Print.com – a brilliant domain name for suppliers in online print. Bernd Zipper spoke with Marco Aarnink about what makes “Print.com” tick and his assessment of how online print will develop in the future.
Bernd Zipper: It’s great that you were able to make some time for us, because I think it’s time that we talk about Print.com, and about your plans in the area of online print. You’re an entrepreneur in online print and you’ve been with online print for more than fifteen years now – so we have to talk about your story.
Marco Aarnink: Nice. Yes, it has been some time. I think I started somewhere in the end of 2005 actually. So it’s been more than fifteen years.
Bernd Zipper: Before you got involved with Print.com, you were instrumental in setting up the Dutch online print pioneers Drukwerkdeal.nl and Printdeal.be. So it’s fair to say that you helped develop the market in BeNeLux.
Marco Aarnink: In late 2005, when we started there was no real internet printer. There were some online printers – but they did not combine the print jobs via batch printing. I assume they were only selling print products through the internet for their normal prices. So I think we were one of the first Dutch internet printers and that was a breakthrough in that time and that’s how Druckwerkdeal became the market leader in the Netherlands.
Bernd Zipper: In 2014 I think you sold the company to Vistaprint, didn’t you?
Marco Aarnink: Yes they’re a part of Cimpress now. I sold it in 2014 because of the fact that we were growing quite rapidly with Drukwerkdeal and we were also producing ourselves. We later formed a printing facility in Deventer. We had a textile, clothing and apparel printing company in Deventer as well and we were about to produce more ourselves and so we needed a substantial amount of money for buying machines. And, due to the fact that we were growing rapidly, the responsibility for the people was also weighing on me. Therefore, I thought it was a good time to sell the company to someone who had a substantial amount of money and knowledge about this market and who could help Drukwerkdeal or Printdeal, the foreign name, grow international, more strongly and also more sustainably.
Bernd Zipper: But why did you leave the company? Normally, when a company is taken over by another company and the company is to be continued, the previous management is obliged to continue and to participate for years.
Marco Aarnink: Yes. However, I think we were a very strong team in that time. We had about 200 people, all with their own responsibilities and my role as an entrepreneur was only being the entrepreneur. I was not involved in finance or HR anymore or other things as we had a strong management team and great people who could further grow the business. And after a year I really wanted to be an entrepreneur again. I wanted to pioneer, touch the products, talk to the customers again, release something new into the market, because the only thing I had done was selling print and I was a young guy. I was curious about exploring new markets. That’s why I left.
Bernd Zipper: That’s exciting because after that you really started investing in other companies and taking them further. I have here a list of recent companies like Sparkles, Legal Lloyd, Ace & Tate, Srprs.me, Endeit, Gastrofix and other companies you helped, that are not just in the printing industry.
Marco Aarnink: Lots of companies. After I left Drukwerkdeal there was a kind of a black hole, because it was a very quiet time and I really missed my colleagues and my friends who were at Drukwerkdeal. So it was a strange time because I no longer had any goal. There was no passion for a thing like doing business. So I started investing my money in new companies with young people and I thought wow, now I’m a part of something big again. That was, I always call it, my emotional time, because I was doing emotional investments and those were not the best choices I could have made at that time but I did so anyhow. Afterwards I started to become more rational again and I invested in other companies, more to do with skills, and that was a good thing but the role of an investor is really different than the role of an entrepreneur. I was still missing being an entrepreneur and still missing customers, products, and touching the products. That’s why I decided to start all over again for myself because there was one thing continuously missing for me and that was the print market. It was the product. The print product is a real emotional product because there was always a message behind the print and most of the market I was exploring in that time was not so interesting to me that I could find a passion for it.
Bernd Zipper: One of the most emotional investments for you was to acquire the domain Print.com and establish the brand Print.com. Wasn’t it?
Marco Aarnink: Not emotional, rational! I was surprised that Print.com was still available. Many people who earned money were investing in real estate and I was thinking to myself, what would be the next step in real estate? And that was domain names because a domain name is actually the same as real estate for online shops. And I was buying the best building at the best shopping street at the best place in the world for print. And then I thought, this is the real estate investment I’m going to make. I will spend lots of money on Print.com and at that time without having solid plans to start all over again in the printing market. Of course it was longing, but at that time I did not yet have any plans.
Bernd Zipper: Then in 2018, you decided to build a new team and develop a new online printer. What was the motivation there?
Marco Aarnink: We started in 2018 so the only thing I knew in 2017 was: Now I’ve got the domain and there are many people interested in what I’m going to do. So what now? And then I hired some people, and we called hundreds, maybe thousands of people, who subscribed at our basic website Print.com. We were talking to all those subscribers and they were telling us everything about print and the market. Where they were buying print products at that time, why they bought from those companies, and what they were looking for. And the information that we collected at that time was very interesting that we thought, how about we invite those people one day and let them tell us how we are going to build the next internet platform in print, aka Print.com. We called it co-creation. They joined us on Valentine’s Day of 2018. We invited them especially on Valentine’s Day, because we strongly believe that the relationship is actually similar to that of a customer relationship. You have so many facets in the relationship which you also have in a customer relationship. So it started out on Valentine’s Day and we invited 100 customers and they told us how Print.com should look like and that was the start of Print.com. These 100 customers felt if they were part of the business model of Print.com.
Bernd Zipper: A pretty good idea. But if I look at your company and if I see other companies doing online print – I’m always thinking about what is the difference of the model of Print.com? How do you differentiate yourself from the other providers in the market? What makes you special?
Marco Aarnink: I think that being clear in communication is the biggest specialty. We did choose for the reseller only model so we’re very clear on who our customers are and customers do appreciate that, but we also have lots of features in our business model which are customized for this target group. What they order, when they receive the packages, from who they receive the packages. They can choose themselves which carrier they want us to use. They can choose themselves at what time and what date they will receive the package and we also are very clear about the fact that we are not responsible, for example, for delays of carriers. We have some features to prevent it. So if a customer does not want to have any delays, they can pay us a little bit extra and they will have their own customer support, their own customer service agents at Print.com who are continuously monitoring the order. Similar to a normal printing company, you have one person you are talking to continuously during the order process. We call them our customer love team. Many of those features are interesting enough for people to buy at Print.com and to stay at Print.com.
Bernd Zipper: Initially, you generated print jobs and had them produced by other companies – then in 2019 came the change in strategy. Why did you take over Die Textildruckerei Brezo in Kampen?
Marco Aarnink: Because I think that textile clothing and apparel companies are quite interesting, as many of the internet printers are forgetting the textile market. They are strongly focused on paper, sign and on rigids for example but clothing is a huge market worldwide. I really loved printing on apparel and clothing, it’s fashionable and that’s why we bought the production house. And also because we wanted to have a start in producing for ourselves again. It’s in our hearts to produce print and not only sell it. That was the start of buying production facilities. In 2019 we also bought TMB Print & Sign in Schijndel. It’s kind of a large format printing company, and that was because of the fact that it was hard to find large format printing companies in the Netherlands and in Germany and Belgium as well. Additionally, due to the fact that it’s hard to transport the large format prints because it’s always a large roll, for example, a two meter banner and it’s hard to bring that to your customers. Therefore, it’s important for us to own the whole process from production to delivering the package to customers. Another strong reason to produce ourselves, there were many companies in the same field, many of our competitors who were trying to get rid of us by making exlusive appointments with their production facilities. Hence, I had no choice and it’s not too bad because we really love producing and that’s something that’s in our hearts so it was a already logical step for us.
Bernd Zipper: You also have a digital printer shop or other facilities?
Marco Aarnink: Yes. In the large printing production house there was also HP Indigo. There we have two HP Indigo 12000 machines. We now moved them to Oss where we bought Kampert-Nauta or more accurately, a part of Kampert-Nauta from Em. de Jong. Now we have the complete production package in-house, from larger format print to textile apparels to digital print and wholesale printing.
Bernd Zipper: At that time you opened an office in Belgium in 2019 and in France in 2020 and also Germany. Your strategy is therefore to be a European online printer, right?
Marco Aarnink: Yes. I had a dream since 2005 to have a European brand, to build a real brand name for print like I have now. That’s also why I bought Print.com. It’s a good name. But the strategy with going to the foreign countries was a bit driven by corona because of course we started in Belgium, it’s a logical step forward due to the language. But then we started in the French market in February 2020 and then Corona came in, so the French market was in total lock down and they pushed us a bit back to the Netherlands. And then we decided, rather than to sit down and lay back, we will go to Germany and go give it a try over there, since the lockdown in Germany was not as heavy as it was in the French market. In addition, the doors were open to set up a new company in Germany and it’s one of our goals to have a small market share in Germany as well.
Bernd Zipper: Curiously, you have established your German office in Würzburg right next to one of your competitors. Did you want to provoke Flyeralarm or maybe to even annoy them a little?
Marco Aarnink: No. But first we should go back to why we’re in Germany because in this market it’s all about volume and in the Netherlands we have a good market share right now, however, we want to have a small market share in all the countries. Because it’s good to have some market share everywhere, but we do not want to have the highest level and we do not want to be the biggest player in the countries. Then there is always pressure on the price and the focus is always on you and that’s not our goal. We want to build a brand. We also went to Germany because I had a strong network in Germany from back in the days. In 2006/2007 we bought print at Flyeralarm, and so I knew some people from Flyeralarm which I still kept in contact with over the years, even when I was not in the market anymore. But once I started with Print.com I received some messages, of course from my older network, and that’s how we started talking again. It was not about setting up a business in Germany but before I knew it, it was about setting up a business in Germany. And so I met Cordula in 2006, she is our country captain in Germany. We met last summer on a camp site in Germany and talked about the printing market and about our plans regarding entering foreign countries. Afterwhich she said, maybe there is a new match to be had here ...
Bernd Zipper: One could assume something else – because you are even on the same street as Flyeralarm …?
Marco Aarnink: Yes, but it’s more because of the fact that I knew Cordula and some people in Germany and that’s also why I was focused on starting over there with her in our team, because I really appreciate her. And that’s a big step forward to start all over again in such a difficult country as Germany.
Bernd Zipper: There is a company here in Germany that is called Printing Company – which also has a connection to Kampert-Nauta. Is there a relationship to your brand?
Marco Aarnink: No, they work with lots of Dutch production sites with Kampert-Nauta as well, so I know Carlo very well and I talked to Carlo before he started his printing company. Carlo is now connecting production sites to internet printers, so I think that he found his own way to earn some money.
Bernd Zipper: And now you acquired Kampert-Nauta. Are they participating or what is the idea?
Marco Aarnink: No, the company Kampert-Nauta was owned by Em.de Jong and this parent company is participating in Print.com and we are participating in Kampert-Nauta, in their company. They owned Sparkles, as well, and that is why we are also participating in Sparkles. And Em. de Jong is a big rotation printing company in the Netherlands. They have all the big retailers in the Netherlands in their customer base and we were working together on some customers, which is a good thing, so there is lots of synergy between the different brands that we have.
Bernd Zipper: Now your brand has been in the market for four years and you have been working for three years now with the brand. So how are the numbers developing?
Marco Aarnink: We really started the brand at the end of 2018, so 2019 was the first full year we were live with Print.com, with a very small product range. However, in the first year we had a turnover of about ten million euros and that’s a lot in a small country such as the Netherlands. And in our second year, 2020, we doubled it to almost 20 million, and this was during corona. We think we’ve done a good job. But that is only in the Netherlands and Belgian market, without counting the numbers of our production facilities. We look at the two countries separately in terms of revenue, namely the nearly 20 million euros that we generate with Print.com. So we are quite satisfied about the development of our numbers in the Netherlands and Belgium and now it’s up to the French and the German markets to add some turnover to the total group.
Bernd Zipper: Due to Corona it will be a tough game, as the market is not yet back to its old strength. What is your opinion regarding the Corona pandemic and Print.com?
Marco Aarnink: Of course, we all hoped for a normal year in 2021, but Corona is still here, so I don’t know. It’s hard to say because of course in all markets, events are very important. All of the printed products we are making every day are about 50 percent for events, so we do miss a lot. If I look to what’s happening in the Netherlands and also in Belgium and in Germany, I hope that after the summer we will get back to a normal life and we can start having big events again. I think that the later part of 2021 will solve all of the problems we are facing right now in the first few months of 2021.
Bernd Zipper: I think it was a bold move on your part to start a new company. I remember at the Online Print Symposium a few years ago, a major market player announced that the entire online print market had already been split up and there was no more room for other players in the market. How do you see it?
Marco Aarnink: I do not believe that there is no place for other players. We have our own story and the only thing we are selling is a good, customized, story. And the other internet printers are doing the same. So all kinds of customers are choosing from different kinds of stories. And there are some customers who are really focused on price, they will go to – I do not need to mention the names – but there are some price competitors around. They can have the price competitors. We have a real marketing story based on the creative professionals. We are building a brand. We have different features than our competitors have, like the addition of a person or assistant on your order but also like the fact that we have so many different options in regards to printed products and many varieties in paper. So the story we sell to our customers is clear. It’s about product, it’s about the feeling for the brand, it’s about the complete package of products, about producing ourselves and optimizing the chain. There are so many details I can mention which are important to our customers. The customer who is going to Print.com really loves the brand Print.com, and what we’re doing and the continuous movement we are making.
Bernd Zipper: More suppliers in the market promotes competition – so that’s good for the print buyer for now. When you look into the future of online printing – will traditional printing still exist in your opinion?
Marco Aarnink: I think there will always be specialists and certainly in the production area. So what you see is that many production companies are specializing in one kind of product or something like that. And they are doing a good job and this will also happen in the internet printing sector. I think that many internet printers will specialize in selling their kind of story to a selected target group. And I think that the main thing we did very well was co-creating a business model together with the customers and we still do. We have six people who are calling our customers every day and they come back with all the best ideas from our customers. And if we can develop continuously all of those ideas from our customers, then the demand is created by ourselves. That’s a different kind of doing business than only selling products for the best price. There are so many internet printers right now, one is driven by cost-leadership, one is driven by co-creation, one is driven by specialism, one is driven by a very large product range and so on. I have so much respect for all the internet printers who are on the market, for example Flyeralarm, who is adding so many companies to its portfolios while, for example, also offering marketing services. That’s a great thing. And so they also have their own customers. So I think that we will all choose our own way in this internet market and we will all find our own customers this way.
Bernd Zipper: Thank you so much for your time. This is a good overview of your story and I think we will occasionally need to check back to see how you have developed your business.
Marco Aarnink: Thank you very much.