Stand-out solutions

Packaging printers in the Middle East should differentiate themselves by embracing new solutions, rather than copying their rivals’ investments, argues Prannoy Vincent Alva

It is said that there are three professions that the world can’t do without: doctors, as humanity will always need medical care; chefs, as people will always need to eat; tailors, as we will always need clothes. But I would like to add one more item to the list: printers.

Although the internet has taken a share of the print market – and magazine and newspaper circulations have dropped – other applications have boomed. The world’s rising population is fuelling demand for packaging, which involves all the four key print technologies of flexo, gravure, digital, and offset. About 85% of the products you see around you are printed. The overall industry hasn’t shrunk. It’s changed and evolved into a new form and this is what individuals in the sector must heed.

Looking at the MEA region in particular, though, printers do not want to hear of change and will take the long road around to avoid it. They would rather follow someone else’s example. “Let them try it first,” they say, “and then we will.” Or they will just copy a competitor and invest in similar equipment or, in some cases, the same machine.

Regional printers, in my opinion, can show a lack of understanding, expertise, and drive to differentiate themselves. As a result, we have a market of suppliers and converters who all do the same thing and all try to grab the same piece of the same pie. The situation resembles the familiar local sight of a row of cellphone shops on the same street.

Fingers can be pointed in various directions. The market might be unprepared. Suppliers might be unable to market solutions. Printers might be unaware of requirements. But whenever you point a finger, three point back.

The MEA’s print industry lags far behind other regions and its complacency can be staggering. Print is an ever-evolving industry and the individuals at the top must stay at the cutting edge of technology. Doctors who neglect to update their skills for 10 years cannot expect many clients. Why should printers? Why would a client or print buyer work with a company with outdated systems and standards? Industry professionals must remember that reaching the top was tough but staying there is harder – and it involves keeping abreast with the latest developments.

This knowledge will enable them to ask the right questions and have the proper discussions. Printers shouldn’t simply imitate their rivals’ investments. But in most cases this is what happens. Gather 10 opinions. You will find an answer that seems plausible and might be correct but you will also hear nine answers that don’t cut the mustard and you will come out the winner. Consider a UV packaging press. What is the thought process for deciding how many interdeck lamps to spec the machine with? Or whether to have colour management solutions on the press? Or if an antistatic device is required?

It reminds me of a story of a man who walked into a Mercedes-Benz showroom and asked for an s500 with every option possible. “Sir,” the salesperson responded, “are you sure you would like every option?” “Yes, of course.” “A full option car will be quite expensive,” said the salesperson. “I don’t care. I will pay your price.” The salesperson then explained that the list of options included a EUR750 tow bar. “Oh no. I don’t want that. I don’t have a trailer. In that case, I will not buy a full option s500.”

Not knowing what you are getting and not knowing how a solution works, or how it could benefit you, will eventually burn a hole in your pocket. If the man at the top calling the shots knows exactly what is happening, the wool cannot be pulled over his eyes. But this level of understanding can be achieved only through constant study and constant questioning of what you are told.

So how does the industry move forward? Adapt and change! Unless the solutions are implemented the market will never be ready for them. Only printers – not entrepreneurs – can really choose the right route for their companies. Strive to employ the latest standards and equipment, not because someone else has them but because you understand how they work and how they will help you stand out.

Ask questions. There are no silly questions but only silly answers. If you aren’t convinced by marketing materials and PowerPoint presentations, ask for proof on paper, be it in a paperless world. When you do change an ink, don’t expect it to run to the present settings (as it shouldn’t unless it’s identical so will bring no benefits except maybe a short-run reduction in cost). Look at how much you actually use and quote accordingly. You can choose to reinvest the savings or transfer them to your clients. Look at what the real advantages are and then make an educated decision.

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