Taking print to the next level
Parajett can rightfully claim to have been in variable data printing since 1906: the Swedish printing company started out its business in ‘dans biljetter’ – individually numbered admission tickets. Exactly 100 years later, Per Larsson joined the company at a crucial moment, as its digital printing capabilities needed to be taken to the next level to meet customers demand for high quality, in high volumes, and totally variable content. Larsson: “We found Xeikon to have the perfect solution.”
Parajett has always been on the edge of new technology. When Xeikon and Indigo introduced their digital printing platforms in 1993, the company was actually already printing digitally for some years. In 1988, it had ordered two ElectroPress systems from AM Graphics. Parajett-owner Tord Ohlsson had seen a demonstration of this liquid toner web press in the USA – two years before it would be officially launched at Drupa – and he wanted to be the first to find out what opportunities this technology could offer. Printing color-coded reference labels proved a highly successful application, says Larsson: “We are still producing these a lot, and we are the number one supplier in the Nordics.” Additionally, the ElectroPress proved perfectly suited for the on demand production of manuals in various language-editions and small print runs for books.
At about the same time Parajett started it’s ElectroPress-pioneering, Per Larsson had just joined Kodak. In 1989, he became sales manager for the ‘Copy Products’ division – which, as copiers evolved into multifunctional printing devices, became ‘Office Imaging’. After broadening his scope and expertise at a number of Swedish companies in IT and communications, Larsson came to Parajett in 2006. A huge challenge awaited him: “One of our customers was – and today still is – ICA, the leading grocery retailer in the country. They were looking for ways to communicate in a one-to-one manner with their customers. So, they needed us to be able to print totally variable, in full colour and high quality; their customers should not be able to notice the difference with our offset printing. Next to that, we had to produce these personalised folders, totalling some 6 or 7 million pages every month, in just a few days.”
ICA’s new communications strategy meant Parajett had to shift gear: “The vision was already in place since 1988. And Parajett had also already invested heavily in its IT infrastructure, running a Stream Server platform to handle large amounts of data. But it took a customer like ICA to push things to the next level.” Larsson looked at different digital printing systems, when he received a call from Xeikon: “They told me they might have ‘something interesting’ for me. So, I visited their premises in Lier, Belgium, in 2007 and they showed us the Xeikon 8000 press. And we ended up ordering 6 of them in one go – enabling us to launch the ‘My Products’-project for ICA in 2008.”
The personalised mailings from ICA, which are still running today, proved highly successful with response rates reaching up to 20 per cent. It still is one of the only few prominent cases of ‘transpromo’ in Europe, together with retailers Tesco in the UK and Colruyt in Belgium doing somewhat similar highly sophisticated variable data printing projects.
Larsson says the ICA-project is a perfect example of a true partnership that led to a new and innovative application: “The people at ICA were at the forefront very early. And they were also very interested in our technology. Together, we were able to find the right solution. I think the printing business has changed very much in this respect since that time. Today, it is much more difficult to build relationships like that. When you’re dealing with RFP’s, there is hardly any space anymore for some ‘yes, but…’-moments, second thoughts or room for experiment and development, to come up with new solutions.”
Parajett has continued to invest in new technology. Ten years ago, the company considered inkjet not viable yet, but today it operates two HP and one Ricoh inkjet press: “It took time for inkjet to figure out the right paper at the right price. Nowadays, the print results in inkjet are good – although, in my opinion, it is still not as good as toner used to be. At the same time, I think the market has changed its perception of quality and there is much more focus on price – and inkjet beats toner by a huge difference in costs.” Larsson has seen the volume in offset printing decline every year at Parajett: “We are heading to doing only variable data, really. We believe that that’s where the future of print on paper will be: as physical mailboxes get less filled everyday, printed matter becomes something really special – also for young people. But it will need to be really interesting and personal to be effective – and worth the investment.”
But the future for Parajett will not be in print only, explains Larsson: “Ever more communication will go digital. We already offer our customers an e-invoicing service and we are connected to all digital mailboxes in Sweden. The government has set a target for all departments to be able to distribute information and invoices through digital channels by 2022. So, the market for printing is getting smaller, and we need to be able to cater for all these new channels. This also means that we actually have to cannibalize our own business now by actively supporting our best customers to look for electronic alternatives for print – because if we don’t help them, our competitors will. We need to stay ahead of the game.”