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EIJI OTA: Positive growth advice from a forward-thinking century-old print


It’s no longer enough to just print and sell a product. In the competitive, modern print landscape, print service providers (PSPs) need to be more consultative, thinking about how they can provide more creative solutions to meet customers’ needs while also maintaining good relationships. However, the reality is that few print businesses are fully matching their clients’ expectations when it comes to that added layer of value. Our own research, where we interviewed marketing decision makers, revealed that less than 25% of print buyers feel they’re getting this much-needed expert input. 

UK book printing specialists, Halstan, are a clear example of how adopting a more consultative approach has positive outcomes, not only for their customers but for their own growth and success. As an international, fourth-generation family-run business operating for over a century, they have a wealth of knowledge and experience, with some loyal clients going back over 80 years. In conversation with Chief Executive, Rupert Smith, he explained the five steps the Halstan team have taken to continuously adapt over time and deepen their customer relationships. I think they offer excellent, actionable advice for PSPs everywhere who want to cement customer loyalty and drive growth: 

Find out your customer’s objectives – Recognising that printing is a commoditised market, Rupert and his team constantly look for alternative ways to input and help deliver results. “My advice is to always start with what your client wants and then work back to your offering. This helps us to understand if there’s more we can be doing to tailor our services to support their business.” For example, Halstan now has print operations in Germany and USA in addition to the UK as a direct result of listening to its customers and then setting up operations in partnership to provide solutions in those regions.

Have an open two-way dialogue – and do so regularly – One of Halstan’s relatively new markets is notebook and stationery production. Rupert finds that clients in this space don’t necessarily expect Halstan to advise on creative aspects of print and just deliver the end product. But by working collaboratively with the customer and guiding them through the production steps, Halstan can demonstrate their creativity, injecting it along the way, resulting in an end product that both parties are proud of. “Your customers will only stay with you if you remain relevant to them and if you continue to add value, so we want to keep coming up with ideas and taking new propositions to them.”

Move the conversation away from price – The market place is extremely competitive but Rupert believes that, by being more consultative, it puts you in a better position for when the conversation with the print buyer does move on to price. “What we try and do is consult at a business-to-business level, helping customers to streamline all of their processes through data and workflow solutions. We start looking at reducing the overall cost of bringing a book to market, rather than just the cost of printing it. If you look through individual jobs to understand the business issues behind them and what the customer is trying to achieve, it opens up a lot of opportunities.”

Use automation to your advantage – Halstan found that by increasing automation, quality, consistency, speed to market and accuracy all improved. In addition, errors from manual handling were drastically reduced. This freed up Rupert’s time to spend with customers, demonstrating his knowledge in print. “We’re having conversations with publishers about stock reduction, print on demand, removing warehouses, producing personalised books, taking over inplants, outputting in multiple locations.”

Be bolder in your approach to market –  Halstan attracted about 15 new customers through their new social media channels as a result of a targeted marketing campaign during the pandemic. This demonstrated the importance of an established company staying up to date with marketing trends and not shying away from the latest technologies so they could reach new audiences. 

By streamlining their processes and continuing to evolve their offering in line with market demand, Halstan can spend more time understanding each customer’s individual business and what they are looking to achieve with print. Switching their focus to how they can be consultative in conversations with their clients, they have boosted their business by offering more creative solutions. The result? A strong track record of over 100 years in print and loyal customers who keep coming back for more!

It’s a pertinent reminder that print is not just about product, and process optimisation is not just about gaining production efficiencies. Success can follow when you free up expert resources within your business to spot opportunities, nurture relationships and cultivate growth.

Eiji Ota is a Business Unit Director, at Canon Central and North Africa.

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