The online print market in the UK is both lucrative and challenging at the same time. It is dominated by one feature in particular – 24hr “turnaround”. But which homegrown players are exploiting their opportunities in this comparatively open market alongside the major German and European players?
Flyeralarm, Onlineprinters, Cewe and Unitedprint – they all have at least two things in common. On the one hand they are among the online print market leaders in the D/A/CH region, and on the other they are becoming more and more actively involved in a country, which is still a member of the EU and is providing online print growth opportunities on a larger scale than in most other European countries. We’re talking the United Kingdom. Major German and other European players in the online print business are massively extending their sphere of activity in the direction of Europe’s largest island nation by setting up country domains, separate brands and owned production facilities and sales outlets for good reason. While in 2017 online print accounted for between 25 and 28 % of the overall print market in the D/A/CH region, in the UK that proportion was significantly smaller. It is estimated to be in the region of 10 to 15 %, which means that the German-speaking market is streets ahead of the island on the western fringe of Europe in terms of the proportion of print sales generated online. But it’s not just German print providers and the usual “suspects” from other European countries that are surging onto the island. Several UK onliners are also investing heavily, growing year on year at to some extent sizeable double-digit rates and are themselves expanding into other English-speaking regions like the USA. The fact that the future of a portion of the print market lies in online print also dawned on businesses in the UK some time ago. So this is reason enough for me to take a closer look at this market.
The UK print market and the proportion of it accounted for by online print
Very in-depth yet not fully conclusive research clearly shows one characteristic of the UK online print market – it is more fragmented than the D/A/CH market. It has fewer “really” major players than in Germany, plenty of mid-sized and small businesses and a similar concentration of providers. To enable readers to get a handle on the whole thing – the BPIF (British Printing Industries Federation) has stated that the UK print industry generated sales of more than 15.9 billion Euros in 2016, which makes the UK Europe’s second largest print producer after Germany. So there is enough online print potential in this market, but it is not yet being exploited in the way that the major players in the D/A/CH region, for example, are demonstrating how it should be done. The online proportion of the UK print market will increase from the previously mentioned 10 to 15 % to at least the current D/A/CH level, i.e. 25 to 30 %, by the end of 2022. But let’s return to the research – my team and I have found more than 70 print providers (job and photo printing) currently operating online stores covering the UK and Ireland. We only included providers that originate from the UK and Ireland and that are also headquartered there. Branches operating under the same brand name, like Cewe UK, were not included, but separate brands owned by major players, which also operate under their own names in the UK market, were included. I shall be profiling some of the higher-sales and faster-growth online print providers in more detail below. Of course you can’t comprehensively profile the market in a blog post – it’s the overview that counts.
And before anybody starts complaining – yes, Ireland is not a part of the UK. But I am nevertheless including Ireland in my outline, because Irish online print providers’ main market is not just their own country but also the UK. Conversely several UK online print providers also deliver to Ireland.
Which local onliners are active in the UK?
As a UK-based online job printer Moo posted sales in 2017 of some 63 million Euros and therefore generated around 40 % growth in sales from 2016 to 2017. When judged by German online print provider standards, Moo would therefore rank in the TOP 10 – in the UK it is even in the job printers’ TOP 5. Moo is headquartered in London, just like several other larger providers. The specialist in exceptional designs is well-known for its particularly high print quality, has a headcount of some 400 and also operates in the USA.
Somewhat less familiar than Moo, but still relatively significant – at sales in 2017 of around 23 million Euros – is Bluetree Design & Print. This company, which is located further north, operates both the route1print.co.uk and instantprint.co.uk print stores – and has invested heavily in the last few years (more than 23 million Euros) in technology and infrastructure in order to crack its the 2018 sales target of 34 million Euros. Bluetree, which offers particularly inexpensive and fast-turnaround print products under its Instantprint brand and is making inroads into the lucrative US market, is therefore aiming for an increase of similar proportions to its most recent sales growth rate of almost 40 %. Of the job printers considered, Moo and Bluetree are top of the pile in terms of growth potential.
As already indicated, German online print providers have pressed on with securing their positions in the UK online print market and expanding their UK business by adding locations and making acquisitions. As a result, one print provider – Solopress – that is headquartered east of London in Southend-On-Sea has become more of a familiar name in the D/A/CH region. Around a year ago the Onlineprinters Group bought Solopress and therefore incorporated one of the UK’s largest and fastest online print providers. More than 80 % of all Solopress customers request overnight products, a definitely more frequent occurance in the western part of Europe than in Central Europe. Speed of delivery determines success or failure in the UK market more than any other factor. Solopress’ product portfolio is relatively large and includes more than 50 categories, which enabled the UK firm to achieve an increase in sales from 2015 to 2016 of 25 %, which could be topped in 2017 by an increase of 31 %. Last year Solopress (as an online-only print provider) therefore generated sales of 24.2 million Euros and can in future rely on further growth, not least because the Onlineprinters Group will ensure further investment in expansion, as recently happened with the installation of more digital printing presses.
“In the UK online print must be one thing above all else – fast! Some print providers are able to generate massive growth, not least because they are fast at what they do.” – Bernd Zipper
In relation to the online print providers already mentioned, the following providers only grew “moderately” (at least by UK standards), which, let it be said, in this particular context means at rates of more than 10 %. We’re talking here about Tradeprint and Precision Printing. The first-mentioned online print provider has been a part of Cimpress since 2015 and is the mass customization provider’s only brand that operates at its own location in the UK. I am highlighting Tradeprint’s own location in the UK, because Cimpress serves some markets by taking a multi-brand approach Thus Tradeprint’s 2017 sales figure of around 12 million Euros appears to be low. However if you consider that Pixartprinting (I) and Vistaprint also have several business customers in the UK, this figure is quickly put into perspective. That’s because although Tradeprint appears to have competition from within its own camp, sales in the last two years have increased by 20 and 14 % respectively – an indication that Tradeprint is serving the UK print market for resellers and white-label buyers effectively from its base in Dundee, Scotland.
The same customer focus strategy is also being pursued by Precision Printing, a print company based in the greater London print catchment area, and its online brand – Where The Trade Buys. Since the relaunch of the web store the resellers that it targets have generated sales most recently of 6.9 million Euros, which account for around one third of Precision Printing’s total sales (19.5 million Euros). That’s no big deal, is it? Au contraire! Precision Printing also operates other online print stores in addition to WTTB and is growing fast, most recently at a rate of 13 %. But according to a statement by Gary Peeling, MD of Precision Printing, this trend will be even more marked this and next year with growth rates of 30 % and more. This is to be achieved on the basis of acquiring several hundred new customers and efficiently executing smaller online-based print runs that are delivered mostly on the same day, which is what WTTB is already known for in London. Precision Printing and its brands are certainly set to play to play an even bigger role in the UK online print market in the future.
For now I will leave my profile of the UK online print market at these five providers. Of course there are several other online print providers headquartered in the UK that it’s worth taking a look at. And I would like to give all those folk with an interest in this industry, who are searching for a few more print providers in the western part of Europe with plenty of growth potential, the following names for their own research purposes: Tangent Communications plus printed.com, Grafenia plus marqetspace.co.uk, printing.com/uk plus the Nettl stores as well as Northside plus tradedigitalprinting.co.uk, digitalprinting.co.uk and finally quinnstheprinters.com.
My take: some homegrown providers in the UK online print market have achieved substantial increases in sales in the last few years. So there is plenty of potential in this market. What will also be fascinating to see is whether the upcoming Brexit will motivate more major German and international players from the online print business to make acquisitions in the UK. The local players at least seem to be exploiting their opportunities and are expanding themselves to some extent into other countries and/or continents, and some have even been doing so for some time now. If things continue in the UK in the same way as in Germany, we can expect to see a degree of consolidation in the UK market, which means fewer players each generating higher sales. I wonder how the market will evolve – and am going to stick with it.