The UK-based online print provider, Nettl, is developing a particular kind of niche – the coffee bar niche. An interesting approach …How do I find my market? This question may well be preying on the minds of some online print providers. Some go about their business as B2B and B2C providers and are distinguished by gigantic product ranges, while other providers play the role of specific product specialists. In the UK a subsidiary of printing.com is breaking new ground. Nettl not only provides an all-round package, ranging from websites to business cards, to meet smaller business customers’ marketing needs in its local agencies, but is also making a bid to gain new online print customers. In particular these are new customers, who previously perhaps did not know anything about online print, or those folk, who simply did not have the confidence to order online print.
But Nettl is even going one step further – the company is combining an open workspace (for meetings involving Nettl customers) with a coffee bar and a full-service agency. Well, the concept is not new – several providers are trying a similar approach in Germany too. But what is really remarkable is how the surroundings and the friendly atmosphere consistently make the actual purchasing of print take a back seat. What matters here is the customer and their marketing needs – and a professional team of consultants is always on hand to give customers a definite sense of this being the right place to come to.
When Peter Gunning, CEO of the parent company Grafenia, presented his concept to me, I was initially sceptical as to whether there is a smart way to action a concept of this kind. During the subsequent visit to one of his stores in Birmingham Peter persuaded me that it can be done: coffee and “print to go” do actually work. I got the opportunity to conduct an interview with him.
Bernd Zipper: To combine a local store with online print and web services sounds a little bit weird. How and why did you develop this concept?
Peter Gunning: We’ve been selling websites via our printing.com stores for ten years. But we could see the world changing. These days clients prioritise their marketing spend on websites first. It used to be print. Now it’s web. For a printer, you’ve got to win the web first, then the print follows. Clients don’t instinctively think about buying websites from their printer. We’d like to think they would, but they don’t connect that printers can design websites. That’s why we started the Nettl experiment and now we have over 90 locations in the UK alone.
Bernd Zipper: I had the chance to visit your store in Birmingham and it looked more like a coffee lounge. Are customers accepting this idea?
Peter Gunning: Yes! They really like it. We had a little party last month for existing customers and they loved it. We’re already seeing people come in for a coffee and then come back later to talk about printing or web. We’re trying to make a hub for business people to come in. To drink a coffee, meet a friend and maybe they’ll think of us, next time they need some print or help with ecommerce.
Bernd Zipper: Your offer is more related to SMB (Small and Medium-sized businesses) – how do you see this part of the market?
Peter Gunning: Our business has always been designed with SMB in mind. Although we have quite a few large clients and loads of famous names buy from us, it’s small businesses we focus on. We try to be the ‘one stop shop’ for small business. Whether it’s help with ecommerce, booking apps, signs or print – we want to help. And to be the place where they know to come.
“The Nettl concept is a business idea with potential for the future. In addition to web- and print-based marketing solutions, the customer gets additional advice and a design-related implementation service in particular.” – Bernd Zipper
Bernd Zipper: To constantly offer online print is the basis for your idea, is this more like a closed B2B offer or how do you manage the customer connection?
Peter Gunning: A bit of both. Our partners can use our platform to build closed shops for multi-site clients. They can throw up a branded microsite with web2print templates, built directly from Indesign in minutes. We also help many to sell to clients-they’ve-not-met-yet with public shops. But many of our Nettls also opt to include a printing.com subscription. That means that we manage the website and they get online orders from their existing customers and new one in their postcode area. They use the internet to make the relationship more efficient, but are based locally to the client, so can get to know them and help them offline.
Bernd Zipper: What do your financial perspectives on Nettl and the new concept look like?
Peter Gunning: For many potential partners, they’re probably thinking they need to recruit a new member of staff to start winning website work. We show them how to use their existing team. To give their designers the skills they need. The Nettl subscription is much less than adding a part time designer. So they can start to grow, then scale their team when they’ve started winning more work.
Bernd Zipper: So, if you´re partnering with smaller, local partners – is Nettl in the end nothing more than a franchising model?
Peter Gunning: We don’t really call it a franchise. That’s deliberate. Generally, a franchise model is very restrictive. A typical franchise is about you following the franchisor’s business model and not varying from it at all. We see Nettl as a bolt-on to an existing business. It’s more like a software subscription and brand licence. You can take the bits you think are relevant and use them. Use a little, or use the lot. That’s down to you.
Bernd Zipper: Ok, got it – how you would describe the chances for potential Nettl partners – what distinguishes them from being just franchise partners?
Peter Gunning: A few years ago, the industry looked bleak. High street print shops were closing every week. We’ve helped many transition their business into something that’s relevant today. I love it when I talk to someone who’s been doing Nettl for a year and they tell us how it’s transformed their business. They’ve moved away from skinny margins on low value orders, into building high-margin projects and having a consultative relationship with clients. They still sell lots of print. It’s just different to how it was.
Bernd Zipper: As a backbone you´ve got the powerful software architecture of printing.com – what makes this relationship work?
Peter Gunning: We built our software platform, w3p, to power the printing.com network, which grew to 300 locations at the peak. You talk about how much of online print is in closed networks and it’s true. We were operating a closed network via the internet since 2001. Our Nettl network uses the same software, which we upgraded to make sense for working with multiple web projects at the same time. It’s everything that a modern design studio needs to interact with clients online – preflighting, proofing, asset store, templates and all the things for managing pitches, proposals, projects and deployments.
Bernd Zipper: Thanks – please share your vision of online print in 2020 with us…
Peter Gunning: We think that print still has a place in the local community. When we exhibit at trade shows we say “the print shop is dead” but then “long live the print shop”. Today there’s been a convergence. Sign companies sell print. Designers sell web. Printers sell signs. All graphic businesses have started to converge into one another. We see Nettl as the natural evolution of this. We’re determined to grow Nettl into the largest network of web studios in the world. It’s already the largest in the UK. We’re looking for international partners in other countries who share our vision and want to help us get there. Take what we’ve learned and launch in your country, with our help.
My take: to enjoy close working relationships with customers in an age of all-round availability of print offerings requires providers to come up with something special. Of course the major eBusiness or eCommerce basics still work – but in an age of fiercely competitive markets are these going to become increasingly more expensive? Why not then go to where customers are on home ground? Why not make local use of your online print infrastructure, which has already been set up in any case, by employing local scouts? Nettl’s idea is a great start – I also believe that we will be seeing even more business ideas of this kind in the future. But Nettl only works because the company provides an integrated offering for small and mid-sized business customers. The customer not only gets web- and print-based marketing solutions but also additional advice and a design-related implementation service from Nettl. That is expensive if businesses themselves have to fund the human resources needed. For that reason the idea of establishing a partner network, while not new, is an ideal way of establishing a local presence quickly. That’s because local Nettl partners not only know their local markets, but they also usually have an excellent network of contacts. There are currently 80 Nettl partners operating in the UK. I wonder when Nettl is going to cross the English Channel. Great idea, has potential.