The takeovers in the online print industry continue unabated. This time round the buyer is not Cimpress but another major online print player – Onlineprinters GmbH. But who or what is Solopress – this company is largely unknown in D/A/CH.
Is the online print industry living in an age of mergers and acquisitions? Back then Cimpress, in the guise of Vistaprint, started to acquire profitable competitors – especially abroad, thereby significantly extending both its reach and portfolio. The corporation has now assembled scores of familiar names as brands under its one roof. However there are other print providers that want to and will grow through acquisitions. Onlineprinters has been in the online print business for more than ten years; the company based in the south of Germany is now a successful player with international operations. For a long time now it has not just supplied neighboring countries exclusively from its German production facilities. The company currently operates separate stores in more than ten countries, although it supplies products to customers in more than 30 European countries. To date that was the company’s guiding principle – print centrally and ship quickly to customers abroad using (free) shipping.
However it appears that is about to change. Onlineprinters GmbH is taking Solopress over. First of all Bregal Unternehmerkapital acquired a majority shareholding in Onlineprinters in September 2016, followed by Berlin-based Project A, which paid a single-digit million amount to acquire a stake. Both are obviously focusing on building up shareholdings in European online print providers, given that both Bregal and Project A recently acquired stakes in the Dutch online print provider, Helloprint, which has maintained print partnerships with various print companies in Europe since it was established in 2013 and has grown pretty substantially.
“The direction in which the Onlineprinters Group is headed has been set out – becoming the online print market leader in Europe. Backed up by substantial capital resources, Solopress will not represent the Group’s last acquisition or the last time it expands.” – Bernd Zipper
And now it’s the turn of UK-based Solopress. And what’s behind all of this or rather why is it buying a British online print provider? Solopress is headquartered east of London. The company was established in 1999 with the aim of facilitating shorter lead times and quicker delivery – the issues of automation and efficiency increases are therefore right at the top of CEOs Andy Smith and Aron Priest’s list of priorities. In 2016 the latter accepted the Growing Business Of The Year Award, an award specifically for companies based in the county of Essex, on behalf of the successful online print provider. The futures of both CEOs have also been secured within the Onlineprinters Group, because both of them will remain CEOs and will be shareholders in the Group. At more than 50 different product categories, Solopress achieved an increase in sales in 2016 of over 25 % compared with 2015. The company’s portfolio consists by and large of commodity print products and ranges from business print items via advertising/marketing materials through photo gift items. Onlineprinters’ new acquisition is therefore one of the UK’s largest online print providers – and so it can now honor its 24-hour delivery guarantee more than 800 km west of Germany too. I can well imagine that Solopress will continue to operate as a separate brand, in order to retain “home advantage”. More than 200 employees at the EM- and QM-certified online print provider serve more than 150,000 customers, including such illustrious names as Red Bull, BBC or Western Union.
Onlineprinters’ increased financial strength has enabled it to add a profitable and strategically located print company, which when seen from a product portfolio perspective (both do B2B and B2C) is similarly positioned in terms of spread and depth. As far as customer satisfaction is concerned, Solopress is also up there with the best – it is increasingly printing jobs on recycled paper using “environmentally compatible” inks and the feedback it gets is consistently positive, both in relation to speed and quality. This British company also actively promotes its eco-credentials, highlighting that it takes ‘corporate environment responsibility’, meaning it appeals to customers with a “green” conscience – definitely a very reasonable complement to the speed and price arguments.
My take: the major online print providers will continue to grow in 2017 – a statement I made at the end of 2016. The fresh capital that Onlineprinters GmbH received in 2016 is now enabling it to invest abroad, in order to secure and enhance its market position. That shows that some investors recognize the massive potential of online print and are investing their money in stable, flourishing businesses in the online print industry in an age when Cimpress – and possibly Amazon in the future too – is seemingly gaining more and more of an upper hand. With regard to Brexit, the purchase of companies in the UK can also help to secure relationships with customers in the long term and therefore prevent impediments to growth. Onlineprinters has thus made post-Brexit provisions in the UK by acquiring Solopress and its broad customer base. This takeover certainly will not be the last one in the industry in 2017…