"At Jak, we aspire for zero-defect"

With good quality, timely delivery and fair pricing, one can never go wrong. Khushru Patel of Jak Printers talks to Ramu Ramanathan after bagging the Best Printers NAEP award in 2012

20 Dec 2012 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): Has it become tougher to do printing in Mumbai?
Khushru Patel (KP): Considering the nature of work of these professionals, it usually zeroes down faltering at the costing level. You need to learn when to say “No”. Twenty years down the line, maybe Jak Printers wouldn’t continue to exist but it is essential to know when to deny and where to stop. Running or trying to run a business just for the sake of it will fetch nothing. Thus, it all zeroes down to correct costing. As Limaye sir said, a correct base cost will determine the correct costing price.

RR: Please explain this to our readers.
KP: Quoting an example, a few years ago a bank manager (with no print background) installed a single-colour printing machine worth Rs 12 lakh. He couldn’t relate to the fact that a bearing for continuous and correct inking system is worth Rs 40,000. To put in context, people can’t comprehend the costing. They are unable to evaluate the outcomes, which begin to affect their business. Fortunately enough, the real estate rates are spiralling and one can cover all their mistakes made in the past years and re-start by selling the property and shifting to a new cheaper place which is north and north of Mumbai, and then make a few more mistakes; and then restart, again. So, we are waiting to see where we make mistakes! 
RR: So you are happy operating within Mumbai?
KP: Yes, but the power and octroi charges are deterrents. However, we are not even doing 0.001% of the market share, so customers can keep coming to us.
RR: What is the difference in the expectations of the print buyers in terms of quality?
KP: The buyer is more cost sensitive now. Regardless of the requirement from their department, their motto is to negotiate and then further negotiate. The core concern is the price. We try to work in a different way. We convince them to study and consider the product. Then whether a product pre-budgeted at Rs 1,000 would cost Rs 800 or Rs 1,100, we quote the price. There have been instances when we have quoted a price lower than the budget and still have been persuaded to negotiate further. It has become a trend.
RR: Has the ticket-size of a job changed?
KP: Yes, the ticket-size of each job has changed. Earlier, one project meant business worth of Rs 20-lakh. Today, the same amount is spread over four projects. The client servicing team size has increased because a person can manage only two-three customers a day. Thus, the decreased ticket-size has increased the client servicing team. Of course, everything required yesterday hasn’t changed over the last 15-20 years. People continue to appreciate and respect quality. With good quality, timely delivery and fair pricing, one can never go wrong. This is our motto. ‘Is it the correct price?’ ... is my question for each job we take up. The price should be correct to both, the customer and us, where neither of us gain an extra benefit nor suffer a loss in any sense.
RR: With the ticket-size of each job being reduced, what is Jak’s efficiency levels in terms of manoeuvrability, flexibility? How crucial is it?
KP: We have seven guillotines and have several teams dedicated to every jobs on daily basis, enabling us to attend to several jobs a day. Earlier, two guillotines were sufficient for an equal volume of work. We have three perfect binders. Everything is multiple. Capital investment is increasing, turnover reduces, margins get thinner, but you continue because you need to sustain and survive. It is like riding a lion. You need to keep riding it to prevent him from eating you. The moment you get off the lion, he eats you up! All businesses are like riding a lion.
RR: Customers accept this?
KP: Yes. We prefer the ethical way of business. We have a heritage of customers. Some are as old as 27 years. If your pricing is fair, if not the cheapest, the customers are bound to stay with you.
RR: Considering not all decisions would need your consent, what kind of module do you follow?
KP: We have a software tailored to suit us and after a long debate, it is also made available in the market because I believe, knowledge should be shared. Success involves lots of variables; service, quality, price, expertise etc ... Because I share my estimation software with someone doesn’t mean he would or can compete with me at that level. The software is already installed and running in 25-30 other firms. That is the backbone of our firm and without it, it would have been impossible to manage the 200-300 quotations in a day.

RR: How do you rate the Jak MIS system? 
KP: We are using it since many years and we are making a fair profit. When we started on the MIS roadmap, there was only one software which could do this and today three-four softwares are available, worldwide.
RR: Should one install the MIS first or is the organisational discipline, essential?
KP: If the system is easy then you automatically get hooked to the system. One of my daughters is a professional chef who became the system manager for the estimate engine as it was so addicting and she organises the print jobs like a recipe wherein each raw material input can be priced. This gives the correct cost. There are many factors which cannot be estimated. Additionally, when one quotes a price, it needs to be realistic and close to the market standards. 
RR: How do you define maintenance? 
KP: The ideal solution is preventive maintenance but it is very difficult to achieve that. Considering breakdowns, maintenance or even preventive maintenance in that case, we do spend around Rs 10,000 each day. Most of the printers, I think are unaware of the maintenance costs per day. These cost are not covered and cannot be covered so easily because the market is ebbing and flowing.
RR: You say the market ebbs and flows, what do you mean?
KP: Firstly, our country functions in a very different format. There are printers who have ventured into printing only because a few printers have succeeded and profited. They are oblivious to the market trends, the pricing system. They tend to bend the market in a skewed direction. One has to compete with such printers. One may have the quality factor that provides a beneficial edge but it is essential to be competitive, to survive.
RR: In what way do they skew the market?
KP: These printers drive the market in a different direction in terms of cost while quality of production suffers. I believe, there is a very thin bottomline. The market, as a whole is changing. It is going the digital way, which is growing, flexo printing and dry offset has picked up. Digital printing and digitisation of the text has squeezed the market. At no point can one say that the market is growing. Your numbers may show a growth but if statistically evaluated, I am sure the picture isn’t as pretty. It has narrowed down. Packaging and labels are growing, but commercial printing and the top-end premium space is shrinking. One of the reasons being that the top-end of market users has access to internet and iPads. They are migrating away from traditional print.
RR: A brand like Volkswagen is determined to work with Jak. Does it make it you feel good?
KP: Yes, yes!
RR: How do you stay ahead when catering to top brands?
KP: There are two great achievements. One is when the customer comes again and the second is when the customer walks in with a thought process and leaves with a completely new view of the product. That is the time when you make your customer. With us, this happens every day. That is our main strength.
RR: What do you bring to the product in terms of value additions, substrate handling and innovations?
KP: So, development of the product would mean when the customer has a thought in mind and he comes to us for putting the thought into reality, where it turns out to be a different ball game, and then when we give him a solution which turns out to be exactly what he had been looking for, the product is developed. The product could be a book, but the book of the correct size, the correct thought, the correct feel, representing what the customer had in mind;  that is what we create. While creating and exploring new substrates and newer ideas it is essential to have a thorough understanding of the technology. Every new substrate has its own limitations and we are racing with the substrate itself to create a fine print. Today, whoever is competing with us are second and the third generation presses, which is a disadvantage for us. But the advantage is, they do not really know the science of printing, they are mere managers. This is where we can make a difference. They can expand and spend. We do not have that kind of luxury but we have the science of printing to back us. An analogy can be the cars – for the older cars, we know the nitty-gritty of the vehicle. However for today’s generation it is adequate even if they have a superficial knowledge about the spare parts of the vehicle. The reason being, the efficiency of the machine. With the printing machines it is the auto plates, the blanket washes, colour management but it has weakened the brain. They have improved to a great extent but for how many years will it continue to remain beneficial is the question.
RR: You seem to suggest the fun is gone.
KP: Earlier we were on our toes, anticipating the result, now one press of the button and the job is done. It is no longer about the man, now it is the machine.
RR: When it comes to reproducing a piece of a painter like Sudhir Patwardhan or Akbar Padamsee, they are painstakingly fastidious about the output, and about deploying a speciality paper, a metallic ink. How do you cope with this?
KP: If you show them proofs which are better than the original they are happy. Today, it is easy to achieve the accuracy.
RR: What about brand colours for top brands?
KP: If you review two sheets in the same light, the results have to be close. We are not working with too many corporate brands with home colours. Ours is like a boutique press. The home colours of a brand is very critical when it is about pharmaceutical, perfume, carton printing. The brands or the kind of customers we handle does not require so stringent a colour reproduction. However, most of the times the reproduction is accurate.

Masters of the art of printing
RR: Can you share about your  process of paper engineering and how Jak cut down on waste...
KP: Seven–eight years ago, we reduced our wastage by air-conditioning the plant, invested in the most modern equipment, engaging in maintenance as the correct maintenance reduces the amount of waste. We do not deal with the sizes per say. Since the last five-six years we have been working constantly to improve our binderies.
RR: Is this module do-able for other printers as well?
KP: Today what India needs is good binding kit. Unlike pre-press and printing, India lags behind in post-press. We had invested in a Kolbus about five-six years ago and there are people who are thinking to make the investment.
RR: What was your thought process at the time when you made the Kolbus investment? There were speculations whether you had that kind of volumes?
KP: We do not have volumes even now. It is only quality based. When I went to a German bindery and showed them a book, he found faults at each and every point. When I returned to Mumbai I discussed it with my partner and in one year we invested in it.
RR: What have been the advantages of the investment?
KP: Every book is equally important whether flat-back or round-back. We have the equipment for all kinds of books across the spectrum. Unfortunately, the hard-case book costs more and becomes very prominent. Whether a hard-case, center-pinned or any other kind of book, all are equally important. We have about 40 machines that comprise of our binding unit and even then we fall short of the equipment. Binding is a challenge.
RR: Are there misconceptions among Indian book binders about how to prepare a book?
KP: It has to do with the knowledge of the buyer and the supplier. One, if the supplier has the knowledge and the buyer is ready to learn; and two, where the buyer has the knowledge and he tells the supplier what he wants. Today, 80% of the market is still governed by cost and a barely 20% considers both, the price and the product are equally essential. You can talk about grain direction only when you are considering large volumes. Most of our books are on speciality paper. We cannot imagine of ordering for a correct grained paper at that point of time. Binding is the job of putting the pages together, whether wrong grained or correct grained, whether stapled or sewed, whether glued or not glued. We have produced a book that weighed around 4kgs and the binding of the book did not fall apart even when thrown from a height.
RR: You have produced the Nari Gandhi book on bark wood along with digital engraving; plus the Chinese stitching book. How do you develop these books?
KP: Firstly, we give credit to the customer who wants to do something different and is willing to pay because the cost of the R&D is going to be transferred to them. Secondly, we have a set of specialised people whose job is to create something different, do something new. It involves a few trial and errors, wherein we succeed in some and don’t in others.

Jak has 40 machines that comprise the binding department
RR Would it be fair to say that printing is the core but what you really bring to it is the extra 20%, which is the super specialisation, where  you dig deeper and bring in newer ideas?
KP: We try to dig deeper and give the best solution, the best product with the best price. Again, the MIS is a huge asset. The experience which we have and the costing put together.
RR: What was the rationale behind creating this “oasis”?
KP: Quality. If you have a quality working environment; and a quality place to work from, then it comes from within. It is essential to create the environment to be able to create top quality work. People think that the environment is for the customer but it is first for us and then the customers. If we aren’t happy in the kind of environment we work in, we can’t transfer the satisfaction to the customer. Although, the initial three months when we shifted here, everybody thought we were on a holiday. Now, the people have settled in.
RR: Do you feel you fulfilled what you dreamt 20-30 years ago or are there still milestones to be achieved?
KP: I think from where we started, we are extremely happy. Keeping the values intact, has been the crux, and we have achieved it reasonably well. Diverting from our values, we could have achieved 50 or even 100% more. There is always a scope of improvement and we have always tried to grow. And growth is not always in terms of turnover, it is to do with the team size, in quality of team, quality of customers, quality of banking. By the grace of God and with a good team we have achieved a lot from where we started.
RR: One thing that Jak will do in the next 15 years?
KP: Achieve a zero-defect system. It is the most challenging but the most important thing to achieve. Printing is difficult. There are so many parameters. The basic substrate, the paper that you work on starts moving, wrinkles, stretches that you can’t do anything about it.
RR: Jak in 2025?
KP: I will answer that with a question: Where will printing be in 2025?
RR: Where will it be?
KP: There will be a need for printer like Jak but the question is will the printer be able to survive? We should be in business in 2025 but in 2040, I do not see Jak in the business of print. I do not see any commercial printer in business. Perhaps, packaging, but it will be difficult for commercial printing to survive.

Jak’s mantra for pre-owned kit
RR: What is the advice you would give while selecting a pre-owned machine? The combinations that one should look for?
KP: We spent nine months to decide the equipment we want to buy. We invest a lot of time studying the combinations we require. The print-buyer should first check the equipment with an experienced mechanic, the status of the firm from where they are buying rather than deciding on the basis of the age and cost. Most important is the culture of the firm you are buying from.
RR: Which are the countries that Indians should source pre-owned machines from?
KP: The equipment from countries like Austria, Poland come with the price of 30% premium. Additionally, these countries do not have multi- press. They have one-, two-, four-colour machines. 
RR: You have made a conscious choice in the selection of kit. What is the strategy you follow?
KP: It depends on the requirement. Is it packaging or is it commercial printing? I think, packaging has the numbers, in terms of turnover. There is a very small risk that a brand-new equipment will not succeed. In commercial, a brand-new equipment will not succeed. Of course there are instances when a printer has succeeded with a brand-new equipment but we need to see where the investment came from. A single brand-new printing equipment, offset or digital, cannot pay for itself. The payment comes from other sources. A traditional commercial printer will not invest in a brand-new kit. They know the game; and they know how to handle it. The brand new machines are going to people who are investing money from other industries. I know of someone in Gujarat, with no printing knowledge, setting up a printing press. The reason, he is already earning Rs 30-lakh as rental income but wants his sons to work for money. Such kind of investors can afford a brand-new press. They can under-quote or over-quote, can run or not run the machine. This is dangerous for the printing industry. I believe this kind of company does not know the science of printing. In commercial printing it is very hard to maximise your turnover with a brand-new machine.


The Jak team: "A happy family"