Print Leaders Forum: ‘Green shoots’ for 2020

An excerpt from AP March 2020 Print Leaders Forum – by MBE Parramatta owner Charles Batt 

2019 started out badly and continued to be a relatively miserable year. Business was even more unpredictably up and down than usual, making it the most frustrating year since I joined the print industry, immediately prior to the Global Financial Crisis.

Perhaps we can blame two elections (NSW State and Federal), Trump trade wars and the Brexit mess. Perhaps it was just the print industry being fickle.

Around October, ‘green shoots’ started to appear in the market and I headed into the new decade more positive about the future than ever.

Over recent years, the competition between digital printer manufacturers has moved from image quality and speed to specialty colours, finishes and embellishments. Everyone can now put a great image on a page at an acceptable speed – which will still be the bulk of the market for the foreseeable future.

However, unless you can offer customers something extra – either from your own gear or outsourced – it will be progressively harder to retain or win customers. This is why I invested in the Fuji Xerox Iridesse Production Press in August.

Now more than ever, customer service, customer engagement and the ‘wow’ factor will be critical to growing any business through 2020 and beyond. Many customers are developing unrealistic expectations, partly through the speed and price of online shopping for consumer goods, and partly because as an industry we keep lifting our game.

There was once a truism that the customer could choose from speed, quality and price – but only ever have two. Customers are now demanding and receiving all three from printers; and there is no going back.

Print and digital mediums have already converged, but the cleverness and intelligence of how these interact will be a major battleground for years to come.

Unfortunately, the skillset of staff in a traditional print business are not transferrable to digital. To take advantage of these opportunities todays’ printers will need to purchase or partner with a suitable specialist business.

A printer cannot just employ a single digital specialist because digital assets are live and 24/7, requiring someone to be available at any time now and into the future. 2020 may not be the year for you take this leap, but if you haven’t started thinking about it yet then this year would be a good time to start.

The endless and reckless price rises by Australia Post seem designed to kill the letter market. Transactional mail is being decimated and people are receiving progressively fewer letters. The up-side of this is that there is a little frisson of surprise when a letter arrives and if it is well presented (nice envelope, personal, different) you’re almost guaranteed to have the letter opened.

If the letter is well written and well printed you are given a minute of undivided attention by the recipient – the holy grail of marketing.

Direct mail will make up a growing portion of the marketing budget for many professional marketers and will therefore be an opportunity for digital printers and mailing houses.

As the workforce ages, and as work become less predictable and reliable, more people will want to become the captain of their own ship.

As the owner of a Mail Boxes Etc franchise (specialising in print) I can see an increasing number of people leaving corporate life and embracing print franchises.

The support and community within a franchise allows someone to move successfully into a business that would be difficult (if not impossible) as a solo operator. Print franchisees who know and serve their local business community will have a sense of purpose and enjoyable lifestyle for as long as they choose.


This article was written prior to the impact of COVID-19. The digital version of AP March 2020 is available here.

And as part of AP’s 70 anniversary, we’re pulling together a list of 70 local industry pioneers – you can make your nominations here.

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