Since July 1, 2019, Onlineprinters has been managed by Roland Keppler, after having taken over as CEO from Dr. Michael Fries. Due to his previous activities, Keppler has profound know-how in corporate development and the internationalization of companies.
In his professional career, the industrial engineer has led companies such as Europcar Car Rental, the car sharing provider, car2go, and TUIfly as CEO, where digitalization of the business model, entry into international markets, and focus on customer needs played a major role. After a solid six months as CEO of Onlineprinters, Roland Keppler met with Bernd Zipper.
Bernd Zipper: Mr. Keppler, you have now been in office for approximately 200 days as CEO of Onlineprinters. However, you do not come from the printing industry. So, the question naturally arises: what were the first few months at an online printer like?
Roland Keppler: It was a lot of fun, I must say. I made a very conscious decision for this industry and this company. Indeed, I come primarily from industries that focus on mobility. But I also come from industries that have undergone very – if not to say – dramatic changes in recent years. Aviation today is no longer comparable with that of 20 years ago, and the same is true of car rentals. The fact that the printing industry has also changed and continues to change very dramatically is something that I find very appealing.
Bernd Zipper: Have you previously had contact with Online print – or have you jumped into the deep end?
Roland Keppler: As far as Online print and its principles are concerned – this is of course largely uncharted territory. But from a customer’s point of view, there have been one or two interactions with print, albeit few. I’ve always worked closely with my marketing departments in the various companies I’ve worked for, and I’ve noticed that the printing industry is evolving.
Bernd Zipper: At Europcar and TUI you have successfully implemented projects, especially in the area of B2B and internationalization. Now one could assume that there is a deficit at Onlineprinters in the area of B2B customers, or at least there are plans to further develop exactly these areas?
Roland Keppler: Onlineprinters is already quite successful in the international market and – no, I was not called in to push such a specific topic. The main objective will be to drive our business model further.
There is a technological aspect to this, which plays a major role. In addition, there is the issue of customer orientation, i.e. further developing our range of products and services in line with changing customer expectations, and then there is also the issue of further internationalization.
Onlineprinters is a company that entered other markets very early on, grew organically through its own brand and then also through acquisitions. A very important aspect of my work is to further develop the group concept and to promote cooperation between companies and between countries.
Bernd Zipper: Indeed, Onlineprinters is very international, can you tell us about any future expansions? Is this being considered? Where is the business headed?
Roland Keppler: We have mastered the first few steps very successfully. We have printers in Scandinavia, Great Britain and even a production facility in Szczecin, Poland. And, yes, we are also considering other countries.
Bernd Zipper: Does this mean expansion through acquisitions abroad, rather than investing in the German market to grow as a group?
Roland Keppler: We continue to grow organically very strongly. However, we are also growing through acquisitions, something that is perhaps not so well perceived in Germany. But we do occasionally take over smaller printing operations. In general, as a company we are well prepared to make further acquisitions – this may be in other countries, but it may also be in Germany.
At the beginning of the year, for example, we took over RIB Industrie-Buchbinderei in Waldbüttelbrunn in the Würzburg district. With this purchase, we are building on a partnership that has proven its worth over these many years. The purchase was made as part of an age-related succession plan. The location, with its 15 employees, is now managed operationally by Peter Hemberger, who had previously managed RIB with two other shareholders, that co-founded the company and have now retired for age related reasons.
Bernd Zipper: Does this purchase have an impact on production?
Roland Keppler: With the integration into the Onlineprinters group, all catalogue products are now processed at RIB. There are also plans to relocate the finishing of brochures with special requirements to Waldbüttelbrunn in the medium term. However, this will not affect the jobs in Neustadt an der Aisch or Waldbüttelbrunn. Neustadt is home to the main production facility for online printers, which now has five plants and includes the latest generation of offset and digital printing presses as well as machines for finishing and large-format printing production. In addition to orders for online printers, RIB will continue to work for external customers.
“I already believe that there will be further consolidation in online printing. But consolidation does not automatically mean that suddenly only two or three players will dominate the entire market. Customer requirements are far too specific for that.” – Roland Keppler
Bernd Zipper: This sounds less like a strategic expansion of the business and more like securing production.
Roland Keppler: Basically, it is. Although we have now bought a printing plant in Spain for strategic reasons. We have not yet communicated this, but I can entrust it to you.
Bernd Zipper: I’m listening intently …
Roland Keppler: In January, we completed the acquisition of the Spanish printing company Copysell and the associated large-format production facility SombraCero. Copysell has its own production facility south of Madrid and five shops in the greater area of the Spanish metropolis.
Since 2011, our Spanish customers have had access to their own online printer shop. This has since developed rather positively. Nevertheless, the market in Spain still offers considerable potential, which we now want to tap in to, together with our new subsidiary. With Madrid we have a suitable location to quickly supply customers on the entire Iberian Peninsula as well as in Portugal with printed products.
Bernd Zipper: So, let me get this straight: Copysell is an offset and digital printing company with a focus on large format?
Roland Keppler: Yes, and with our Spanish colleagues, who have managed the companies up until now, we have gained experienced specialists and expect the increased market proximity to give us better development opportunities within the market. Our locations in Germany are also benefiting from the growth of the Onlineprinters Group.
Bernd Zipper: That sounds very plausible. Let’s stay on the topic of abroad a little longer. The takeover of Solopress in the UK was a smart move. Their business model is remarkable, the location is great, especially in order to serve Greater London and deliver within one day – that’s a nice showcase for further business models.
Now this sword of Damocles Brexit has been hanging over the EU and England for a long time. We all know how that turned out. How did you prepare for this?
Roland Keppler: For us it is more of an opportunity than a risk. That’s why I wouldn’t speak of the Sword of Damocles – on the contrary. First of all, it is an advantage to be on site with the production. Should it actually become more difficult to exchange goods during the course of Brexit, we are able to produce and deliver on site. In addition, we had quite a special economic situation in England, due to one election after the other having come, which always gives our industry a boost. In this respect, both ourselves and our colleagues there are very busy with everything that is going on.
Of course, we also prepared ourselves early on for scenarios involving Brexit. We know how to relocate production to England – in addition to what we already have – and how to set up the appropriate logistics to ensure that everything still works.
Bernd Zipper: Prior to your time at Onlineprinters there was speculation about a possible IPO. Do these plans still exist or is there a new strategy?
Roland Keppler: This is a question you have to ask the shareholders. Naturally, it is not at the discretion of the management of Onlineprinters, firstly to push such matters and secondly to comment on them.
Bernd Zipper: I would have expected more concrete results.
Roland Keppler: I can’t give you anything more concrete. Let’s leave it at that: I’ll keep you informed if there is any news.
Bernd Zipper: Okay, agreed. Then let’s move on to another strategic issue. In the world of online printers there are hardly any print products left that you don’t produce. Traditional printed products, as well as advertising technology and so on. Especially in the portfolio of advertising technology, a lot has been invested in recent years. How important is advertising technology for online printers?
Roland Keppler: On the sales side it is relatively important. We make very good sales with advertising technology and have strong double-digit growth in this area – also through merchandising and other products that are not based on paper. So, advertising technology is very important, which is why we will continue to expand this area.
Bernd Zipper: Evidently little has changed in the last few years in terms of online presence. Certainly, some things have changed behind the scenes, but in general the branding has remained relatively the same – relatively little has happened. If you want to serve B2B better, you need more B2B portals, you need clients. In fact, a lot needs to be done here.
Roland Keppler: As you correctly say, the front end of our online shops appears to have remained visually the same. That was part of the plan. Nevertheless, a lot has changed. Among those changes, we converted the main navigation from a product-oriented to an application-oriented approach a few months ago. We are making such adjustments with a great deal of tact and sensitivity, because we want to offer our existing customers a consistent shopping experience. At the same time, such adaptations are intended to guide new customers even faster to the desired product. In the background, our technical experts work very intensively on new functionalities and services. For corporate customers, we are creating technical connectivity options. What we do with our team is very, very good. That is also the reason why Onlineprinters has grown so extensively in recent years. But I agree with you that we need to develop further and also improve in some areas – that’s true.
Bernd Zipper: Growth must also be handled properly. You have now moved to Fürth with the organization, IT and the call center. But production, product management and everything related to production is still located in Neustadt. How do you manage to make sure that neither of these two groups of people feel somehow separated or disconnected?
Roland Keppler: This is a point that I am pushing forward strongly via myself and improving cooperation. Even though Neustadt and Fürth are not very far apart in terms of kilometers, I still have to be careful not to create two islands. What I am constantly promoting and strongly demanding is that the teams get together and that management meetings take place in both Fürth and Neustadt. I attach great importance to project work and project management. That also means bringing people together in a structured way. Incidentally, we also do this on an international level to promote cooperation between international organizations and the various departments. Communication is therefore very important for us: Visibly showing that we are on the ground, working together and showing consideration for each other are very central issues.
Bernd Zipper: Do you also occasionally go to the production halls when you are on the road in Neustadt?
Roland Keppler: Absolutely. I am present in Neustadt at least once per week.
“We continue to grow organically very strongly. However, we are also growing through acquisitions, something that is perhaps not so well perceived in Germany. But we do occasionally take over smaller printing operations.” – Roland Keppler
Bernd Zipper: As an experienced manager, someone who has also managed much larger companies, what have you learned since you joined Onlineprinters?
Roland Keppler: Oof – of course I have learned a lot about the products, the production processes and the IT that supports the whole operation. That was completely new territory for me. But what I also learned is that we have a lot of very experienced employees who learned the business from scratch. And not just the printing business, but also the online printing business. That is the real backbone of Onlineprinters.
But that’s also what’s fun about working with people who are passionate about their work, who understand the products, who understand the processes behind them – and who, despite all the things that can go wrong here and there, end up doing an incredible amount of work in the service of the customer – that’s really impressive.
Bernd Zipper: Not so long ago, several major players from the online print business said on stage, at the Online Print Symposium: “Hey, dear smaller companies, there is no point at all in entering this market. The market is saturated. We big players have this under control, we’d rather you work with us!” What’s your opinion?
Roland Keppler: I do believe that there will be further consolidation. The way I see it, the printing industry is still a little further behind than other industries that have tackled digitization or changes in business models earlier. But consolidation doesn’t usually mean that suddenly only two or three players dominate the entire market. On the other hand, customer requirements are so specific and special that even smaller printers will always be justified.
Bernd Zipper: B2B is one of the most attractive, albeit perhaps still a hidden growing market in online printing. Anyone who wants to serve this market cleverly has to make a big impact in e-commerce but also have a mobile strategy. After all, around 40 percent of online business in Western Europe is conducted on the move. Is there a strategy?
Roland Keppler: There are ideas, but at the moment we’re at a point where we can’t talk about them
Bernd Zipper: What do you believe or want Onlineprinters to be in ten years? Is there a vision?
Roland Keppler: We are continuing to expand the strong position we have in both the German and European market. Many countries are still far behind Germany in terms of online penetration. But I personally believe that in ten years’ time well over 50 percent of print volume will be online print. We want to play a part in this and be one of the major European groups.
Bernd Zipper: Printers are a funny folk that say, “You have to have black on your fingers in order to take somebody seriously.” After all, I am not a trained printer and have had to struggle with this for a long time. How important is print for you? Is it just the job or is there still the newspaper on the breakfast table, the book on the train or the business card that you particularly appreciate?
Roland Keppler: My wife and I are newspaper readers and the printed newspaper is a must for us. No matter where we have lived, one of the first actions was always to order one of the local newspapers. Even the printed book is still our first choice: just last weekend – you could rent one – we had ourselves locked in a library where you could browse for two hours at your leisure. We walked out of there with a decent stack of books. Sure, we also use e-books because that offers advantages in certain applications. But if you ask us where the preference lies, it’s clearly in the printed product.
Bernd Zipper: In other words, “addicted to print” so to speak?
Roland Keppler: Definitely. I also admit that I believe in this industry because printing will always be there for the foreseeable future. Writing and printing are one of the greatest cultural achievements that mankind has ever produced. That is why I believe that print will always be there, despite digitalization and the Internet.
Bernd Zipper: Thank you very much. Thank you for your time