ESP Colour has long been respected as one of the most productive and efficient printers in the UK, achieving press usage figures that exceeds pretty much every other printer in Europe, let alone the UK.
The future however is not going to be about shaving a few more seconds off a makeready. “It makes no sense to spend £2 million on a new press just for this reason,” says chief executive Paul Bradley. “We have done production automation pretty well for quite a number of years. In that time the number of orders we have to cope with has gone from 20 or 30 orders a day to 200 orders a day, or as many as 8,000 orders a day for ESP Smile.”
Press automation can only help to some extent. The company needs to automate its estimating and ordering handling. It is something where ESP is again breaking new ground. “We have tried with a number of MIS suppliers. All have promised they can do it, but have not delivered,” he says.
It wants to take orders via websites where customers can buy print for low value jobs using a price matrix system. “But it’s the jobs which are not placed online, which are still of low value that we need to get into the workflow in an automated way,” he says.
“When placed online, the job file is structured and we want to take those jobs worth between £50-300 which do not need phone calls back and forth. At the moment we have too many estimators and too many customer service people.”
He may now have found a solution. For some years Haybrooke Associates’ John Roche has been building a rapid estimating system under the PDQ name. This was developed for and has been sold to print management companies. Now he believes there is an opportunity for printers.
“Printers must either adopt instant estimating, driven by price lists or else use the traditional estimator. Price lists are difficult to manage, simply too cumbersome to keep up with, whereas the intelligent estimating software we have developed is simple to maintain. Using this a customer can send back a quote almost instantly or allow the customer to create his own prices. For some organisations a price list will do.
“But whatever the approach we are convinced that convenience will be king, almost as important as price.”
The idea that customers will generate their own prices overturns many principles that printers are accustomed to on their head, but where there is a strong relationship between printer and customer, it is a logical step. According to Roche , the idea will promote loyalty.
And from early experiences at ESP Colour, this is born out. The conversion rate for customers logging on and building their own estimate is increased over the traditional phone and receive a quote by email method.
“Normally they found that 30% of quotes became jobs. Using PDQ with certain customers the ratio is now 70%. That is down to the convenience of people managing their own pricing.” It is not going to be for every printer, nor for every customer in the printers that do use it, “but we think there is a huge potential for intelligent quoting systems”. For a company that is experiencing a huge rise in orders and the need to quote three times as many to win the extra work.
Convenience in this case will overcome prices, at least to some extent. It thus offers a double win for printers: an improved price and reduced cost of administration.
And with overall demand for print set to continue falling, improvements in production efficiency will only go so far.
“The industry has to find a different way to success, it’s not just about ramping up productivity. This works where the supply of jobs is limitless, but that is not the case in print,” says Roche . “Intelligent estimating, which customers have access to, is where the future is headed.”
He has no interest in becoming a full MIS. Instead there is an API to link to the MIS. In the case of ESP Colour this is a Tharstern system. For Bradley it is also important that the application forces a structure to an estimate and any subsequent job. “PDQ has gone a long way to reducing the cost of handling a job. We have worked with the API and have got everybody talking to each other,” says Bradley.
This includes the production workflow systems covering litho and digital print to cope with same day orders. It is faster to get in the orders. Those arriving by 11am are dispatched by 3pm for print management or for third-party online printers.
And as this grows, the nature of ESP's business may evolve. “We don’t know if we will end up as a trade printer or remain as a commercial printer,” he adds. “We are trying to do the manufacturing bit well.”
Shaving a few seconds off the makeready on an already highly productive press is not the way to go, says ESP chief executive Paul Bradley.