Two insights emerge from a recent visit to Classic Cards, a commercial printer in Coimbatore, perhaps common threads in the country’s print business growth. The first is that what started as a design firm in 2004 and with a little help from friends became a commercial printing unit in 2008, has experienced ‘numerous hiccups’ in its upward journey.
K Kanagaraj now hopes to achieve some stability with the installation of a new 4-color sheetfed offset press from Heidelberg. Another insight into both the struggle and vitality of print business in India emerges from Kanagaraj’s determination to grow. For him, growth means diversification to offset monocarton production – not merely a wish but a plan under implementation. A purpose-built plant for packaging is already under construction, and his plan to start carton production with a used Mitsubishi offset multicolor packaging press is also underway.
Kanagaraj has experienced the ups and downs of building a printing business. He imported his first offset press – a single color machine from Japan – in 2008. Taking what he thought was a logical step in 2013, he imported a used Komori 4-color press also from Japan. For six months, no one was ready to assist him in installing the used press – months in which he had no press at all since he had sold off his single-color machine.
Outsourcing all its printing resulted in a loss-making period. Nevertheless, in the next couple of years, Classic was able to establish itself as a quality color printer, and it purchased a couple of used Komori 426 presses. The current Heidelberg SX 74 4-color press is a replacement for two of the old 4-color presses.
“The reason for investing in a Heidelberg was that my customers were pressing for this brand. Almost all my customers wanted me to buy a Heidelberg because of its print quality. We currently have two presses in our plant: one old Komori 4-color sheetfed offset press and the brand new Heidelberg 4-color press. We print close to 60 sets daily, and each job has a run length of 500 to 2000 copies. Working two 12-hour shifts, we consume close to 240 plates to print anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 sheets every day, says Kanagaraj.
Diversification to packaging
Although Classic produces books, brochures, and magazines, Kanagaraj is keen on entering the packaging segment. “We’re planning to diversify to packaging, and that is the reason why I plan to install a second-hand Mitsubishi press. I want to work on that press during the initial phase of my monocarton diversification. Once I establish some customers, I’ll invest further in the dedicated plant for monocartons,” Kanagaraj adds.
“Since the profit margins in commercial printing are shrinking, we’re planning to diversify to packaging. Initially, we plan to work with dealers, and then in later stages, as we gain competence, we will supply to end-users directly. We are initially looking to Tiruppur’s carton market that is dominated by undergarment packaging,” Kanagaraj shares. In addition to the offset packaging press, Classic intends to install a digital press for sampling work.
According to Kanagaraj, the Tiruppur undergarment market has a demand for at least 5,000 printed sheets in 28 x 40-inch size for each design that the manufacturer or end-user provides. Usually, each Tiruppur garment brand places orders for at least three designs at a time.
“Although we are surviving somehow in a very competitive market, it is devoid of any healthy profit margins. Currently, we work with a vast number of mini-offset printers in and around Tamil Nadu. Even though we work with such a huge customer base, we’re struggling with the low profitability of our commercial printing business. Hence, we’ve decided that this is the right time to move to packaging printing,” Kanagaraj explains.
With the new year just around the corner, Classic hopes to regain its momentum in the market with new orders. “There used to be ups and downs in commercial printing, but now it has become stagnant. Post the new year season; we will get some demand for book printing work and are looking forward to it. Overall, we’re gearing up for a busy season ahead,” Kanagaraj concludes.