Online Printing – My Story – Part 1!

Our First Entry into Online Print

Direct2Print enters the Online Print business

Just after the beginning of the new millennium we had the opportunity to enter the world of online printing – all paid for by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund!

It took nearly three years of planning, preparation and implementation and there were a number of “political” internal hurdles that had to be overcome – but this first step into the unknown that has now led to a change in our business model.

At the time I had been accredited as a Marketing Advisor for start up businesses in the Black Country region for Business Link.

There was a certain amount of funding for business support on the condition it was channelled through independent consultants like myself and I managed to pick up some good business – pitching to people looking for an integrated marketing campaign.

At one team presentation by Business Link a set of PowerPoint hand-outs were passed around to all the consultants. In my pack the first few pages were saturated with ink and by the third page the colour had become washed out.  The content was barely legible.

The presenter apologised and said he underestimated the amount of toner needed.  His toner cartridges had run out and complained that the cost of toner was more than the equivalent cost of gold!

He had spent many hours trying to sort the problem and admitted defeat at 3am that morning – he looked just as washed out as his presentations!

Being too far from a print shop or the office he felt there was no alternative other than to print out everything at his home.

The concept of a virtual print and copy shop was created in my mind.

We obtained the £5000 grant from the EEC for the website and were able to use the services of management consultants under the “Mustard” programme as we were classified as a “high potential venture”.

We modelled the business on an online print company in the USA that emerged during the “dot-com” era.

They operated in a few of the major cities at the time and offered a 2 hour delivery service for printed documents.

We decided to be less ambitious but decided we could take a gamble by offering a guaranteed delivery in 6 working hours!

What we offered was fairly unique in the UK at the time.

One client in Mayfair was saving more than 50% on their print costs for their regular weekly document print order – our rent and rates were a fraction of those in London.

Couriers still remain the weakest link in our “chain” – but we rarely missed a deadline and have never had to pay back a refund that was part of our Guaranteed service.

We also had a large number of home-based consultants and trainers who only had limited access to good printing and binding equipment.

The quality of our papers and print on our digital print production machines was far superior to their small home or office printers.

The service was better, quicker, easier and cost less than using a local print and copy shop.

The order process was easy and customers could now order online with a few clicks of a mouse.

And suddenly we had opened up for business for customers stretching from Cornwall to the north of Scotland.

The site went live in February 2003 and within a week we got our first customer.

And as it turned out they probably had one of the most demanding jobs in all the many hundreds we have since had.

They were an aerospace supplier and fortunately based only about 15 miles away near Wolverhampton but had found our details online.

They were let down by another printer that morning and needed training manuals the same day for an important training course.

We learnt immediately that even online print is not always price sensitive.

Most of our clients are prepared to pay for reliability, consistency and honesty.

Many prefer to switch over to a mail-order system because it was easier for their accounts or administration – and in most cases didn’t even ask for a price before ordering.

We maintained competitive rates by standardisation of paper and simplified administration.

Inevitably, we lost money on some transactions. We sent some prayer books up to one of the islands off the north coast of Scotland – and the carriage cost was more than the value of the printing!

However, our online business was our “salesman” – in that it opened doors that we would never have opened without the website.

But unlike the salesman there is little downtime with holidays or sickness – nor is there the risk that they will leave and disrupt your whole operation.

We also learnt that you can soon build relationships and can be rewarded with repeat business.  Our word of mouth reputation spread and as clients moved between firms our business grew.

We prepared documents for some pretty big organisations like McDonalds.  We printed and wire-bound the Evaluation Reports for the sponsorship investment made for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

We followed that order up with the printing of the Planning Manual for the UEFA EURO2008 tournament.

We also got online orders from the likes of Bacardi, Marks & Spencer and Vision Express.

Traditional marketing failed to win new business – we ended up recycling boxes of brochures and leaflets.  Our main form of marketing was Google pay per click or email marketing – but  even they left a lot to be desired.

However, we were gradually being overtaken by technology and new developments in web design.

Our website was created in “frames” which were not particularly friendly for search engines.

The functionality of the site was good but without any SEO investment we were in danger of losing new business.

Our next strategic move was to look at segmenting the market and we took a look at the first of our online products – Orders of Service for funerals.

We made the decision to create a dedicated funeral printing website with an online editor.

This proved to be a big mistake for a company with our own limited resources – but that is part of the second stage of our experimentation with the world of online print.

The story continues……………


Chris JepsonChris Jepson photo jpeg

(Basis of presentation to UKDPN Conference November 2015)

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