Where The Trade Buys plans to take online print fight to European super printers

There is room in the expanding online upload and print sector for a UK company, especially where it can deliver quality, innovation and convenience to online buyers.

Martyn Young doesn't quite say it's all about the interface. Nor does Gary Peeling explain it's all about the workflow. But put a very intuitive interface in front of a sophisticated workflow and the result is the potential to become the largest upload and print service in the UK. It is known as Where the Trade Buys.

Where the Trade Buys was part of the package when Precision Printing in Barking, east London, acquired First2Print in Sunderland, north east England, at the end of 2014.

The deal gave Precision a second production site, an entry into large format printing and Where the Trade Buys, an online operation that marketing and technical teams have spent the last year refining, testing and preparing for launch.

At the time, CEO Peeling explained: “We have wanted to move into the upload and print space. In the UK this is a market that nobody has quite cracked yet.”

Nothing has changed in the intervening 15 months. The company name has changed toPrecision North and equipment has moved around, while behind the scenes the work has been about understanding customer behaviour, building the infrastructures, designing the interfaces and melding the Where the Trade Buys online experience with Precision's experience in handling single copy and ultra short print runs with minimal touch points.

Now Precision is ready to launch and take on and challenge the dominance of overseas competitors in this sector of the print market. While there are a number of UK based businesses, none, says Peeling, has achieved the scale of the German online print businesses, let alone the might of Cimpress. He wants to change that.

Vistaprint introduced the idea of capturing print orders of low value and consolidating them into a hugely profitable business. Peeling is less interested in these jobs, but in print work that has slipped through the net, jobs that have never been ordered because the purchasing experience is too painful. The administrative load behind a short run job can be too burdensome for the order to be placed.

"We are already the largest Indigo user in the UK," Peeling says. There is offset litho at both north and south plants and large format in Sunderland. Most importantly there is OneFlow, the single-copy workflow that Precision developed for its highly seasonal photo products business.

For four weeks each year this can handle 30,000 separate orders a day. For the rest of the year, it ticks over. There is plenty of capacity to exploit if the business can attract work through the rest of the year.

The business that Martyn Young, now managing director of Precision North, founded has four years’ experience in dealing with online customers, understanding the requirements of customer support and how people who may have little experience of print engage with it.

That experience has been used to create a different style of online print business. He says: ”When web to print started it was about placing products online that printers want to produce. Now as interfaces have become more sophisticated it's about making the purchasing process simpler.”

"We are not starting from a standing position," says Peeling. “Over the last four years Where the Trade Buys has built up avery good understanding of what a professional print buyer is looking for from an online manufacturer. A big part of this relaunch is about making the process sexy, and on a day to day level, it’s about making the buyer’s life more straightforward.”

The operation has three key advantages.First, it has the largest combination of Indigo print capacity in the UK. Second, this is supported by litho and large format printing and binding capacity that covers wire binding, PUR and cased in binding. Third, it operates from two locations and can give a highly responsive service, including same day if needed. And this is backed by the experience built up over four years.

For Where the Trade Buys to succeed it needs to go beyond what is already out there. The first generation online print sites were about the products that printers wanted to provide, in volumes that suited them and on papers that they liked. Moreover, there was often no way to contact the people behind the site, not even where the business was based.

“People don’t necessarily want 5,000 flyers as cheaply as possible,” says Young. “Our approach is to enable them to print what they actually want. We have learned over four years is to give customers the tools to do the job themselves and they can tell us what they want; they can choose the stocks, the formats and bespoke the tools to run this aspect of their business.

“They can reorder from their previous history very quickly, can generate an estimate in seconds and simply create multiple versions of a product. Ninety-eight per cent of our jobs can be quoted on line.”

It cannot be a free for all. Peeling likens buying print now to how his father bought a Friday night suit. Everything was bespoke, the teenaged suit buyer often felt intimidated in the face of the expert tape wielding tailor and ended up with a suit a couple of weeks later which was not exactly what he wanted, but had to made do with.

This changed with the advent of Burtons and off the peg tailoring. The buyer had a better idea of suits to choose from rather than a material swatch, the quality of a suit produced at a central location was far better and the process was much more convenient. It was not necessarily and cheaper, but the result was a happier customer.

“Today, everything in print is still made to measure,” says Peeling. “And print has to change. In clothes retail we have people who curate for us in terms of choosing the cloths and materials because they are better qualified and so the experience of buying is much better. We are trying to bring that process to Where the Trade Buys.

“Online doesn’t have to be just cheap – the cost of a business card from Moo compared to Vistaprint shows that. It is about providing a better experience, about choosing from a range of products that have been curated and developed by us.”

Hence there will be examples of books, direct mail products, banners and so on that are proven to work to take away the uncertainty from a buyer.

Peeling has identified this person as Jane, a 24-year-old in marketing who knows plenty about Twitter, email and Facebook and who also has to confront print where she has no experience and perhaps little affinity. Often she will be more confident about making buyer decisions online rather than face to face where there might be greater pressure to take an instant decision.

Instead the conventional decision chain involves the product manager contacting the creative who is talking to production who calls a print rep to get a price which then bounces up and down the line. “It can take two or three days to get an estimate this way. With Where the Trade Buys, Jane can create an estimate in 30 seconds for pretty much any product.”

If Jane needs more help, there is a number to call and videos to watch. The idea is to show her how to use the system so that next time, she will be able to do it herself, says Young. Telephone support is in place from 8am-8pm. The company has also tended to call new customers to ask about their experience.

While Peeling stresses that Where the Trade Buys is about convenience rather than price, cost led value is not ignored. There will be a range of Optimiser products that are formatted to fit the company’s production equipment. It is 10% smaller than a standard A format product, but can sell for 60% less because of the production efficiencies that are enabled. This could pave the way for longer runs to be produced using digital. “You can have a nearly A4 product and can have it tomorrow,” says Peeling.

Other products have been developed with the idea of needing just to switch artwork and content to create what is known to be an effective product. Precision last year introduced Enticer and Book Plus as models for direct mail campaigns and book products that could be used in marketing or as memory products.

The company is working on additional products with a further 150 in the pipeline. In future these might be products sourced from a network of printers, perhaps printers already using OneFlow where integration will be simpler. Nor is it about the more creative products: “large buyers often have small orders valued at £50-60 which have been expensive in terms of administrative costs”.

Like an off the peg jacket from an upper end high street shop, selection of the material and sizes have already been made. Combined with the Optimiser formats, the customer is using a proven direct mail piece that can carry redemption codes, or even personalisation, for a highly cost effective price.

A similar approach takes the pain out of specifying and buying books, welcome packs, manuals, interactive print and Scodix enhanced products. The conversation can begin through the website and then move offline; a direct mail campaign for example will need an offline element to cope with data handling, but it will remain easier to work in this way than using a conventional approach.

As well as the Janes of the world, Where the Trade Buys is aiming at the design and marketing agencies, corporate print buyers and other printers wanting to farm out work that they cannot produce in house.

A key proposition is speed of turnaround. Precision is used to rapid turnaround to meet the SLA s for photo products during the Christmas season. Lay flat and case bound books can be produced within two to three days, rather less than the 7-10 average that can be the norm elsewhere in the online space.

For point of sale work, there is less risk of damage in transit when shipping within the UK using a single courier than when bounced around Europe.

Exactly how to do this and whom to trust in terms of couriers is one of the lessons that Where the Trade Buys has picked up in the last four years. When different plants are involved in an order, having everything arrive at once is crucial in terms of customer service, Young explains.

Trade customers can also achieve professional status, joining a three-tier loyalty scheme for regular clients who can earn ‘proof points’ against the work they place. The benefit is not in hard cash, but in moving from one service band to the next, from three days to next day delivery for gold card holders.

Same day service is the ultimate and later this year can become available even for 100,000 litho printed leaflets. This is because there is investment planned in a press with UV drying for delivery at the end of this year. “We are about competing on speed to customer rather than price,” says Young.

There are numerous websites claiming to offer the cheapest prices on standard products. Despite this the penetration of upload and print services in the UK is tiny compared to Germany in particular. Peeling has long pondered why.

Precision had at one time linked with Pixart as a London based operation to deliver fast turnaround orders that the company had received from the UK. It continues to produce work on behalf of other online print operations.

“The development of online print in the UK has not followed elsewhere in Europe where there are companies with turnovers of €40-60 million. In this country there is one with sales of €20 million. I think that perhaps it has been because of the strong relationships that buyers here have had with their printers,” says Peeling.

The mission is to change this, through offering more than is possible with these relationships. He likens it to how Uber has shaken up the taxi business. It is not just about price, the Uber app shows where the cab assigned to you is, the time of arrival and payment is taken online.

“It is an enhanced service,” Peeling says. “Our ambition is to be the largest upload and print service in the UK and because we are not starting from a standing position, we are ideally placed to do that.”

Others will join the sector, if only because growth is in double figures. This means that there will be room for WhereTheTradeBuys to grow regardless. Peeling adds: “We are doing things that nobody else is doing – plus business cards.”

Off The Wall

One of the most intriguing product options is provided through Your Walls. This is an online operation for interior designers, photographers and others with the vision and confidence to order bespoke wallpapers.

It exploits the HP and Durst printers that are located in Sunderland, particularly the HP Latex machines that were first installed five years ago. The prospect loads the dimensions of a room into the website and the image to be printed is positioned against the walls, with features like windows and doors accurately positioned.

When happy, so long as the resolution of the image is suitable, the file can be printed knowing that what is printed is tailored to that room. At installation there will be no need to trim top and bottom. “It removes the uncertainty about what you are buying,” says Martyn Young.

The approach can be applied to other interior products, says Gary Peeling pointing to the roller blinds in the boardroom at Precision Printing in Barking.

As the attention is moved from development of Where the Trade Buys, Your Walls comes into focus with development of new products. “We are not just as trade printer,” says Young. “It’s about being able to access these sorts of products across many industries.”

Article originally appeared in PrintBusiness - 21st March 2016

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