Letterpress online – does that work? Letterjazz recently went online with www.letterpresso.com following a protracted preparatory phase. This is an analog technology that is now available online, but which is not focusing on mass production and discount pricing. A good reason to talk with Letterjazz owner, Sven Winterstein.
Bernd Zipper: www.letterpresso.com went online in March and, as you have told me, you have already obtained your first orders. What does it feel like suddenly being an online print provider?
Sven Winterstein: In a word – exciting. It is not only gratifying to see the store gain acceptance so quickly – that customer feedback motivates and rewards you to some extent. You also learn a lot about operating a store and about the required processes and at the same time you have to remedy all kinds of teething problems, and do it fast – it’s virtually like operating on a living patient.
Bernd Zipper: You announced in your presentation at OPS 2015 that your store would be going online within a few weeks. It has now taken nearly a year for you to actually go live. What hurdles or challenges, starting with the idea and ending with the store going live, did you have to overcome?
Sven Winterstein: On the one hand we relocated our business very much on the spur of the moment in early summer 2015 after a long search for suitable premises. On the other hand we grew by more than 70 percent last year, meaning that the staff and infrastructure we had previously were not enough to cope. Pretty demanding but then again a great opportunity for change. We therefore initially created two new jobs. This month a new colleague joined us and she is responsible primarily for pushing the technical development of the store forward.
Store development had simply stood still all summer long and in the end a love of detail was more of a hindrance than a help. You can imagine how happy I was to be able to launch the store at last.
Bernd Zipper: Your main business is actually customized letterpress jobs, which to date have been handled by Letterjazz. Individual and uniquely appealing – that’s your approach. How are you actioning that now with your new online store? Should it be regarded as more of a complement to your existing business or are you intending to sell all your products online only in the future?
Sven Winterstein: I believe the two complement each other superbly. Many typically recurrent enquiries are now covered by Letterpresso.com; nobody has to draft a mail to request pricing for 300 cards or 500 beermats any more. Our new store now makes that process far more convenient. Our custom offering will not only be retained but will also evolve better under the Letterjazz name. That’s because my team can now focus better on challenging customer projects, where in addition to letterpress we can also apply other printing methods and special finishing techniques. These often involve the issue of whether challenging print ideas are feasible, which is still right up my street.
Bernd Zipper: Which store system do you use? And why did you decide to go with this system?
Sven Winterstein: Given that I perceived the research phase as being really time-consuming – that was back in the fall of 2014, printQ – a Magento plugin, specially made for the print industry and particularly web-to-print – caught our attention after a series of detours. The high-performance Editor was ultimately what persuaded us. Furthermore we found the really young printQ team very likable right from the start. We already make use of the web-to-print functionality in the store, but don’t yet fully exploit, for example, the Editor’s preview options.
Bernd Zipper: Well, just launching an online store is not enough, that’s when the hard work really starts. What next steps do you have planned?
Sven Winterstein: (chuckles) Yes, somebody forgot to schedule some breathing space. Last year we compiled a very extensive list of activities for smaller companies, which in essence begins with the obligatory SEO. We are already superbly positioned in the letterpress market environment. However a new baby means you almost have to start from the beginning again, just like in real life. I don’t want to reveal too much, but suffice it to say that we want to make sparing use of paid advertising and appeal more with content. However we are not just going to rely on DIY content, but also aim to invest any money saved by not placing ads in professionally written content. Professionals are, for example, considerably better at drawing attention to bold-as-brass ideas by adding viral ingredients, specifically moving-image content and PR of course as well.
Bernd Zipper: And finally a brief question about the market and how it’s developing. Do you get the feeling that competition is getting stiffer, particularly in the letterpress segment? Or do you see it as more of an opportunity, given that letterpress is really en vogue and currently experiencing a renaissance, particularly in business cards? (I reported on this last week)
Sven Winterstein: People, who consider themselves eminently wise, tried to tell me nearly ten years ago that it will be a flash-in-the-pan trend lasting two to three years and after that you can forget all about it. I am convinced that letterpress will remain a niche of a really manageable size, yet it is slowly becoming established alongside other printing methods and delivers a look and feel that doesn’t age. At any rate, I still have a passion for it, even after many years and our customers from those early days still keep on coming back. To answer your question about competition – it’s like with good restaurants. As soon as you start working with cheap ingredients, you can undercut your competitors on price, but in the end you only attract those customers, who regard price as the key factor in their decision-making and who might prefer to go and eat elsewhere next time. To a very large extent the work we do can’t be automated, and that’s guaranteed to remain the case. I also think a ruinous price war is unlikely. I am not worried about typically small letterpress studios, where the owners operate the presses themselves. However the sheet-fed printers hoping to earn money by jumping on the letterpress bandwagon are in for a surprise, because letterpress customers are just as discerning as production is demanding. You can’t just do it as a sideline, at any rate not with any credibility and authenticity. What I find gratifying is that we maintain good relations with a large number of our colleagues – you could almost call it a small community. And you then realize which companies have a passion for this business. Customers then sense this passion too.
Bernd Zipper: If you consider purely letterpress providers, i.e. those that offer neither offset print nor modern services, your business has advanced in the last few years to become the largest letterpress studio. What are your objectives for the medium-term future?
Sven Winterstein: When we moved into our industrial loft nearly a year ago, I said, that will have to do, size-wise. In terms of staff I definitely want to ensure that our “family feel” is maintained. You can quickly destroy that if you pursue a ‘growth at any price’ strategy and that would be fatal. I am assuming that 12 people would be a good team size for us, and we are not so far off that any more. Above all we want to improve in terms of processes and other operational issues, i.e. grow in qualitative terms. So we will then have to take a critical look at some processes and software too.
While the new store is learning to walk, packaging in combination with letterpress is the latest iron I have in the fire. E-business print will become a sales channel, there’s now no way of avoiding it. Furthermore you keep mentioning the term mass customization, which everybody was again talking about at the OPS – that is definitely on my radar in the future.