Kerala boasts about two things – tourism and education. With a literacy level of over 95%, the state has always been a hub of book and literature lovers. No wonder, Sujilee Colour Printers, Chathannoor has been concentrating on the book publishing market since the last two decades of its existence.
Located in Kollam, Sujilee’s owner, Shaji set up shop around two decades ago when he discovered printing as a lucrative and thriving business for the future. This was during his college days. "My first interaction with the world of printing began during my college days when I used to get the posters printed for our cultural events," says Shaji.
Unlike some of the printers we interacted with, Shaji confides that his career decision was impromptu; especially since he never had any links to the printing industry, nor a diploma of printing. "After completing my graduation in chemistry, I went to my father and told him that I want to be a printer. I still believe that it was a divine grace that pushed me to this industry," he says.
"Of course, my father tried to dissuade me a lot, but finally gave up on my persistence. However, he promised to help me only if I would set up a shop in the remote area and not in the city," he adds. Today Shaji feels that his father made the right choice for him, as he has grown over the years to a stage where his last year’s turnover was Rs 6.5 crore. "Today I feel if I had not put up a facility here, may be I wouldn’t have been this successful," he adds.
The most impressive thing about Shaji is that his business decisions have never been impromptu. Before he ventured as a printer, he worked as a printing contractor for six months. "And then one day in 1985, I heard that there was a used letterpress machine for sale. During my days as a print contractor, I had sometimes fiddled with letterpress. There I learnt about composing and printing," he says. Today he has two more offices in Kollam city, which caters to printing as well as supplying consumables.
For any printer-entrepreneur, the first job leaves an indelible memory. Shaji reminisces that the first job handed over to him was by the Nursing Council in Thiruvananthapuram. He was asked to print application forms for the institution. "The funniest part of this job was that I bought my first letterpress machine only after getting a copy of the form that was to be printed. I had a hard time working on the new machine and churning out the forms, but eventually, as they say all’s well that ends well," says a smiling Shaji.
"When I spoke to Heidelberg before buying this new machine, I told them – if you want to have a tea from a tea-shop, you have to travel three kilometres from here, for a restaurant, 16 kilometres, and if you want to stay in a five-star hotel, you need to drive over 100 kilometres. Although, Kerala only has urban-villages, the facilities are not the same everywhere," he adds.
Around 80% of Sujilee’s production caters to books. He recently won a tender from the Horticulture Department, Government of Kerala for printing a book – Pachakari (vegetable) and has been handling all the printing jobs of Kerala government’s public relations department.
We asked Shaji why he opted to begin his career as a book printer, he said: "People often ask me why I am a book and commercial printer. The truth is; after liquor, book printing is the most thriving business in Kerala. The reason for this is that there is tremendous support from the government. Also there are only few printers in Kerala who understand the nuances of this business."
Strong and updated printing facility
While narrating his journey, Shaji says that he has always done his homework before buying a machine, and learnt from his mistakes. "I always plan and ask as many experts as I can before opting for a machine. In fact, it took me over one-and-a-half-year before buying the new Heidelberg SM 74 in 2008, I devised a mark-sheet for all leading offset presses, which I divided into several sub-categories to be weighed upon. Compared to other machine manufacturers, Heidelberg scored 72 out of 100, mainly because of its after-sales service and brand boosting tag in Kerala."
Today a majority of Sujilee’s portfolio consists of book publishing and other commercial jobs. Shaji thanks Kerala’s political scenario for his initial success. "During my struggling days, I had almost thought I would have to close down my press and venture into something else. However, the Panchayat election dates were announced and there was a surplus of jobs for Sujilee to undertake," he says.
Apart from the SM 74, the 6,000 square-feet facility also houses a re-purposed Heidelberg two-colour perfecting machine, a Suprasetter, a Horizon folder, among other post-press and pre-press machines. His business office set up in the city has a Xerox DC12 for proofing purposes. Asked what he thinks about digital presses, Shaji admits that the demand and importance of digital presses will go north in the foreseable future.
There are 35 people powering the units in two shifts. A majority of these workers from Kollam are unskilled, and have not been to a college. "I believe that every organisation should give employment to local residents and help them earn their living. Almost all of my employees walk down to the office or the press. Perhaps, I might be one of the only printers in Kerala who has never been hit by a transport strike," he jokes.
In a state famous for its literacy rate, Shaji has contributed to society by educating these unskilled workers about book printing and binding processes. Around 70% of the workers at Sujilee are women. "I have heard that there is a low proportion of women in the printing industry. But I take a lot of pride when I tell people that a large number of women empower Sujilee’s day-to-day functioning with equal enthusiasm," shares Shaji.
Apart from imparting skills to these workers, Sujilee also encouraged the young blood of the near-by Muttara Government Vocational Higher Secondary Schools by providing internship and on-machine training. "I started sponsoring the best student award in the school, which was later on taken up by the Kerala Master Printers Association," he states.
The printer is currently planning to diversify into the packaging segment by buying a five-colour plus online UV coater machine for printing mono-cartons, and is also looking to venture forth into the book export market. "There are many pharmaceutical companies who would be coming up near our factory in near future. Hence, the demand for pharmaceutical packaging and printing is sure to rise." However, he adds that the decision to buy a machine will be finalised – a few months after Drupa 2012.
The down-to-earth printer believes that his reason for success has been that he has never been very ambitious and that he has always considered himself as a student.
"Exhibitions and Heidelberg’s Print Media Academy courses have helped me a lot to understand the market. In fact, I have attended over 14 courses at the PMA. The first time I attended the course, I could hardly understand anything as I was not from printing background. Therefore, I have attended several courses twice!" he says with a smile. "I have a slow processor in my brain, perhaps," he jokes.
"I haven’t seen printers in Kerala striving to gain knowledge. This is something that will be a hurdle in the growth of our industry. Having a facility and earning jobs is something that will come through only once you understand how the work has to be produced. Money-making is an automatic process, and should never be the end in itself," he concludes.
- Founded in 13 July 1987 (with a treadle machine)
- Location Chathannoor, Kollam, Kerala
- Equipment Heidelberg Suprasetter A 75 thermal CTP, Heidelberg Herkules Pro imagesetter, four-colour Heidelberg SM 74, two-colour Heidelberg MOZP, Orient Web Offset (cut of size 546mm), Horizon cross-folding machine, Welbound binding machine, Kumaran sewing machine, Macroprint thermal lamination machine, Proteck and Champion programmable cutting machines, Teckon densitometer, Conductivity metre.
- Staff 14 technologically well-trained staff and 10 indirect employees and trainees
Sujilee looks to expand into packaging after Drupa 2012
Sujilee's CTP centre- the SM 74 press can be seen in the background
Spectrum Scan is one of the top 500 print firms in India. This rating is from THE 500 list which is published by PrintWeek India and powered by Xerox India.