Onlooker Press – Growth via collaboration & strategic moves

Plan to relocate to Mumbai's industrial area for better opportunities – Mehul Shah

Onlooker Press
Samples printed at Onlooker Press

Mumbai’s Onlooker Press was founded in 1925 by a British individual named Hamilton, who later transferred its rights to the Mafatlal Group. Subsequently, the shares of this printing establishment were acquired by Vasudeo Shah and Baldeo Shah, who are respectively the uncle and father of the current director, Mehul Shah.

The diversification

Initially focused on IPO forms, commanding a 70% market share, Onlooker Press diversified into newspaper printing, producing 21 newspapers nightly after foreseeing the decline of IPOs after the 1997 stock market crash. The company expanded into digital and offset commercial printing, operating from a 4,500-square-foot facility at Sassoon Docks in Mumbai’s Colaba, known for its fishing industry and export-oriented fishing units. Presently, Onlooker Press specializes in printing brochures, catalogs, folders, annual reports, letterheads, business cards, and financial statements for corporate entities, banks, and private companies. 

It prints 10-12 monthly magazines alongside bimonthly and quarterly publications and caters to the medical sector, printing materials for various hospitals in Mumbai. Moreover, it  collaborates with authors and publishing houses in Mumbai for book printing. The printer diversified into paper bag manufacture of paper bags and exhibition materials for garment houses and NGOs, utilizing its Sassoon Dock facility.

In addition to commercial printing, Onlooker Press operates a 50,000-square-foot facility and a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Sindkheda, Maharashtra, manufacturing notebooks for more than 50 schools in the state. The company has been in the notebook manufacturing business for nearly 20 years, starting with its own brand ‘Meera.’ It is currently supplying approximately two crore notebooks annually to schools.

Outlooker Press
Mehul Shah, director, Onlooker Press

Mehul Shah oversees an array of printing equipment, including a 22-inch x 32-inch 5-color Komori Lithrone, a Heidelberg SORDZ 2-color offset printing machine, a Konica Minolta digital press, and various cutting, stitching, wire stitching, and binding equipment. Beyond Mumbai, Onlooker Press serves several cities in Maharashtra such as Pune, Nashik, and Aurangabad, with clients extending up to Delhi. It also has a modest international footprint with exports to Japan and New Zealand.

Competition & challenges in the printing industry

Regarding industry challenges, Shah notes the competitive landscape in India’s printing sector. He emphasizes the company’s commitment to service excellence and quick turnaround times, highlighting customer loyalty as a key driver. According to Shah, printing technology is continuously advancing with newer features and the company tries to stay up to date with the latest trends and services by investing in good printing equipment. “Customers are very well-versed with their printing requirements and demand nothing but the best,” Shah says.

Despite facing challenges such as under-quoting by competitors, scarcity of skilled labor for advanced printing equipment, and fluctuating raw material prices, Onlooker Press maintains an average annual growth of 15–20%, although the pace has slowed post-Covid-19. Shah remains optimistic about the future, anticipating advancements in printing technology merging with AI and digital printing while navigating challenges through strategic pricing and customer-centric approaches.

He envisions collaboration with other printing companies, embracing healthy competition, and leveraging newer technologies and ideas to propel Onlooker Press forward. Shah aims for a lean management style and consistent growth. Furthermore, he plans to relocate Onlooker Press from the Sassoon Dock facility to an industrial area in Mumbai. The company’s journey reflects a commitment to quality, innovation, and adaptability in a dynamic printing landscape.

Mehul Shah, secretary of the Mumbai Mudrak Sangh and a Governing Council member of the Apex Body of the Printing Associations in India, The All India Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP), also serves as chairman of the Dispute Redressal & Feedback Committee at the AIFMP.

Apart from his business commitments, he has a passion for badminton, regularly indulges in trekking adventures, and finds joy in listening to classic Hindi songs.

In 2024, we are looking at full recovery and growth-led investment in Indian printing

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. It created the category of privately owned B2B print magazines in the country. And by its diversification in packaging, (Packaging South Asia), food processing and packaging (IndiFoodBev) and health and medical supply chain and packaging (HealthTekPak), and its community activities in training, research, and conferences (Ipp Services, Training and Research) the organization continues to create platforms that demonstrate the need for quality information, data, technology insights and events.

India is a large and tough terrain and while its book publishing and commercial printing industry have recovered and are increasingly embracing digital print, the Indian newspaper industry continues to recover its credibility and circulation. The signage industry is also recovering and new technologies and audiences such as digital 3D additive printing, digital textiles, and industrial printing are coming onto our pages. Diversification is a fact of life for our readers and like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

India is one of the fastest growing economies in nominal and real terms – in a region poised for the highest change in year to year expenditure in printing equipment and consumables. Our 2024 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock – to emphasize your visibility and relevance to your customers and turn potential markets into conversations.

– Naresh Khanna

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