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Ideas above its workstation

UK based flexo repro specialist Reproflex 3 sees digital as the future with an investment in an HP Indigo press

Identifying a niche in the market is one thing; being prepared to invest significant resources to develop it – and in consequence, redefine your business – is what separates the men from the boys. Once in a commercial lifetime would probably suffice for most small companies. For UK based flexo repro specialist Reproflex 3, however, it’s more or less becoming a matter of course.

Its acquisition of a six colour HP Indigo Press ws2000 digital press to meet an accelerating demand for high quality flexo packaging samples is a commitment that might give any tightly geared operation cause for a few sleepless nights. But for founding director Andrew Hewitson and his colleagues, undertaking a major capital investment to back a solid commercial decision is nothing new.

The company was formed in 1996 to meet the requirements of locally based printers following the strategic decision by Seven (née Wace Corporate Imaging) to redirect its attention towards the blue chip end-user sector.

“We knew there was a need in the immediate area for a quality repro outfit. There were other bureaux, but they were very much ‘print and run’ operations. There wasn’t much in-depth skill,” says Andrew Hewitson. Even so, an initially blank order book and start-up costs of over £200,000 – the originally purchased as new Linotype Hell Hercules imagesetter and 3400 drum scanner are still in service – were met with a turnover of just £200 in the first month of trading.

“That was a single colour label job,” recalls Hewitson. “But from there we hit £200,000 for the year, so it was quite a steep build-up.”

Having refined a skill-set to service mainly flexo packaging printers – a DuPont plate making system was installed after 18 months – annual turnover plateaued out at around £500,000 largely due to the combined effects of industry over-capacity and the steady absorption of repro in-house.

The company claims to maintain strongly well honed flexo repro expertise. Its decision to extend into digital print represents a bold forward thinking next step towards future development.

“It’s clear that eventually everything will be done digitally,” says Andrew Hewitson. “There are already quite a few digital sheet-fed presses out there in the commercial print sector. Whilst the packaging side has always tended to stand back and watch, they’ll definitely take up the technology sooner or later. We just weren’t prepared to wait.

“When we realised that our plate system wasn’t necessarily going to provide the total solution, we started looking. It’s evolution. And we needed to re-position the company so that we could attract a different sort of client.

Expanding

“The HP Indigo Press ws2000 that we’ve bought has great flexibility. We can calibrate images, we can do print runs, and we can do market sampling on different substrates. Those are its principal uses currently, but we’re spreading our net.”

And spreading it, points out UK sales and marketing manager Mark Hunter Purvis, not just beyond the geographical region, but also into sectors that hitherto wouldn’t have given a small repro house like Reproflex 3 the time of day.

“Until the press came along and we had some real added value to offer, the business was just ticking along on a local basis,” he adds. “Existing customers were looking for something other than a Cromalin on the right substrate for a flexo based application; they wanted to be able to show their customers exactly what the end result is going to look like, with all the grips and all the big dots.

Door-opener

“We looked around to see what press could offer that, and the HP Indigo Press ws2000 was the one. We can go down to 60-line screens or up to 250 if we need to.

“It’s not only that our customers see it as the ideal way to supply proof mock-ups and samples, it’s also proving to be a door-opener into other areas. Not just to printers, but also to design agencies and end users. I’m down in London now nearly every week talking to the big agencies.

“Already, the orders are coming to us rather than us having to go out and find them. People are now talking about a company that was fairly well known up here, but pretty much unknown outside of the area. It’s a salesman’s dream.”

The company spent 18 months researching the industry before opting for the Press ws2000 as being the best to match their requirements. Andrew Hewitson says: “With this press you can transfer onto the right substrate, and it has the ability to control the image, density of inks, and dot gain.”

The order was confirmed on the opening day of IPEX, enabling Mark Hunter Purvis and his sales team to spend eight fruitful days at the show maximizing awareness amongst existing and prospective customers. Since then, the press has been running almost continuously. Andrew Hewitson is already forecasting a resultant 40 per cent uplift in annual turnover for his 12-employee company within the next 18 months.

One largely unanticipated benefit to emerge from the acquisition has been an increase in repro work stemming from Reproflex’s revitalized status. “This press is proving to be a brilliant marketing tool for our company,” enthuses Andrew Hewitson. “It’s helping us to redefine the business, and, if nothing else, it’s put us on the map. Even if we never made a penny out of it production-wise, then we’ll still have made a lot of money out of the increased repro business we’ve attracted. But we’ll do both.”

Now extended into in-house finishing, the company can die-cut, reel and supply back on the reel.

Andrew Hewitson confidently expects the press to account for 25 per cent of total turnover within the year. “We’re a repro house that’s transforming itself into a very specific type of contemporary printer,” he says. “We’re addressing the mind-set that says you’ve got to have a minimum order of say 20,000 labels – even though you only want 5, 000 and the rest just ends up sitting in a warehouse somewhere and never gets used. And then they do it all over again in six months time.

“When people ask you to quantify a short run you can’t really tell them because there actually isn’t such a finite number. A short run is where it’s commercially acceptable to buy it from us, and not from Jimmy’s down the road.

“The key thing is that we’re not targeting any specific area. We’re actually working for and with repro houses that we would have seen traditionally as our competition. Where we see the bigger picture, however, is being able to get in front of the corporate buyer who is going to want to use our press for promotional samples and calibrated proofing.”