of mouth?

7. Take a serious look at the web-to-print (W2P) portal, plus a dedicated digital workflow software, developed in-house by your IT team or a local partner. Knowledge on database management is important if you are looking to do Variable Data Printing (VDP)

8. Most of the commercial digital presses have some form of inline finishing processes, either included, or available as an option. But if you visit Inndus you will realise that our strength is our post press. Calculate your digital print production and your volumes and then anticipate your needs, accordingly.

9. Understand and use your software sensibly. For example you could use the ‘gang-up’ imposition style for unique or step-and-repeat jobs. This means a pre-press operator can either define a bleed area and crop marks in order to properly cut cards during the finishing process, or automatically detect the trim box and bleed box defined in the source document. It’s time saved and money saved.

10. You have to have a good marketing strategy in place for your digital printing service. Invest in a simple but solid website. Doing B2B work could be low paying but it could earn you your bread and butter. Additionally, direct marketing, telemarketing, following up on client referrals & social channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest will all earn you supplementary revenue.

Finally, remember two things.
1. Land appreciates. So getting right properties as assets along with your optimal hardware is always a prudent investment.

2. Machines depreciates. At Inndus, we invest 40 minutes per day on machine maintenance alone. This is preventive maintenance and it has to be done to maintain a quality output.

Inndus: A true print leader
There are very few true print leaders in India. Do you aim to be a true leader?

If yes, then think of the type of digital printing service you would like to provide and the scale of operations that you will set up.

I recall an order that we had from Malaysia for a thousand invitation cards. We decided to produce the job as the customer was ready to pay a premium. That job taught me a lot of things. The job had to be of an international standard. Therefore, the cutting had to be perfect and precise. The product had to be crisp in terms of capturing the spot colours and reproducing them accurately, guaranteeing a proper finish including the right sort of gumming.

An existing print enterprise can attract a new stream of revenue by having an in-house team that believe in the products and services that the business provides. That’s how Inndus has reached where we have; a printing company that manufactures around 300 products and has over 400 regular customers.

Of this, 50 of our top customers provide 60% of our business. These customers endorse our brand identity. Today, we attract a new breed of marketing graduates into our firm who are passionate about marketing. These are young committed people who have made customer satisfaction the centre of focus for all areas of our operation - sales, administration, production and dispatch. From a technology point of view, it may be similar to what other digital print firms do, but what gives Inndus an edge over our competition, is the ability to deliver top-notch quality, reliably and consistently.

This was a two-step process. First, to maximise profit so that we can re-invest and grow. The key is to manage costs and still have two lakh print runs per month on a high-end four-colour engine (iGen3, to start with). This is a common approach and one that is proven through workflow automation.

And the second step is increasing your revenue by finding new customers or share-of-wallet from existing ones. This is possible by facilitating a seamless service for your customers.

Graphics art is the name of the game
From a digital printer we transformed ourselves into a graphics art player.

Ultimately, it is about your customers! So you have to know or find out what tools/ technologies will help them to achieve their goals – are we helping them to reach their sales goals by having a targeted communications campaign? Then database management, personalisation, and marketing analytics is a must. For this, you need to stay ahead of the technology curve. Invest in ideas, buy books, collaborate and connect with fellow printers.

What is the easiest way to get colour right every time? How many print profiles should one maintain on a digital press? What kind of paper stock should one store?

I believe in the credo: The more you share, the more you learn.

Having said that, it is equally important not to just think about the production side of the business but the full end-to-end customer experience from the initial inquiry, proof, production, finishing, delivery through to invoice and payment collections.

Understand your forte and target your market accordingly. If your strength lies in high volumes and low margins, your focus should be traditional publishing, catalogues & POS. But with the flexibility of digital printing, higher-margins are a reality in packaging, and other key niche verticals that are selling /marketing high value products.

At Inndus, on-demand personalised printing is a digital print service – and it continues to thrive.

This Sunday Column is part of a plant visit followed by a conversation with Shailesh Sharma, the managing director of Inndus Cards & Gifts, Mumbai

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