Why bigger is not always better

Every printer would love to have the purchasing power of a Blue Star, a Finsbury Green or a Focus Press. Bigger companies can afford the most advanced machinery and will often be able to negotiate special deals on paper and consumables.

But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. There’s nothing easy about managing hundreds of staff and dozens of product lines across multiple sites. The logical solution is to install layers of bureaucracy, but that can have the effect of making companies leaden-footed.

Geon was the perfect example. The trans-Tasman giant snapped up one successful print business after another, but never found a way to turn them into one large sustainable group. New Zealand firm Kalamazoo has also recently found itself in trouble. It has made 10 acquisitions since 2005 – but the group’s chief executive, Glenn Climo, recently admitted its management structures had not kept pace with its growth.

Smaller printers, by contrast, have a knack for being flexible and offering customers a more personal service. That’s why there will always be a place for them in the printing jungle.

Jungles are dangerous and competitive environments. Only the smartest animals survive. The same applies to printing – and there are few better ways of judging a printer’s shrewdness than by examining its machinery investments.

A high-spec machine isn’t always the answer. Bells and whistles may be indulgences. And is a new machine even needed? It might make more sense to find efficiencies in the production process, outsource work or both.

That begs another important question: should smaller printers always aim to become big printers?

Big printers base their business models on their size. That’s what gives them their purchasing power and economies of scale, so they have no choice but to remain big.

Smaller printers, though, do have a choice. You can’t fault companies that grow through referrals and demand for new products. But you can’t say the same for companies that see expansion as a key to success rather than a product of success.

There’s only room for so many lions in the jungle.

Nick Bendel is deputy editor of ProPrint

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