Interview: online print’s CEOs – Longo’s modern-day eBusiness print service

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Print platforms, printing and print logistics – Longo provides a full web-to-print service. How does a provider with such broad-based market positioning view the online print market?

The Initiative Online Print represents the interests of large and small online print providers alike. And given that several of its members will again be attending the Online Print Symposium next week, collaboration within the IOP will also be discussed. That’s why I am reporting here at beyond-print.de not only about what’s happening in the overall market, but also about what individual decision-making units, i.e. CEOs, are thinking and doing. But who are the decision-makers in the wider online print industry? First-hand information is provided here to portray and get a feel for where a number of online print CEOs from the D/A/CH region and Initiative members are at now and where they are headed in the future. As previously advised, the interviews here at beyond-print.de are set to continue and today it is the turn of Longo Deutschland GmbH from the south of Germany. I spoke with Helfried Prünster, CEO of Longo Deutschland, to get his view of how the Augsburg-based company (the parent company is based in Bolzano/Alto Adige) is positioned and performing.

Bernd Zipper: Keeping it short and sweet: what is Longo Deutschland GmbH and what distinguishes your business?

Source: Longo

Helfried Prünster: Longo Deutschland in Augsburg is the digital print skills center of the Bolzano-based Longo Group and is responsible for the group’s eBusiness print activities. We create and operate B2B stores for different customer groups in Europe as well as the www.tapeterie.com B2C platform – our distribution channel for tailor-made nonwoven wallpapers. We have now also gotten established as a service provider of web-to-print solutions. Our clients here include, for example, Mymuesli and other industrial businesses as well as several print companies. At the beginning we never thought the issue of “coopetition” would have such an impact on our business.

Bernd Zipper: Your current eBusiness print platform covers most business print products. How has your company, including the platform and your other print services, evolved up to now? What print methods, products and services have been added and which have been discontinued?

Helfried Prünster:  Large-format products and point-of-sale solutions (usually customized and mini print runs) are increasingly being added to the business print products. One trend that we have noticed over the last two years is that our customers have outsourced the storage of their marketing materials to us and we handle packing and shipping. But that is not new. Added to all this is the fact that our customers are now requesting us to showcase specific services on the Internet. Our eBusiness activities are thus constantly increasing. We have specialized to a certain extent in Magento – that already distinguishes us from other market players.

Bernd Zipper: How do you see the online print sector in Germany evolving in 2017 and beyond?

Helfried Prünster: Online print will continue to grow, probably not as rapidly in the B2C segment as in the B2B business. For us “smaller providers” that means on the one hand that we want to and will cooperate with the major providers, and on the other we need to be very wary of getting “eaten up”. We are clearly focusing on B2B, as we are measured here more on performance than on price. That is likely to apply to others as well.

“Longo is definitely moving with the times, given its stock of production resources and online offerings. Others could learn a thing or two from its view of the market.” – Bernd Zipper

Bernd Zipper: Mass customization is the customer magnet of the future. Which business activities do you see as having a key impact on sales in the future and why? Where can potential be exploited?

Helfried Prünster: I regard mass customization as having massive potential for every industry. Each one of us views a brand as being of a higher quality if it seeks to appeal to us in a suitably customized way. That goes as far as the shipping packaging that a certain fashion label is set to customize in the future. Since we can handle nearly every type of print product and can even usually do so using our own printing presses, we are geared up for mass customization and, to be honest, we have already been geared up for several years.

Bernd Zipper: In which areas are online print providers set to develop their offerings? In which direction are you headed?

Helfried Prünster: Online print providers will offer more premium-quality-finish products, since they can barely reach new customer tiers by taking the standard 4C approach. This segment is now characterized by seriously cutthroat competition. As far as B2B is concerned, we are heading in the direction of more customized eBusiness print applications, which means that the end product does not always have to be a printed product. But I believe that we at Longo – a company with a traditional background – still have a lot to learn about properly making “online” an essential part of our day-to-day business. That takes time, of course, because if somebody has worked offline for 15 years, they first of all have to learn what it means to do business in an online environment. We are attempting bit by bit to enhance this business activity without losing our B2B focus.

Bernd Zipper: How important are printing or production methods in an age when the promotion of products frequently determines market success or failure?

Helfried Prünster: Every printing press is merely an output station and is absolutely replaceable – and nevertheless it is vital to be able to apply or employ the most important printing methods, at least as far as offering a 24-hour service is concerned. In this respect we are sometimes able to outperform the major providers, because we are simply quicker. Inkjet is of major interest to me, because this combination of online and needs-based high-end print will open up new markets.

Bernd Zipper: In an age of social media, service and mobile pressures on online businesses as well as an extremely diverse range of customer requirements, it is becoming more and more of a complex task to position a business adequately in the marketplace. How do you achieve that?

Helfried Prünster: We make use of all online channels and provide our premium customers with a printed customer magazine packed with useful information. Making use of the wide range of different online channels is getting more complex and we are set to boost our headcount in this area.

Bernd Zipper: The IOP is a forum where various, to some extent competing members of the online print community meet. Why did you decide that your business should join this initiative?

Helfried Prünster: We don’t regard them as competition at all – even a small business can supply an interesting niche product to one of the major online print providers and in return benefit from the big boys’ production networks. The days when every business did everything themselves are long gone. We value the open communication within the group and the partnerships that it generates.

Bernd Zipper: If you were granted a wish in relation to the current and/or future online print industry, what would it be?

Helfried Prünster: If manufacturers and customers were minded to press ahead faster with mass customization, in order to position their brands more effectively in the marketplace. That would lead to very exciting projects and more innovative solutions. Oh yes and it would be very helpful if the associations took action on the training front. When we are look to recruit staff for our eBusiness activities, we have to invest a lot of time and money to attract software developers and IT project specialists to the print industry, and then we have to teach them the ABC of printing. Training and education are urgently called for here.

My take: Originally a litho specialist, Longo has increasingly morphed into an all-rounder, as far as web-to-print services are concerned. In my opinion Helfried Prünster has sized up market requirements and the sensible way to deal with competitors, with whom you can establish profitable partnerships, correctly. Longo joined the IOP for good reason, because the diversity and quality of our members enables us to manage and maintain an important knowledge, dialog and networking platform. And at last somebody other than myself has spoken out on the issue of training and the lack of qualified professionals in the online print industry – a fair amount of action is going to have to be taken here in the next few years… 

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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