Interview: Online print’s CEOs – Onlineprinters is focusing on enhancing/expanding its services

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The big players in the online print industry will continue to grow – decision-makers need to have the right concepts at the ready to achieve this objective. I spoke with Dr. Michael Fries about his perspective on corporate development and the way the industry is evolving…

As in recent years the Initiative Online Print was once again a topic of discussion at this year’s Online Print Symposium. As Initiative members, CEOs are interested in discussing how the online print industry is evolving and in maintaining relationships and making contacts. Our dialog with the movers and shakers in our industry here at beyond-print.de tells you what is required (apart from being good at printing) to be successful in the online print industry. With this in mind, Michael Fries, the chief decision-maker at southern Germany-based Onlineprinters, answered the questions that I put to him about online print and the IOP, which his company joined at the beginning of 2015. Authentic and realistic – as CEO of a group of companies that has operations beyond the borders of the D/A/CH region, he must be aware of what position his business occupies in the online print market.

Bernd Zipper: Keeping it short and sweet, what is Onlineprinters GmbH all about and what distinguishes your business?

Michael Fries: We were among the very first movers in the online print industry and are now one of the largest and most international online print providers in Europe. Via our diedruckerei.de and Onlineprinters brands we currently supply 600,000 customers in 30 countries and last year produced a total of 2.1 billion printed items.

  

 Bernd Zipper: Your webstore has been online since 2004 and you have operated in other countries for some time now. Your current eBusiness print platform covers most business print products. How have your company and your webstore evolved and performed up to now? What print methods, products and services have been added and which have been discontinued?

Michael Fries: Our product portfolio currently includes 10 million versions of around 1500 separate products, ranging from leaflets via brochures through large-format promotional systems. We manufacture in-house using offset and digital printing presses and last year we upgraded our LFP manufacturing capabilities. In 2016 we launched more than 80 new products and actioned smaller print runs and faster production lead times in the case of many print products. This meets market demand. To anticipate your question about sales, we have the right instinct about what our customers want, as most of the products go down well with our customers.

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

Michael Fries: We see plenty of growth potential, particularly in the international arena. Plenty of first-time buyers continue to connect with us. Online offerings are a fact of business life for anybody that purchases print products.

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?

Michael Fries: I personally understand mass customization to mean the individualization of small print runs, so therefore I regard the term that is used to describe what we do as B2B online print providers as being appropriate only to a limited extent. Basically customized print products are those things that our customers want and need to be successful. We see segmented customer approaches driven by small print runs as the key to successful applications and unlocking potential.

 

Even if the amount of printing equipment you have is not synonymous with how successful you are – the finishing facilities at the Neustadt-based print provider produce several million print products annually; source: © Photo by Onlineprinters / diedruckerei.de

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

Michael Fries: We will continue to expand our product range as we have done to date. The key thing here is to identify needs in the marketplace and to listen to your customers. Like everybody else, we will also enhance our services to customers and performance levels. This is a continuous process and not exclusive to the eCommerce sector. Customers are finding out from major players like Amazon et al that almost everything is available the next day –these are the standards by which we need to be judged.

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

Michael Fries: To put it bluntly – provided the quality delivered by the printing method matches customer standards/expectations, it doesn’t actually matter how products are made.

“Onlineprinters – the largest German online print provider – is attracting plenty of attention and earning respect  by enhancing its services and exploiting business potential  in the international B2B sector – and rightly so!” – Bernd Zipper

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?

Michael Fries: Every company must know its own customers and target audiences. Following on from that you need to know in which channels they operate. Target audience-specific messages and offerings can be channeled accordingly. This can determine success or failure – a challenge that every online print provider has to face.

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?

Michael Fries: IOP members share common interests in monitoring technologies, legal developments and perspectives on the market, which can be cultivated effectively in such an environment. Furthermore each company has its own strengths, meaning that the IOP is a good environment for launching partnerships to manufacture specific groups of products or projects to develop new software tools.

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

Michael Fries: That the online print market continues to evolve in a dynamic way, providing sufficient growth opportunities for all IOP members.

My take: Fries and his team have demonstrated very sound judgement in terms of product range and corporate expansion – the recent acquisition of Solopress (UK) means Onlineprinters can internationalize its manufacturing capabilities even more. As far as maintaining relationships in its home market is concerned, Onlineprinters is just as single-minded. And the IOP provides the perfect framework for doing just that, especially since the large number of innovative representatives of the online print industry facilitates and regularly gives rise to coopetition. That demonstrates that online print provider CEOs see what market opportunities they have and exploit them. In summary all I can say is that in certain fields it is worth aligning the standards you adopt for your own company to those applied by successful businesses, if you assume that customer expectations, especially as far as customer approach and logistics are concerned, point the way ahead. That’s what the delegates to the Online Print Symposium learned from a range of different perspectives, not least from the keynotes…

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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