There is certain resilience about Surat, the city that was hit by a plague in 1995, and its people. In a year, the city was adjudged India’s cleanest city in 1996.
The then city’s municipal commissioner SR Rao, was credited with the transformation, imagined and implemented changes, which were necessary. “Efficiency was one of them. He cracked down on corruption, got the bureaucracy out of its slumber,” says Asgar Sanchawala, director at Progressive Printing Press, located in Khatodra area of Surat.
“Many people who had left the city returned,” says Sanchawala. “That further strengthened the spirit of the city.”
In 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation identified Surat as one of the 100 “resilient” cities, which gave a fillip to the city to tackle natural disaster and the effects of climate change. Today, the city is among the preferred cities for investors. There are action plans in addition to 20 goals that are envisaged for the decade – 2016 to 2025. With these steps in place, Surat was declared the Resilient City 2020 in the Smart Cities of the World in September 2020.
“Before the transformation period, Surat was a city that didn’t care much towards the city’s upkeep, except for business,” says Sanchawala. While the outlook towards the city has changed, the business acumen has only become better.
Who in the right mind would invest in new equipment when businesses around were squirrelling away any spare funds?
Sanchawala did. A fifth RMGT 755, a five-colour offset press and a second Kodak Trendsetter 800 are the two pieces of equipment, which has been installed at Progressive’s 50,000 sqft two-floor plant. For those uninitiated, businesses of sizeable print firms, who have not been smart enough, are down anywhere between 50% and 80%.
But Sanchawala has confidence that his company’s brand and ability to find new avenues will allow him to sprint, or at least trudge, into this fiercely howling wind. Since 1998, Progressive Printing Press has worked to develop a strong reputation for itself in Surat’s print industry. The company, established in 1965, was using a treadle machine initially and then single-colour machines to produce four-colour jobs. Besides commercial jobs such as brochures, fashion books, catalogues, Progressive also produces self-adhesive labels and packaging boxes.
I asked Sanchawala, “How?” “Honestly, in the past 12 months, orders we received were not related to the kind of print jobs we specialise in. We had huge orders for mask packaging, pandemic circulars, laboratory reports and the related stationeries. This bought us out of the regular business, which had dried up,” he says.
Sanchawala acknowledges that this pandemic is a lifetime experience, but there will be a turnaround. “Surat is a textile and diamond hub. The two industries are a dominant part of our business when it comes to advertisement and packaging. Textile business in Surat is worth over Rs 10,000 crores,” he says, with an air that suggested he was quietly convinced.
Kodak NexPress: Any print run that’s under 200 is produced on this Kodak kit
Staying ahead of the curve
In June 2017, Progressive celebrated its 50 years of operation by hosting the RMGT-Provin open house at its plant. Running its recently-installed third brand-new RMGT press, the 7 Series RMGT 760 five-colour press live, the open house for print CEOs from Surat, Vadodara and Ahmedabad had a chance to test the efficiency of the press.
Showcasing the press was one of the reasons. While Progressive’s customers were thrilled, the competitors weren’t very sure of how well we were using our new presses. “We opened up our shop-floor and more than 60 print CEOs showed up,” remembers Sanchawala.
Besides the newly installed RMGT 760 then, Progressive already had a Ryobi 920 and RMGT 920, all brand new presses installed in the previous two years. The company had replaced all the pre-owned presses at the plant with new ones. “There are two major reasons why we replaced all the old presses with new ones – quick delivery and consistency of quality,” recalls Sanchawala. “We had been running second-hand machines all through, and somewhere down the line, we used to be hampered by inconsistency in print quality. After we installed the first Ryobi, we were convinced that with a new machine, print quality is assured.”
And though it sounded a bit risky, Sanchawala explains that his facility was far ahead of its time from an infrastructure standpoint that his competitors then did not quite understand what they were seeing. Soon enough, there were print companies in the Khatodra area and around, who actually installed new presses replacing the old ones.
Progressive’s advanced standing, however, did not let Sanchawala stop his company’s momentum, and he later went on to add another RMGT press, a 790ST-4XL+ IR+OC+SLD, in April 2019, as well as the latest one.
“If you look around, you will find that we have strengthened our shop-floor differently,” Sanchawala says. “We looked at the entire flow of the print jobs we produce rather than the traditional way of looking at one particular area of print jobs.”
Business and viability
Explaining the company’s transformation since 2015, Sanchawala says, he has constantly asked his customers what their needs were, and if they were interested in doing it differently. The answer he received was: consistent print quality and quick delivery.
At that time, the industry standard was basic second-hand four-colour presses, which required regular maintenance and manual intervention. To address the customer demands, Sanchawala completely overhauled his shop-floor, created a more efficient operation and allowed it to introduce more automation. “New presses were our answer to quality and quick delivery, and reduced dependency on manpower, though we did not reduce our workforce. We just deployed them in a more effective manner,” Sanchawala says.
Not surprisingly, the staff at Progressive is as old as 40 years, and more or less trained within the press. “We are an inseparable family and have taken full care of each and every employee. No one has left us even during the pandemic,” Sanchawala says.
“The three most fundamental areas of business that influences the profitability and viability of any business are customer, market and employees. We have touched upon customer and employees. To grow a business today requires a multi-faceted approach, with considerations that are much broader in scope than in the past,” exerts Sanchawala.
Progressive considers printing 200 copies of a catalogue on offset as a viable proposition. Why not digital, I ask, to which Sanchawala answers, “If you calculate 200 copies with 50 pages each, the cost of printing on digital will be, say, Rs 50,000 at Rs 5 per print. And I am not talking about odd sizes. Even if I charge Rs 50,000 for the same job by printing on offset, I will be making more profit than digital. All this, after having calculated my overhead costs. I am not sure if the guy who will supply at
Rs 5 per page of the digital print will include overhead costs. I doubt it.”
And printing on the new machine may take more or less the same time, but the advantage Progressive has is that it can add value to print, which digital cannot afford to provide at the same cost.
Offset and quick printing? What about producing plates, which is time-consuming? Sanchawala points to the Kodak Trendsetter 800, which it has been using since 2015 and the new one it recently acquired. “Producing
plates in a jiffy is a no brainer. And we run both processless and with processor,” he says.
Incidentally, Progressive was the first in Surat to install a platesetter way back in 2006.
Progressive celebrated its 50 years of operation in June 2017 by hosting the RMGT-Provin open house at its plant with more than 60 print CEOs from Surat and neighbouring state in attendance
Stay ahead of the curve
Progressive believes in staying ahead of technology. Being updated in the advanced technology by itself is an inspiration to update and bring in new equipment to the press. “Making an estimate of the present and future demands with a desire to improve and attain perfection and quality with a delivery period as fast as light, helps us to move ahead,” says Sanchawala.
But Sanchawala is not all anti-digital. “Any print run that’s under 200 is produced on the Kodak NexPress. Our jobs range from 200 to 1,200 per month,” says Sanchawala.
The average print runs in offset at Progressive range from 1,000 to 2,000 copies. However, during the pandemic, the range has dropped to 200 to 500 copies, but the number of jobs have increased by 20%. Of these, 80% jobs are pure offset, while 20% are with embellishments – endless creation of foil, UV, varnishing – as Sanchawala says.
And to achieve the perfect colour matching, the company uses a GMG proofing system – GMG colour server and GMG ink optimiser. Sanchawala says the print industry is made of niches, and when one attains it, people follow and then there’s overkill. “That’s when you start looking for the next niche, that something which will add value to our business.”
In 2015, when Sanchawala’s son Latif wanted to do something new at Progressive, he let him work with it. Since then GMG is the only colour management tool the company uses. The optimisation is based on GMG’s 4D DeviceLink profiles. The CMY colour component is replaced by black while exactly retaining the colour impression. Sophisticated ink reduction algorithms ensure that only the structure of the separations is altered, not the colour impression.
“The improved colour composition makes it possible to stabilise the entire printing process, meaning that, for example, the gray balance reacts less to colour fluctuations. Depending on the printing process and the substrate, GMG ink optimiser simultaneously achieves up to 20% savings on ink,” says Latif.
Sanchawala claims, his company pioneered the use of Kaliedo inks in Surat and the rest followed. “It was hard work. We still do it, but very few customers use the Kaliedo inks, and we charge a premium for doing it.”
Besides, Progressive has a huge consumption of fine/art papers for its specialised jobs. “We purchase ink, paper and other raw materials in bulk, which enables smooth flow of production. A huge holding capacity and good payment reputation are key to a very respectful relationship with suppliers,” explains Sanchawala.
How to lead in tough times?
Just when things had started to look up, the second wave of Covid-19 seems to have put the brake on things. The economy is shaken, there is unemployment, and one is hard-pressed to find good economic news.
Sanchawala says, there are four things we as a print community can do.
First, your employees are the vital cog in your business wheel. They know what’s going on. “Be candid about what the pandemic is doing to your business. As we say, we are all in it together, so are your employees.”
Second, the pandemic has been a major shock, but there may have been times when you have experienced tough times. “Take lessons from the past success your company has had in tough times. Put that across in context even to your employees.”
Third, look for opportunities. “It’s perhaps the best time to identify where you can cut-cost or find saving ideas without impacting quality and speed, as also new markets to go after. I would think your employees will be better tuned to find cost-saving ideas.”
Fourth and last, stay positive. “If you don’t, there are people around you at your workplace who will eventually be affected, too.”
Sanchawala concludes with an air of optimism, “I’ve been in the print business for over 50 years now. And every time things have looked hopeless, I was determined to make them otherwise.”
And that particularly resonates with Progressive’s success.
Asgar Sanchawala - At a glance
Sanchawala (seated) with son Latif; and Progressive’s plant in Surat
How did you unwind during the pandemic?
Watching Netflix and spending time with my family.
One phrase you heard during the pandemic months.
Stay home, stay safe.
Which film or web series did you watch?
The Queen of South.
Once the pandemic is over, where will you vacation to.
Chicken pasta, but made at home.
Kane and Abel by Jeffery Archer.
Your adda in your city.
Tea at Grenee in Surat.
One historical thing about the city you live in no one knows.
Surat was the gateway to Haj by ship in the 19th century.
One print job you love.
The 30-lakh laddu boxes produced for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Abhiyan and delivered in two weeks.
One print innovator you want to meet.
One phrase, you utter at least once a day?
“I am happy, I am healthy, I am strong”.