Created In A Garage, This Litho & Digital Print Firm Continues To Grow Stronger

Neil Long outside Longridge Print FactoryLitho offset press? Check. Folder? Check. Platesetter running in airing cupboard? Check. Wait a minute, what's that doing in there? While you wouldn't believe it to look at the company now, Longridge Print grew from very humble beginnings.

My father Vic would run the Multilith press in our garage with the folder, says Neil Long, managing director of Crowborough commercial printer Longridge Print. He had the paper platesetter in an airing cupboard in the spare room as it was the only place dark enough. Looking back on it, there was the spare room pretty much empty, while the three of us brothers all shared one bedroom. At the time it made sense.

Despite the company now occupying its fourth site in East Sussex since its incarnation in 1969, Long is thinking it may be time to move again, with the printer’s 930m2 residence full to bursting point.

The 25-staff business last year took its first steps into the world of digital print with the purchase of a Canon imagePress C7000VP. Although Longridge doesn’t yet have space for another machine in its current site, Long believes that without its digital press, the company wouldn’t be in the position it is in at the moment.

According to Long, digital print has made the industry interesting again. The past five years have been hard work, but digital has made it fun, he says. He opted for the digital machine in January 2008 and originally started looking at investing between £20,000-£30,000 on a machine, but ended up spending £150,000.

The company took the plunge after realising it could help the business broaden its sales channels by taking on short-run, high-value work. I was looking at moving into digital, but thought it was very much aimed at the low-value jobs worth £10-£15. It didn’t take long to realise that it was bigger than that, he says.

The printer started to take on digital jobs and outsource them to other companies, which made Long realise there was a growing market and a way to add another string to its bow.

Frequent customers

Clients served by the business include advertising agencies, print management companies and end-users. A local firm that specialises in birth announcement cards has become one of the printer’s more frequent digital customers. Longridge produces anything up to 10,000 cards, complete with photo, date of birth and name of the newborn, which are then sent out to friends and family.

Christmas 2008 was the first time I had to produce work while all my employees were away on holiday. I even downloaded a card on Christmas day. I can operate the machine from home with a remote application – or anywhere in the world for that matter.

The company has also benefited from being able to use the same stocks in both its Manroland and Heidelberg litho presses as well as the digital machine. And with Longridge spending around £500,000 a year on silk and gloss paper, it has made significant cost savings.

With its digital operation well and truly bedded in, Long plans to push the business further down the digital route by expanding its personalisation workload. He says: Text, even when personalised, can often be very impersonal. I believe the real benefit comes with using the software to personalise pictures and photos rather than just text.

Exploring web-to-print

According to the Longridge head, databases are the way forward for personalisation. As more people use it, the data will get stronger. People want to know what age you are, your hair colour, the shoes you wear and the sports you like. It’s endless, he explains.

The £2m-turnover printer also wants to explore the growing web-to-print market, but Long says that to operate a profitable programme, you need people to pay for the service to maintain it. It’s about educating the client base and finding the right people he says.

We’re using digital print as a credit crunch issue. It’s about making things more cost-efficient by ordering what they require, essentially print-on-demand.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Speaking to Long, it’s clear that digital has helped transform the company’s operations by opening up new short-run markets and helping to broaden its client base, but he is keen to state that litho still very much has its place at Longridge.

He says: We have an overlap of customers that use both litho and digital, they are complementary technologies. We’re at the point where if a customer wants a job, they do regardless of how it’s printed, as long as it has been done well.

Indeed, doing the job well and building the business is Longridge Print’s focus. The market we’re in is getting tougher and tougher and only those that are truly fit will survive, says Long.

By: Tim Sheahan, PrintWeek, 06 February 2009