01 April 2015 Print Companies

BCQ is a touch above

Christopher Knowles has taken charge at BCQ and has strong ideas about the place that print should occupy in the marketing chain. The focus is on the visceral appeal of well executed print.

The new managing director in charge at BCQ is a chip off the old block. Not only is Christopher Knowles the son of founder and now chairman Richard Knowles, he shares his father’s enthusiasm for fast cars – and absolute faith that print has a strong future.

The younger Knowles calls his powerful Mercedes his 'toy' while the company’s board room remains adorned with polished aluminium castings of iconic cars on display alongside samples of work the company has produced, a good proportion of which is for executive cars brands sold in the UK. This somehow seems fitting as Richard Knowles started the company 38 years ago in Buckingham, not far from Silverstone, England's home of motor racing.

In 2007, Buckingham Colour merged with Colour Quest after that company had been blasted out of its premises in Hemel Hempstead by the Buncefield explosion. Knowles shared the top role with Colour Quest managing director Tyrone Spence until he retired almost two years ago. This was disruptive at the time, but has allowed a significant change of direction which has put the company on a good footing.

“Whoever said ‘Never waste a crisis’ was right,” says Richard Knowles. BCQ hasn’t, moving away from its dependency on print management business to direct accounts. “We have been pushing quite hard to expand the business and move our offering,” he adds.

Two years ago 40% of turnover was produced for print management companies, 40% for corporates and 20% through agencies. This has been changing dramatically. Turnover has not been increased, but profitability has risen. “We used to be very dependent on print managers and have changed to going direct again,” the chairman says. “We have always produced good quality, but have upped our game there too. We are aiming to create a much more exciting proposition for print.”

There has been substantial investment. Two Heidelberg Speedmaster XL75s have replaced older machines, an Indigo 7600 has joined an earlier model (replacing an iGen) last year, the large format side (which had started with a single roll to roll machine) has expanded, moved to Wolverton and installed a Fujifilm Acuity flatbed and Kongsberg cutting table. And at the start of this year, the company took delivery of a Scodix in the Buckingham factory. The printer is positioned to produce the value added work that it is now pursuing.

"We spent £1million last year and almost £2 million the year before that. That spend has consolidated our position, now we can push for healthy growth," Chris Knowles says. “We are being more selective in our customer portfolio. We want to make print sexy again, not for the type of buyers that cross quote and drive the price down.”

The company bears the scars from that type of purchasing practice, having taken on substantial jobs that produced no profit. It is not just that there is no margin in such work, the volume means that the company cannot then sell the capacity for more profitable jobs. And Chris Knowles understands how this works, having worked in small print agencies, at Communisis and as a buyer for Tesco.

He wants to put this experience to good use, to ease the headaches that print specifiers face every day. “We want to deliver a good experience from start to finish, to offer buyers a complete service and get into a proper dialogue with designers and the procurement teams. If we can, the discussion becomes less about the mark up and more about answering the question ‘what can you do?’ During recession it was all about budget. That is changing.”

His father picks up the thread. “It was then about austerity. Now people want something beautiful. And print through its sensuous appeal through touch can make that happen.” The manifestation of this is BCQ Touch, the marketing message it is using to promote the capabilities of Scodix. And he names a customer from the car industry that has clamoured to get hold of it.

Chris has served his time on both sides of the trade. He studied at the then London College of Printing and was taken from there to join Artisan Press on sales, enjoying several months learning the job from the ground up. From there he went to Tesco, Communisis and an independent agency in various print purchasing roles before joining the family business on its sales team in 2007.

That knowledge of the daily life of a print buyer and the modus operandi of the print management business has been put to good use in leading the drive for direct accounts. He has taken charge of this, rising to be the company’s performance director and responsible for winning more direct client business than anyone else at BCQ. His appointment as managing director was earned and not nepotism, says his father. “I never thought of this as a family business when I started.”

Chris Knowles is equally the best man for the job in terms of sustained enthusiasm for the impact that print can make. He wants print to be part of the consumer purchasing experience, pointing to how Apple’s packaging is a key part of the Apple brand. “Marketers want that impact. We have to get closer to them. And the consumer expects more. One of the major car companies cut its marketing spend during recession and went down the digital route,” he says.

“But it is all too easy to delete an email and you are not convinced to spend a lot of money on a car because of an email. Buying a car is something visceral. That company has realised that the digital approach did not work. The end product is the sum of the experiences in getting there so if we can improve the experience we can become our own print managers by showing we can add value to the end products.”

There is a design studio at the Buckingham business leading to prepress around a Fujifilm XMF workflow which also includes online job submission, a storefront to check stock held in a warehouse and order more if needed, and then online job approval. After comes printing on a brace of Indigos and an Océ VarioPrint 6160 Ultra and Xerox machines for mono work representing the digital side; two Speedmaster XL75s for the litho or a variety of options on the wide format side. This began with a single roll to roll machine and quickly outgrew space allocated in the main factory, moving to a unit a stone’s throw away. This rose to a five-printer operation and then raised the issue of whether BCQ should invest and move the business again, or whether it ought to pause. It decided on the first course and now Jolly Big is a standalone operation located in Wolverton with a Fujifilm Acuity flatbed printer and Kongsberg cutting table as well as roll to roll printers from Mimaki and HP. The business continues to grow and has been recruiting and, says Chris Knowles, has space for a second flatbed machine.

The pick and pack warehouse is closer to the main factory, managed through the online ordering system. The weak link in the client offering is mailing. The company has a Neopost inserter running with 2D barcode verification to ensure that the contents, letter and address all match and there is ISO 27001 to underline the importance of how it handles data, but BCQ does not have endless mailing capacity. This is due to change. Richard Knowles says that the acquisition of a substantial mailing business, that would have significant impact on turnover, is underway.

BCQ does not focus on the multi-channel opportunity. Instead there are strong ties to Think BDA, an award winning digital marketing agency in Buckingham where brother David is managing director. “What they do is as sexy as hell,” comments Richard Knowles, with Chris adding: “It is all interesting stuff and we want to increase the synergy between us to see if we can offer clients both sets of services. We have a lot to offer.”

Currently turnover is 57% from litho, 22% from digital printing (this was just 8-9% a couple of years ago) and 12% from large format. The remainder comes from warehouse stock management and from Busiprint, its retail operation in the centre of Buckingham. This serves the university and walk in business from the town, printing on Konica Minolta C7000 and C8000 with Renz wire binder. It is also able to handle overflow work from the main factory.

A mailing acquisition would be a standalone operation, much as Busiprint is, and as Jolly Big has become. “We will be able to offer greater value for money because customers will be sourcing from the same supplier,” he says.

Again this can be presented as a boon to the hard pressed print specifier. Chris Knowles explains: “Marketers are often juggling many complex tasks. If they are in charge of multi-product, multi-step chains, they need to be everywhere. They appreciate being able to delegate a problem confidently to someone else. If we can show they can trust us to produce to a standard and be that single source of supply, it is a lot of their daily headache gone.

“This is where the workflow helps. Some clients think that XMF is the best thing in the world. It saves them lots of time, taking 24 hours out of the process. It is ideal for the simpler jobs, automating the process so that the CSR can concentrate on the more sexy jobs. And if we can save a day from the process, it means that we can be more flexible in our production scheduling as well.”

Technology is being used more and more frequently to remove touch points in the process and to remove the chance to introduce errors. As an example, BCQ has a contract to produce owner manuals for a company producing outboard marine motors. These can be ordered in small batches, in different languages and have a set SLA attached. The previous supplier, says Richard Knowles, would use barcodes to identify pages and ensure that the book was produced correctly. Now, he explains, the customer has a web based storefront with each manual and each language on screen. He can select the combination, add the required number and delivery address and press go.

The order is received and processed automatically, printed on the mono digital press, stitched trimmed and packed. Meanwhile the shipping label for the chosen courier is produced and the invoice sent ahead to the client.

There is no need for the prepress department to retrieve the artwork, check that it is correct and enter order details itself. That was a process which took 20 minutes per manual and as BCQ will print on average 200 jobs a month for this customer, the cumulative impact is considerable. “And it takes away what I call the ‘lunatic’ factor where somehow the wrong cover is attached to the wrong language version,” says Richard Knowles.

Chris points out that this relieves the prepress people from the more mundane tasks to concentrate on the more complex jobs that come in. “We want our people to add value,” he says. “We used to have five or six touch points before a job reached the press, and there was always an issue with covering for holidays or illness, so we have designed the system so that it becomes quicker and simpler for the client,” he says.

The CSR issue is tackled by grouping people in teams so that there is always someone available who knows the job and the client rather than assigning certain clients to certain CSR people. It also alleviates the problems that always occur should someone leave. “And it provides the customer with greater confidence that someone always knows about his requirements. They know that service will not suffer and that they can relax. This way is better for the CSR, and is a better buying experience,” he says. He adds that a dozen clients make up 60% of the turnover (none more than 10% of sales) and that they are all different in how they work and want to be treated.

The XL75s, one a perfecting four-colour plus coater, the other a five-colour plus coater, are fitted with the full range of makeready and press control features. Consequently makereadies are much faster and waste is down, saving many tonnes of paper a year. The knock-on effect has been felt in the finishing area where a new Stahlfolder has been installed, cutting makereadies here from 45 minutes to just a couple of minutes to ease the bottleneck. At the same time a door has been knocked through to the digital area to ease the congestion caused by one set of pallets leaving digital and another set of pallets heading to the folders.

The presses print to ISO 12647-2 in accordance with certification that BCQ meets the requirements of the BPIF-designed UKAS monitored scheme. The company also holds ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and is, says Richard Knowles, the first company with the BPIF’s Triple Seal of Excellence. “We believe having everything regulated is essential,” he adds.

Most of the companies that BCQ deals with are on the larger side and can be found in the FTSE 250 and register as household names. The corporate website lists Mercedes Benz, Jaguar, M&S, Diageo, BAA among others. It is a customer portfolio that is looking for impact from its marketing spend as much as the commodity print. BCQ errs on the side of high impact print, having tried the commodity route and found that it did not work. “We are not like an ESP,” says the chairman. “Previously we could take on jobs without any money in them, but now we are always looking for added value. For example we will stay with B2 because that provides flexibility, while prices in B1 continue to be ripped apart.”

“B1 needs big runs and we need makereadies,” says his son. The XLs provide the flexibility of the fast makeready while the transition from digital to litho with the half-sheet format is smooth. “The boundary between the two is blurry. We could do a litho printed cover with inside sections printed on the HPs,” he says. The company’s two HPs sit in a separate room with the Scodix alongside. The second 7600 was installed in November last year, ahead of the Scodix which arrived at the start of this.

While controlled conditions are essential for the digital operation, BCQ believes managed conditions are vital throughout. “We want to get the environment right regards heating and humidity to take away the variables and excuses from the printing process. And the same conditions should suit the people,” he adds.

Even before the impact of the Scodix can be felt, and BCQ has appointed a marketing manager for the first marketing effort in eight years, the quality has had to be right and the platform for the business as a top quality, collaborative printer established.

It produced a folder product last year for BAA to tie in with the launch of the Paddington movie. The specification from the designer would have meant hand finishing with an army of outworkers and an almost impossible to meet deadline. Consultation followed and slight changes made to ensure that the job could be finished on machine and on budget.

The compromise did not affect the impact of the finished product, except in the budgetary sense; the job was delivered on time and BCQ's reputation as the sort of printer that solves problems rose a further notch. “Being involved like that can save so much angst for the buyer,” says Chris Knowles. “We can use technology to make their life easier.”

For another client a folder design was changed so that when placed in a case of wine for shipment to a consumer, the folder would collapse in a controlled way and emerge unscathed when the first cork was pulled. “We like to think that BCQ gets the non standard, difficult jobs, the ones that are not so cost dependent,” he continues. “We like to be asked ‘what can you do? rather than ‘how much is it? We get a lot of work from referrals when someone move to another company and suggests that we are able to take on a prestige project because we can be trusted to do a good job. The result is a far more effective product.”

It is also a printed product. The next step is marketing the impact of BCQ Touch to show off the raised image and highly tactile effects that can be created on the Scodix. Customers will be receiving packs to this effect in the coming months. It will be a tangible and compelling demonstration of just how sexy print can be.

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Christopher Knowles

Christopher Knowles

Christopher Knowles knows the business from the other side, putting in time at marketing agencies, Communisis and as print buyer for Tesco before earning his role at BCQ.


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Car connection

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Chris Knowles calls his powerful Mercedes his 'toy' while the company's board room remains adorned with polished aluminium castings of iconic cars on display alongside samples of work the company has produced, a good proportion of which is for executive car brands sold in the UK.

This somehow seems fitting as Richard Knowles started the company 38 years ago in Buckingham, not far from Silverstone, England's home of motor racing.


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Heidelberg XL75

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There has been substantial investment. Two Heidelberg Speedmaster XL75s have replaced older machines, an Indigo 7600 has joined an earlier model (replacing an iGen) last year, the large format side (which had started with a single roll to roll machine) has expanded, moved to Wolverton and installed a Fujifilm Acuity flatbed and Kongsberg cutting table.


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There is a design studio at the Buckingham business leading to prepress around a Fujifilm XMF workflow which also includes online job submission, a storefront to check stock held in a warehouse and order more if needed, and then online job approval. After comes printing on a brace of Indigos and an Océ VarioPrint 6160 Ultra and Xerox machines for mono work representing the digital side.


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Picture Gallery