Sunday 25 March 2018

Printers winning quality race after making shift to digital

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Gerry Kelly and David O’Neill of Sprintprint. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Sean Gallagher with Gerry Kelly and David O’Neill of Sprintprint. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Located in the Greenogue Business Park in Rathcoole, Co Dublin, Sprint Print was set up by Gerry Kelly and David O'Neill in 2012 after the printing company where they both worked, closed down. Today they employ three staff and have an annual turnover of €700,000.

"We are essentially book printers who specialise in producing short runs using digital technologies. However, in addition to books we also print everything from brochures and reports to technical and product manuals," says Gerry, the company's managing director.

"Our unique selling point is that we can do short runs of anywhere between 20 to 2,000 copies and, because we use digital technology, there are no set up costs compared to traditional litho printing and no waste. From the very first copy to the very last, everything that comes out of the printer is top quality," he adds.

Among the company's growing customer base are professional publishing houses, colleges and universities, self-published authors, design agencies and government bodies.

"Our customers no longer need to sit on large stockpiles of books or materials and can simply order whatever number of units they need as and when they require them. It's also ideal for printed products that need to be updated or changed or where a fast turnaround is required," says David.

Both men have spent their working lives in the print business.

Gerry - who grew up in Athy, Co Kildare - studied marketing firstly in Carlow Institute of Technology and later in DIT. His first job was in marketing with Colour Print in Chapelizod where he spent five years before moving into sales with Cahill Printers. After a further five years there, he moved to a role as sales manager with Micro Print which specialised in printing computer manuals where he spent the next seven years. His next move saw him join Colour Books where he progressed to the role of sales director eventually buying into the business as an equity shareholder.

It was here that he got to know David. From Crumlin in Dublin, David had started out as an apprentice printer with Plate Craft printers and platemakers before moving to INM. Another five years were spent working for Future Print before joining Colour Books, where he spent the next 16 years, first as pre-press manager and later in sales.

"In 2011, the company closed and both David and I were unemployed. Keen to get back to work and back to the sector we knew best, we decided to combine our expertise and set up Sprint Print the following year," says Gerry.

The pair ploughed whatever savings they had into their new venture.

"We realised that digital was going to be the future and so we invested in buying state-of-the-art digital printing equipment in order to specialise in high-quality, fast turnaround, short-run printing," says David.

They then hired John Molloy as their pre-production specialist. He too had lost his job when the printing firm he supplied also closed down and so the pair were pleased to be able to offer him a role in the company.

With support from Ulster Bank and a number of paper and machine suppliers, and drawing on their extensive network of contacts built up over a lifetime in the sector, the pair quickly won their first contract with Irish Academic Press.

When this was followed shortly afterwards by a contract with Gill Books, they knew they were on the right track. Since then they have focused on slow and organic growth but now feel ready to take their business to the next level.

"We have now set our sights on two key objectives; growth in terms of revenues and diversification in terms of the type of sectors we are pursuing," says Gerry.

"We are currently in the process of further upgrading our digital equipment in order to double our capacity. We are also looking at new areas of business such as the food and hospitality sectors where hotels and restaurants require brochures and menus printed but where it is necessary to continually update or amend these depending on menu or price changes, or where there are special offers or promotions," he adds.

While the impetus for setting up their own business came from losing their jobs, perhaps for Gerry and David this has turned out to be a sort of blessing in disguise.

Today, they are in charge of their own destiny. Both tell me they remain excited and as passionate as ever about their sector and that they still love to see the finished product roll off their digital print equipment.

Gerry and David's experience of setting up their own business as a result of losing their jobs is one which is replicated around the country and across different sectors. Theirs is a positive story that has the potential to encourage and inspire others who find themselves in a similar position.

"We've enjoyed every minute of the ride so far. We have the years of experience in the sector behind us, have built a solid business and a strong customer base from which to grow. We're now looking forward to the future with optimism and excitement," says Gerry.

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