What has happened to high street print?
Every high street in every town used to have one or more print or copy shop.
Now print shops are becoming increasingly rare.
And yet coffee bars, charity shops, hairdressers and fast food outlets all seem to be proliferating.
So what has happened to high street print?
What has happened to high street print in the last 30 years?
Like all retailers success depends on adapting to market challenges and opportunities.
Some have prospered and become very successful businesses.
Others have suffered for a wide range of reasons and have declined in size or even gone out of business.
They are no longer likely to be as prominent on the high street pf the future.
The life cycle of the high street print shop has been about 30 years.
But like all life cycles – those that survive actually often do very well.
How high street print all started in the 1970’s
In the 1970’s, manufacturers of offset printing equipment and xerographic devices had produced machines that were smaller than in the past.
Along with amazing improvements in quality, printers could operate from high street premises with quicker turnaround times.
This enabled print work to be produced faster and at lower costs.
Working from retail premises, print businesses could remove the mystique from print, making it more customer-friendly.
This decade saw the first flush of instant print shops largely expanding through a franchise model that originated in North America and was quickly duplicated here.
Franchises allowed entrepreneurs with a non-print background providing a marketing and sales-driven entry into this fast-growing market sector.
If you ran a business – print represented some 10% of your direct costs – whether to produce marketing materials or to provide the paperwork for your smooth operation.
The rise and rise of the print franchise model
Branding and following a business format became all important in the eyes of the customer.
Members of the public and small businesses were more likely to feel comfortable dealing with these businesses than the likes of commercial printers.
Being able to walk in to retail premises, get a coffee and discuss printing in non-technical terms appealed to many.
Prontaprint quickly built up a network of some 360 retail outlets – closely followed by the likes of Kall-Kwik, Alphagraphics, Printing.com, Presto print and many other new brands.
Even global giants like FedEx buying the Kinko’s business and Xerox got in on the act.
And for a period that lasted early into the new millennium the quick print on demand market prospered – gradually attracting larger and more prestigious clients.
As the business became increasingly digital and it became increasingly easy to create quality graphic design and transfer files around the internet – it seemed to be a guaranteed way to make money.
What could possibly go wrong?
The decline of the high street printer and print franchise networks in the new millennium
At their peak there were some 7,000 high street print outlets in Britain.
Local independent printers followed the same growth path as the franchise outlets and some stationers broadened their business model into printing and copying.
There are now fewer than half still surviving and the numbers are declining rapidly.
So why the decline?
The principal difference is that the on-Demand printer became more of a business to business model than a business to consumer model.
Higher valued clients were targeted by better sales and marketing than traditional commercial printers used to employ.
And as traditional offset printing declined due to technological changes the revenue streams needed to be broadened.
This often required the need for extra space for large format equipment or specialist printing and finishing machines.
And this space in the high street was becoming more and more expensive – leading up the financial crisis in the middle of the decade.
So a trend has since emerged towards moving to lower cost premises in business parks or industrial estates for the last 10 years or so.
This trend is also accelerating with the continued growth of online printing.
The print salesman has become something of a rarity these days.
And franchises could not compete in such a competitively priced environment.
Adding a 10% royalty charge to print costs became non-viable in the long term.
Why should they be giving such a high proportion of their hard-earned revenue to a franchisor who was not taking the same level of risk.
What about external strategic forces?
The economy has been stalled since the financial crash and made even worse following the Brexit vote last year and the election result this year.
There is no clear outline of how such a structural change will impact on the economy.
Printers are totally reliant on business confidence.
Many have downscaled, closed or merged operations.
With a high age profile many have simply retired.
And yet many of the survivors are now preparing for the worst-case scenario of no trade deal with the EU.
Some 57% of SME’s have yet to see any growth in the last year and some 10% have seen a real decline.
The decline in the value of the pound has seen a large increase in print raw material costs – particularly in commodities like paper, ink and toner which are no longer produced in this country.
Many will also probably have seen a large hike in business rates and distribution costs.
And with an increase of many other overhead costs there is no easy way to pass on these increases in higher print prices.
Survival is the main priority.
The importance of adapting to the new world of high street print.
It is not all doom and gloom.
There are quite a few high street printers who have adapted.
Some have branched into a wide range of new products.
Packaging, 3D printing, digital print, video and app production and large format printing are all showing strong growth.
Web Design offers considerable synergy with design and print.
Business customers seem to like the idea of a “one-stop shop” for all their web work, digital marketing, printing and design services.
They appreciate being able to get personal attention and fast service.
The majority have a tight deadline and can not afford to wait for delivery in days – they need work completed in a few working hours.
Although certain print products have become commodities in terms of pricing – most businesses are seeking a competitive edge in their own markets.
Some have created an online print offering.
However, by far the majority of items that are printed can still not be purchased online.
Often production is outsourced to specialists who offer economies of scale.
What about the future?
Accordingly those of us who survive now are more of a retail outlet – often with machinery out of site.
As a small business owner walking into the high street print shop of the future will be very different experience.
But they are still likely to appeal for quite a few more decades to come.
They are now a business centre where clients get help on marketing, web design, design and printing and all forms of effective communications.
So what has happened to high street print?
Well the days of the traditional printer may have now gone.
But there is still a great deal of hope that demand will hold up for a few more years to come.
Long live the new style high street print shop!