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The PrintOClock’s tour de force

8 July 2020

I am delighted to share my first INKISH Skype with Antoine Roux, founder of PrintOClock. During this interview in French with English subtitles, conducted as part of “OVER THE SKYPE” INKISH, Antoine Roux tells us how PrintOClock managed the tour de force of making masks during the containment period, when everywhere in France stocks were running out, but also how this health crisis has impacted 1/ the behaviour of its customers, 2/ the working methods of its teams and 3/ the reactions of its suppliers and partners. It also gives its opinion on the “MADE IN FRANCE” put forward by the authorities and public opinion following the repercussions that such a pandemic has had on the economy and on French printing works in particular. He reveals to us the essential criteria to meet success today and tomorrow in Web-to-print, in online printing in general, especially in this context of health and economic crises triggered by the covid-19.

Thanks again Antoine Roux, for being the sponsor of for INKISH France.

The interview was fascinating. Enjoy it!

English transcription

Yves d’Aviau de Ternay: Good afternoon Antoine Roux,

Antoine Roux: Good afternoon Yves

YAT: Thanks again for accepting my invitation, I know you already know INKISH and even if Morten Reitoft, who is the editor-in-chief of INKISH recently interviewed you at the last Online Print Symposium, could you tell us a few words about you and PrintOClock?

AR: Yes indeed, I am Antoine Roux, I founded PrintOClock twelve years ago now. PrintOClock is an online printing shop for professionals, hence the B2B market. PrintOClock employs 70 people, about half of them in production, because it is also a traditional commercial printer, very digitally oriented in production, and then the other half of the staff in the offices with tech, marketing and support functions. So 70 people, 12 and a half million in sales last year, … and therefore we are 98% present on the French market. The French market represents 98% of our business.

YAT: Thank you very much Antoine. If I am also delighted today to interview you, because I was very impressed by your responsiveness to offer on the market a protective mask “Made in Toulouse”, at a time when stocks were running out everywhere. Could you tell us how you pulled off this stunt?

AR: So we started out pretty late, i.e., when the containment starts, we focused more on technical subjects in particular and on quite strategic and structuring issues. For a month, we have been moving at a good pace on these substantive issues, and then, we kept each other informed with fellow members on a regular basis, people who have e-commerce in the textile industry for example, and at some point, we said, we can’t just sit on our hands during this period when we have machines, can’t we all just get together and create a mask? So we switched and then PrintOClock, decided to go for the kid’s mask. It’s true that at the time, it was quite murky, we didn’t know if children were carriers of the virus, to what extent to protect them, etc. It was all a blur, like everything else, we’ve all taken off the courses, but so we went with that theme, and so there, it was the discovery of a profession, we approached IFTH (Institut Français de Textile et de l’Habillement) for advice, to source materials since we didn’t buy elastic bands for example. We didn’t buy any textiles, other than T-shirts, finished products, and so this has been the journey of the fighter, but also a great adventure, to achieve its purpose, to produce the children’s masks, and at the same time, we’ve been doing a lot of business on the standard surgical mask, and the adult mask. This allowed the business to be revived and eventually re-insured… a big momentum in the company, that is to say that little by little people were going into partial unemployment… and then when we started this new activity, it was quite exhilarating, in the sense that the employees were reactivated. Every day we reactivated one or two employees… because we were quite successful in this market.

YAT: Well done, that was very impressive. A beautiful example of agility. Precisely Antoine, how has the current context impacted by this Covid-19 pandemic? I am interested in 1st the behaviour of your customers and from your dealers, but I’d also like to know 2nd on your teams, their working methods and finally 3rd on your suppliers and partners.

AR: So on the client side, let’s just say that some segments held up better than others. Typically, the paper is not too badly resistant, what really works is the large format, the large digital format, since for commercial purposes, for example, we make signs, covers, canvas, sails, and so on… to announce the reopening. We also have a lot of products, for office protection, hygiaphones, so this too, it’s in the large-format digital department, because it’s cut out of the waves, cut out of the cut material, and then there’s the commercial part, which is a smaller segment here, but not so good at this point in time, because it’s true, they are, I think, considering expenses as more incidental. So this is the level at which our customers consume. You can sense that they’re bound to be careful, like everyone else, I think, in this period, is enough for observation, but it still picked up in June.

Now in terms of work methods, like all companies, we discovered telecommuting, and then we got used to working with a few consultants, freelancers, but not of such proportion, of course, because the whole company except the shop has gone into teleworking mode, it worked very well, I think during most of the lockdown I think from a moment on, there was also a weariness, people, situations were diverse, personal situations, but a lot of the employees were happy to get back to a social life, through their profession, but for all that, I think this will have changed our view of teleworking in a lasting way, or like any business owner, we may have reservations, doubts about its implementation, we’ve seen how well that can work, when it was in focus.

YAT: Tomorrow then, you will continue to use telework in your organisation.

AR: Yeah, so far, as of today, it’s a little more mixed. because we have a little staff that’s a little more sensitive, or at least which is, could have been more worried, that we’ve kept teleworking, so in technical areas industrial computing, for example, I think it’s actually gonna open up, it will open up that path, but that doesn’t mean it will become widespread, because I think that’s also typical, depending on the department, we’ll say that the tech.., anything that’s tech-sensitive.., it works out pretty well like that, but I think there’s a need for team meetings sometime during the week,  to discuss issues, and save time and also stimulate each other, on marketing, for example, we found that it was more blocking, because there’s still teamwork involved,  with a product manager, graphic designers, someone who does acquisitions,  and if these people don’t communicate with one another around a table,  the subjects are moving slower.  So, I think it’s going to be a bit of a case-by-case thing, in any case, it paved the way, and I think there was a psychological trigger…  in a lot of corporate environments, because I think we all know a lot of our friends, of those around us, who’s had to work a lot, maybe 130%, compared to their usual activity.  I think we’ve all heard that, neighbours and so on, who were working a lot, and so I think psychologically, there’s something that happened.

There will be a before and after, it is obvious on the telework part,  and I don’t think at home that means it’s going to be widespread, in any case it will be much more open from that point of view.

YAT: And with your partners and suppliers, you also saw an approach to adapting to this pandemic.

Yeah, various approaches, many of our suppliers have gone with Covid products. more or less quickly. Yes, people who sell us raw materials, cover, or booth structures, etc. These are companies that were already importing, because there’s still some material that’s imported, and so these people just naturally, who are oriented towards those markets, people who do sublimation, have started to develop a line of masks, to produce a range of masks, as far as we feel that the return to reality is pretty complicated right now, the purchase volumes of web-to-print customers, like us, have fallen. So I think they’re pretty careful, and now they’re being affected by this crisis. 

YAT: And precisely in this context, there is a lot of talk about “MADE IN France” which is put forward by the authorities, by public opinion, and precisely when we prepared our telephone interview together, you told me about your conviction to favour local production, so could you give me your vision of “MADE IN France”, what do you think… are you convinced? Is this pandemic going to encourage it?

And precisely in this context, there’s a lot of talk about “MADE IN FRANCE”; …  which is put forward by the authorities, the public, and just when we have prepared together our phone conversation, you told me about your belief in local production, you could give me your vision then of “MADE IN France”, is that what you think? Are you convinced? Will this pandemic help it?

AR: I think this pandemic will help it. From a psychological point of view, I think the consumer is a little more educated, that there’s a bit of a patriotic feeling, which is gonna be a little awakened at this point, that there’s a kind of solidarity that’s also a little bit national, so that the economic fabric, which has been so weakened.., can remodel more easily… now we’ve seen it in the mask crisis, for this was very symptomatic of French deindustrialization, we’ve been ultra-hit too because we’re more of a production land.

So we have to be realistic and say that we are today very poor in industrial matters in France, except for a few sectors, where we have industrial flagships, but we don’t have any real industrial land anymore, I think governments are going to have to pass measures, for reindustrialization, because our public health is also at stake, we’ve seen it, so we can reproduce it. Frankly, the example of the masks was really symptomatic, because I’ve been digging into that subject during lockdown… and it’s true that there have been a lot of great local initiatives… with companies that were producing and so on.., but the bulk of the volume, you’re right, came from overseas. Which produced in volume, obviously Asia, but Portugal, which has the stronger textile culture etc. and in France, it was still groceries, you have to say what’s with a few boxes, but many outsourced their production and it’s true that it’s difficult today to produce in France, “MADE IN FRANCE”, there’s gonna be an affected side, if you want and therefore the consumer will be sensitive to that. as long as there’s an answer behind it, if you sell a product for twice as much, and it is not so good, it’ll be a drop in the ocean.

So everything will depend, I think, upon the accompanying measures. You can see the printers are not rolling in gold today, these are the industrialists who produce whatever they do, they don’t have very shiny profit and loss statements, so it all depends on what’s done politically, to make it last.

YAT: In order for that to be a reality…Thank you, Antoine. I would have liked to bounce back on what you think are.., the criteria for success today and in the future indispensable for success precisely in online printing, in Web-to-print? Are they and will they be different since those five, or last three years?

For me the number one factor will be technology, to some extent it already was. We’ve seen the success of groups that have invested heavily in technology and marketing. Multinationals if you think of the leaders or very large SMEs if you think of some European players, so I think technology is the central point to master, to try to take market share. Last year, we developed and redeveloped our entire technical infrastructure. Last year, we opened our new 2019 site with new technologies and an open architecture to interface with third-party systems. I think that’s pretty key for web-to-print players, but it’s a bit of a truism since everyone understands it. We have set up a good architecture, an API, which allows third parties, typically a printer or a com agency, who are already doing print, to expand their catalogue easily and to place orders with us in a transparent way, while having the freedom to choose which order they send to us, we are not in a closed system, we let the client do his own thing, and decide which product he’s going to entrust us with, so for me, even today than yesterday, tech will be a central element, and, of course, marketing, since we’re in a world, where it’s going very fast, and therefore this marketing mix-tech… There’s less of a difference than a few years ago, digital has taken the lead and caught up in terms of quality, etc… Compared to offset for paper, so I would like to say that the machine park is more homogeneous, …

For me the number one factor will be technology, it was to some extent already. We’ve seen the success of groups that had invested heavily in technology and marketing. Multinationals if you think about the leaders or very large SMEs if we think of certain European players, so I think technology is the key point to master, to try and gain market share. Indeed, we have developed, redeveloped… our entire tech infrastructure last year, it’s our new 2019 site with new technos and with an open architecture to be able to interface with third-party systems. I think that’s key point enough, for web-to-print actors, but it’s a bit of a truism since everyone understands it. We have set up a good architecture, an API, that allows third parties, typically a printer, a com agency, who are already doing print, to expand their catalog, easily and to pass seamlessly through orders with us, while having the freedom to order from us to choose which order he sends to us, so we’re not in a closed system, we let the client decide which product to buy, he’s going to confide in us, so for me, today is just yesterday, the tech will be a central element, and of course the marketing, since we’re in a world where things move very fast, and so this marketing-tech mix… There is less of a difference than there was a few years ago, the digital has taken a lead and caught up onits lag in terms of quality, etc. to offset for paper, so I’d like to say that the machinery is more consistent.

YAT : … Differentiation will be made mainly through this technology, these API connections

AR: and the service and how to address the user.

YAT: So I was very interested in your partnership with online print software publisher Aleyant? Can you tell me a little bit more?

AR: Aleyant, it’s a solution, we were the first French customer, to use one of their tools, a personalization engine, personalization of flyers, printed products, above this personalization engine, their core business, is selling web-to-print systems, mostly to printers who want to go online. Since we had our API, which was well designed, up to date, we offered Aleyant to interface with this API, so that in Pressero, which is Aleyant’s Web-to-print tool, a printer can expand his catalogue very easily, without having the problem of product creation, product sheets, and pricing. All he has to do is actually define his margin policy, a percentage, and the orders go into his back office, and he determines whether he sends them to us, or if he’s keeping them for his own home, or for his neighbor’s supplier, so this for us is a first interconnection element… with a system that we think is relevant, and this is the beginning of our strategy, or at least it’s the first step in our strategy, our development strategy for this PrintOClock API.

YAT: This is very interesting and I think it is very promising.  Thank you very much, Antoine Roux for this first interview brought up by INKISH France, this interview will be broadcasted on the INKISH platform and Youtube, and also subtitled in English for the attention of the printers and other companies in the graphic industries in other countries and other continents. Thank you again for this exciting interview Antoine.

AR: Great, thank you very much, and it’s true that I’m inviting you, French printers, I discovered INKISH, so very recently, the reports are very high quality, you can see them on their Youtube channel and what I hadn’t measured is the resonance that it can have even at a global level, there are a lot of views, so it’s really a great media for printing companies, for our sector, so it’s great that INKISH is coming to France.

Great, thank you for the invite, and as a French printer, I discovered INKISH very recently, the reports are very good quality, you can see them ontheir Youtube channel and what I hadn’t realized, is how it can resonate even on a global scale, there’s a lot of views, so it’s really a great media for print houses, for our industry, so it’s great that INKISH is coming to France.

YAT : Thank you very much and see you soon Antoine.

AR: Goodbye Yves

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