"At Jak we give the best solution, the best product at the best price" - Khushru Patel

The Jak motto: With good quality, timely delivery and fair pricing, one can never go wrong. Khushru Patel and Aspi Forbes of Jak Printers talk to Ramu Ramanathan and Anand Limaye after bagging their fourth consecutive Best Printers award at the National Awards for Excellence in Printing (NAEP).

20 Oct 2012 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): NAEP awards have been very crucial for Jak in terms of the number of awards and the quality of work produced.
Khushru Patel (KP): This is the fourth consequent time that we have won. Initially, NAEP Awards was once in two years but now it is an annual event. It is a painstaking when one needs to do it annually, not discounting the fact that we are very happy. We respect the NAEP awards more than any other awards, for the sole reason that these awards have print professionals on the jury panel, and are not with any conditions like only a particular brand of raw material to be used etc, Secondly, these awards encourage printers at the three levels; the small, medium and the large-sized printers, which come to the benefit of genuine printers. However, it is disadvantageous for the some genuine printers, when some printers tend to enter the incorrect level and defeat the purpose of a small or a medium-sized printer getting his due. These national awards see a broad spectrum of products and we have been lucky that since the last four years we have got the ‘Best Printer Award’, though this year we could not bag the ‘Best Product Award’.

RR: What is the process that Jak follows for documentation for the awards? Over the four years of PWI awards, we have seen a qualitative difference in the way a firm document or present a job.
KP: We have a core team among us, and we monitor this. It is a full-time job for a printer to send an entry; it is difficult for him to collect the samples, make the payment, send the entry in time. Our core team selects from the lot and we scrutinise it to determine whether the sample is of the      expected quality. There will be better variety of products if the NAEP awards are held once in two years.
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 first 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 lot variables; service, quality, price, expertise etc ... Only 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.
Anand Limaye (AL): How do you arrive at the costing? What is your benchmark for the first thousand print impressions? Is this data simulated from a software for estimation?
KP: Both my daughters, who joined me two years ago, are using the estimation engine since the last two years. The estimation engine is probably the last investment for anybody, which is wrong. Basically, it is designed for a non-print professional to use it. It is what a print buyer comes to you with; paper, size, printing and binding. If you enter these values in the system, it gives you the best combination. That is the USP of the estimate engine. Most softwares ask the printer to determine the size of the paper, the machine to be used, this engine doesn’t do that. the usual practice for over many years and till date with many printers to determined his costing, is only by comparing his pricing with a particular printer. The stature of his firm in comparison to the benchmark printer would determine his costing model.
RR: Even today, 90% of Indian printers function in the same fashion ...
KP: However, since the last 15-17 years, at Jak we have a definite internal formula, which Aspi Forbes and I have understood and we thus define our basic rates. There have been friends in the industry, close colleagues, who question our pricing model but we have our justifications to it. On a whole, most printers do not consider the spare part costs, the maintenance of the machine and so on. Every machine is different and hence the basic rates differ too. Needless to say, every calculation can’t be accurate to the last core. Printing is critical. While some results are instantaneous, others take days and include manpower. The human resource and the time we invest, is our loss since we cannot charge the customer for it. That is the price we are paying for being at the top end of the spectrum.
RR: How do you rate the Jak MIS system? Where do you grade your software compared to the other systems available in the market?
KP: I am very happy with it. We are using it since many years and we are making a fair profit. When we started on this 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 daughter 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, which is vital. 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. At the top end of the spectrum there is equal amount of competition and people cheat, too. The competition persists.
RR: Is this true of the B/W print firms in Mumbai?
KP: A B/W printer’s capital investment versus the profit he is earning is way beyond us. In terms of quality, we are at the better edge but considering the ROI, they take the pie. They do not require a client servicing team or an estimation engine. The machines they use are depreciated.
RR: How do you define maintenance? What is the Jak mantra?
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: When you say the market is ebbing and flowing, what do you mean?
KP: Firstly, our country functions in a very different format. There are printers who have ventured in to 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: It's interesting you say so. Because from the print entries that you send in for the PrintWeek india Awards, the jobs that we see in the market and the responses from your customers, a trend of maintaining the old values that existed in printed – integration and an eye for detail. Your comment
KP: We make a difference. This is what we assert every time. The extent of making the difference extends not only to the customer or the team, but to everyone that comes along. Starting backwards, we water the plants with the water from the well and consider staff management staff treatment and staff education very essential. It is a movement towards quality and good life. Quality does not adhere to quality printing alone, it refers to quality seating, quality arrangements, quality of living in Mumbai, quality of the home, quality of the home life, everything. It starts from the moment the person wakes up to the time he reaches home. The team-work attitude needs to be developed. At our level and also at the staff level, we try to help one another. It is like a culture, a whole new concept.
AL: At this point of time, how difficult do you think it is to find good people and retain them?
KP: You don’t find good people, you make good people. Good characters are found but to mould them into good people, good professionals, is a full time job. We have attempted and at times failed too. The ratio of failure is three out of ten. They cannot sustain such an environment. 
RR: Has it become tougher to do printing in Mumbai?
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.". 20 years down the line, may be 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, then. 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! Lets hope don't 
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.
AL: The brand Jak is synonymous with good quality as well as high charges. Has this prevented customers to approach and work with Jak?
KP: While the ratio of my charges have remained the same as they were 16 years ago, I have lost a 19 year old client, who now thinks we are too branded and charge exorbitantly. The awards and the branding have their own drawbacks! Being in the market since so many years has created a perception among the customers that Jak is at a particular level and hence the costing is bound to be high but we are not too far away. Our charges can be justified.
RR: On the flip side, a brand like Volkswagen is determined to approach Jak. Does it make it you feel good?
KP: Yes, yes!
Aspi Forbes: We developed a lot of products. When a new brand or entrant comes to us, we take the product to that level in terms of quality. That same product has won an international award. There have been instances where a few clients have gone to other printers for costing and may be other reasons but have returned to us within a year and have stayed till date.
RR: How do you stay ahead of the game 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 the correct thought that the customer had in mind is the product and 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 can press of the button and the job is done. It no longer is the man, now it is the machine.
RR: When it comes to reproducing a piece of a painter like Sudhir Patwardhan or Akbar Padamsee or Lakshman Shreshta, 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 very happy. Today, it is very 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 a very critical when it 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.
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 really needs is good binding equipment. Unlike pre-press and printing, India lags behind in post-press. We had invested in a Kolbus about five-six years back and there are people who are now 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 base. 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, it is 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 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.
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 Khushru had and the costing put together.
RR: What was the rationale behind creating this "oasis" in Mumbai?
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: There is an aesthetic beauty to your printing plant. Whose idea is it?
KP: It is about feeling happy and making others happy. If a frustrated customer comes in, it is essential that you make him feel comfortable and you can only do that  if you are comfortable and      happy. However friendly a customer is, when it comes to work, they are extremely demanding and we respect that.
RR What is basis of the alliance with Neat Graphics for pre-press work and CTP plates?
KP: Like-minded people work together. If you have a like-minded person who can give you the expertise then why spend time learning one more area in life. It is only when both the parties are contended, happy and fair to one another that the alliance can grow and move further.
RR: You have made a conscious choice in the selection of kit. What is the strategy you follow?
KP: Packaging versus commercial, packaging has the numbers, in terms of turnovers. There is a very small risk that a brand-new equipment it will not succeed. In commercial, a brand-new equipment will not succeed. There are instances when a printer has succeeded with a brand-new equipment but we need to see where the money came from. A single brand new printing equipment, offset or digital, cannot pay for itself. The payment for it has come from other sources. An old commercial printer will not put up a brand-new equipment. One, they know the game they know how to handle it. The brand new machines are going to people who are investing money from other industries. I have an interesting study, somebody in Gujarat, with no printing knowledge, is putting up a printing press. The reason, he is already earning Rs 30 lakh as rental income but wants his sons to work hard 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 as this kind of audience does not know the science of printing. In commercial printing it is very hard to maximise your turnover with a brand new machine.
RR: What is the piece of advice you would want to give while selecting a pre-owned machine? The combinations that one should look for?
KP: We spent nine months to decide the equipment we wanted to buy with a lot of study of the combination we required. The 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 and such come with the price of 30% premium. Additionally, these countries do not have multi- press. They have basic one, two, four colour machines.
RR: Do you feel you have realised your dream, which you probably came in with some 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 would, should, could 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 commercial printing. I do not see any commercial printer in business. Perhaps, packaging yes, but it will be difficult for commercial printing to survive.
(Editorial support and inputs from Noel D'cunha and Tanvi Parekh)