Peter Bradley uses a simple analogy to explain the business model behind Quinnstheprinters and positioning for a business that has this year opened a new factory, equipped it with a new Speedmaster XL106-8P with LE UV, Muller Martini stitcher, folders, Cylinder and guillotines.
And the factory has room for a second press in the unmarked building walking distance from the John Lennon Airport. It will be needed if the business continues to grow at its current rate.
“We used to be Asda,” Bradley says. “Now we are like a bit of a posher version of Tesco. Our customers are supermarket shoppers and our task is to persuade them that our supermarket is better: how easy is it to get around our aisles, to find what they want and to pay for it and then when they get what they have paid for, what was the service like.”
In this case the shoppers are not on the look out for a bargain in the bakery section, but printers and print resellers coming online to place orders for print supplied from Quinns’ factories in Belfast and the new Liverpool plant. “We want to get as many of these customers to our supermarket as possible,” he says.
Bradley is as young as the online print sector itself at just 27 years old. He became managing director two years ago. He comes
with an attitude untainted by the core belief that ‘print is not what it used to be’.
Nor is there print in the family background, with his father working rather for a high street retailer. Bradley’s opinions are marked more by what print can be, optimism rather than pessimism. And that vision is about customer focus and service, based on helping customers achieve their business aims.
It has led to the transformation of a business which in 2012 was running at sales of £2 million with an uneven reputation for service. Supplying customers in Great Britain involved the sea crossing from Belfast and the disruption that might ensue.
“The question is how do you turn this into a business to be proud of ?” he says. “It has taken a while to get there.” The only solution guaranteed to work would be factory on the mainland, hence in January Bradley Group took possession of the factory in Liverpool on the same industrial area as Prinovis and Communisis.
“Now with two sites we are best placed to serve customers in the mainland UK and Ireland.” The message to lapsed customers who perhaps suffered from delivery disruption is “give us another go”.
Quinns is, however, a markedly different business to its near neighbours. It is an unashamedly trade printer, although far different from the trade printers that used to operate in the hinterland of respectability.
A generation ago, few businesses would admit that they ever used trade printers, but there was always the time when a press breaks down or when an order arrived that was too big to handle or to turn down. The trade printer was at the end of the line ready to help out.
The change has come with the rise of the internet and the openness that this has allowed on pricing and purchasing print, starting with the simplest items. While, like many others, Quinns prints business cards this is not directly for a small business or a private individual; its customer is the print reseller whose client is the individual or small business.
“Professional print purchasers have only been using online printers for the last seven or eight years,” Bradley says. “They are getting more confident and the print service is getting better.”
Trade print is still a white label business, hence there is no name on the factory and staff wear polo shirts with Bradley Group rather than Quinns on them. Outgoing boxes of print are carefully addressed and labelled but bear no mark to identify where the leaflets or brochures they contain have been produced.
How they have been produced is straight-forward. Incoming files are directed through the company’s self developed MIS into a workflow that starts with Agfa plates and into the Speedmaster. This is the first Heidelberg XL106-8P perfector in the UK with LE-UV curing which delivers fully dry sheets ready for further processing. “It’s a beautiful piece of kit,” says Bradley.
A huge wall screen dominates the control desk, showing that colours of each job are running within the tolerance set and at the right speed.
He does not run the machine, but knows what it can do. Printing is left to skilled operators, one with a background that has included Tradeprint in Scotland in the same style of business. There is no need to teach the importance of pushing jobs through at full speed.
Training is integral: everyone can run more than one piece of equipment, allowing someone to move smoothly across as necessary. The management has come from the production floor providing the upward path for those that can earn it. Bradley will bring in outsiders, but these are consultants to help rather than full time staff.
“I wouldn’t ask people to do something I have not done,” he says. This includes driving jobs from Belfast to London to meet a customer’s deadline.
Shared knowledge is core to how Quinns operates. “You have to have the whole business knowing where you are going,” he says. “We focus on on-time shipment and we can all see what the business is doing each day. If you are an employee you have full access to everything. Perhaps it leaves you vulnerable, but there is a gain in commitment and respect.” The target is to exceed 99.5% of shipments delivered on time.
Everyone in the business knows how much money has been brought in that day as the orders are boxed for pick up in the morning for work produced overnight and in the evening for work completed during the day.
Presentation is important and Bradley stoops to pick up a box that is only part filled and is not as neat as it should be. A few minutes later a better looking carton is in place. He is, he says, looking at a new style of prefolded box that will mean that this is not a problem in future.
Print quality is assured by the technology fitted to the Heidelberg. The Image Control and Intellistart controls on the press keep start up waste to the minimum and allows the company to print very short runs as well as the longer runs.
Today a 14,000-run, multi-section brochure is on press. The average is 2,000 sheets. Business cards will be batched at 250 each, perhaps with a menu that shares the same type and weight of paper.
The company has large format inkjet for banners and pop up displays in the Belfast factory, but not as yet in Liverpool. Belfast also houses the software development people and the account management team who look after assigned customers. Achieving a rapport with the small resellers that comprise the customer is important he says.
Aside from large format, there is no digital print in the business. This is because, Bradley explains, many of the company’s customers will already have digital presses, putting work out when it is too expensive to print digitally. It wants to help these busi- nesses, not squash them. “We want to do a few things well,” he adds.
The relationship with the customer base is crucial. Most will be from the industry, but working on their own after redundancy or a company collapse. Some will have decided to step away from the investment merry-go-round.
“Helping people grow their business is pretty fundamental now,” he says. “We’ve spent a few years getting to know who our customer is. The reason we go to see customers is not to flog them leaflets but to get to understand their business goals and how we can help them reach them. That might mean getting finance people out to help them, running webinars with consultants and other experts to help them find ways to sell more print.”
The process has yielded some unexpected insights. Bradley was thinking about cutting out the 250 business cards product line. A buyer could have 500 cards for just £1 more, but people still wanted to buy the smaller quantity. He could not work out why until he discovered that smaller volumes mean that the reseller has good reason to go back to his customer more often.
There are equally customers where it has made sense for the one-man-band business to ditch the press and channel print work to Quinns, cutting the overhead aggravation and overhead costs while retaining the connection with the customers.
“This way, if they have always been the print guy in their community, they remain the print guy and can focus on helping their customers, not completing the orders. We sat down with one printer in Ireland and showed he could make money by sending work to us and save money and not need to work all hours to get a job done.
“It’s about understanding their business aims, where their business is going and where it is now. We have the relationships where we can do that,” he says.
“If they want to remain in manufacturing, Quinns can put the printer in touch with suitable digital press providers.” If a business has its own e-commerce website, to sell stationery items, copier paper and so on, it can bolt on a number of Quinns’ products as an affiliate to extend what that business can offer.
And the ideas keep coming. A key one, that harks back to the previous generation of trade printer, is to act as printer of the last resort. Bradley explains that should a press breakdown, not only is it problematic in terms of production, but it stops work in the bindery as well as on press.
“In those circumstances we want to be the first number a printer calls after the press engineer tells you that parts need to be shipped in and you will be down for several days. Call Quinns and we can deliver good quality flat sheets the next day. There will be no bindery staff standing around being paid with nothing to do. It’s about helping the trade.
“We want to be a good trade litho house. We will do what our customers want.”
It is working: “We are growing like mad,” says Bradley. Month by month the yearly comparison shows growth of 30-35% in sales. “And it’s not by dropping our prices. It’s by being better.” It is attracting 450-500 jobs a day, small beer in comparison to the giants and with an average order value at £120. “We had our record month in May,” he adds.
This is partly the result of the customer first and fast internal culture, partly to the industry-wide trends towards online ordering and partly to the investment policies. The sheets from the Speedmaster are fully dry and pallets go into a clearly marked waiting area. However, as work is processed immediately there are only two or three pallets waiting for folding and cutting.
Work that needs stitching waits after folding for the Muller which runs on the night shift and into the morning. It is there to cope with short runs as well as longer jobs and delivers a no quibble finished quality. The Cylinder meets requirement for folders, the laminator for covers. Quinns has the capacity for a regular magazine Bradley points out with customer loyalty magazines a strong possibility for the business.
More important is the speed of turnaround, time of turnaround (or Tats) as the company describes this. It is where UK based printers have a real edge over their German competitors. For the products that fall under the Quinns Essential heading, same day delivery – or pick up – is possible. A 24-hour turnaround is standard. Everything is shipped in two working days. More complex jobs can take longer, but only by a day or so. Some customers can pick up urgent jobs if needed.
Like other online print businesses, the company is starting to get inquiries for jobs that fall outside the parameters shown on the webpage. The pallets of paper in the Liverpool factory include some for non standard stocks that the data has shown customers are asking for.
The speed of turning a quote for non standard jobs is crucial. The company has developed its own estimating system able to generate a quote within minutes. “The target is for account managers to get back to the clients within ten minutes from request,” says Bradley.
The account managers are senior people in the business able to authorise a reprint if its cost is less than £250 without further reference up the chain. This too will speed interactions between Quinns and its clients and devolved decision making will allow the business to grow in a way that centralised choices could not.
And that structure will be needed if it continues to expand in the way it has been doing. The risks are around being undercut by the heavyweights that can afford to take a financial hit for longer than a growing independent business can. Already Bradley has noted examples of aggressive pricing, shaving a few pence off the Quinns price.
But he believes that the service levels that the business has put in place, the rapport it is building and the community established around business advice, video newsletters (Viewsletters, says Bradley) and on the spot guidance will prove stronger than minor price differences.
He says: “The key as far as we’re concerned is service. We want to be seen as nice people. If we are, things tend to come around.”