Craft of survival

3 May 2005

Craftprint started, according to director Brian Fitzpatrick, in the traditional way when its founders, Paddy Garland, who has since left the company, and Larry Caulfield, the present managing director, decided to leave their employers and go it alone. That was 21 years ago and since then the company has thrived. Craftprint specialised from the start in lithographic printing in the marketing materials space and its focus has not wavered since then.

According to Fitzpatrick, the company followed the traditional growth path of filling in the niches the larger companies couldn’t or wouldn’t address. In those days, customers tended to remain loyal because they knew that a regular supplier could be relied on to deliver quality product. “About 10 years ago things started to tighten up,” Fitzpatrick recalls. “There were a number of threats facing the industry. Professional buyers started entering the marketplace and companies started cutting their overheads. And typically when cuts have to be made the first thing to be hit is the print spend.”

At about the same time, digital printing began to pose a serious threat to lithographic printing. Traditional press manufacturers, such as Heidelberg, responded by reinventing their machines. It made them faster and more efficient. The new machines could handle shorter print runs economically and reduced the make-ready time.

Further pressure came from the entry of one-stop fulfilment companies such as Williams Lee and Astron into the market. The crunch time came for Craftprint four years ago when its No 1 client decided that all print orders should go through Williams Lee. “That’s when we decided that’s it,” says Fitzpatrick. “We needed to chuck the whole thing out and get a new business model. Because we saw that if we kept doing business using the same business model and the same technology, no matter how efficient, no matter how good we were, we would be finished.”

Fortunately, Craftprint was already looking in new directions. In the late Nineties the company had set up a print-on-demand business called Docuprint using high-speed black-and-white Xerox digital printers. Fitzpatrick describes it as a nice business but growing demands to cut costs from major customers meant the business model for that operation had to be re-evaluated as well. Significant investment was put into Docuprint to upgrade its offering to include colour.

At the same time, the threat posed by digital printing to lithographic printing forced traditional press manufacturers, such as Heidelberg, to respond by reinventing their machines. They made them faster and more efficient. The new machines could handle shorter print runs economically and reduced the make-ready time. The two technologies, therefore, began converging to such a degree that the only thing separating them was price.

In re-evaluating its business model, Craftprint took a look at what businesses were successful and it became clear that two of the most successful businesses in struggling sectors were Ryanair and Dell. While they were in different sectors, they had one thing in common: web-based services.

“We decided at that stage to investigate web-based solutions,” says Fitzpatrick. One of the first ones installed was Insight from Creo, the same company that provides Craftprint’s prepress software. Using Insight, customers can log on to a website, enter their user ID and password and then upload work files to a Craftprint server. “It will pop into a hot folder, the Creo software will do the stuff it needs to do and then posts a proof to the website as a PDF.” This immediately reduced the time waiting for disks and proofs to go too and fro.

The company’s flagship web-based solution, however, is a complete automated workflow solution marketed under the name Web2print. At the core is a product produced by an Israeli company called Press-Sense. Using this technology, it is possible for customers to create pre-approved templates for marketing materials such as flyers and posters. Web2print customers can then log on to the system and customise those templates for specific events.

One of Web2print’s key customers is a well-known drinks manufacturer that runs promotions in different pubs around the country. Publicans participating in these promotions are able to log on to the site, choose a piece of marketing literature, add the name of their pub, the date of the promotion and select the size of the print run. The resulting flyers and/or posters contain all pre-approved graphics and text, such as legal disclaimers.

The third piece of technology is not strictly speaking web-based but it is essential to the success of the web-based solutions. The lithographic presses used by Craftprint require careful calibration to ensure colour fidelity, an essential part of a company’s brand identity, In the past this has required human intervention. However, new image control software allows print samples to be scanned and compared to a pre-defined profile. If the scan reveals the press is off profile, it can be recalibrated at the touch of a button. This now means clients can upload files for printing without having to worry about calibration and the work can proceed without the client having to see a proof. “This technology means distance doesn’t matter anymore,” says Fitzpatrick.

By David Stewart