The virtues of responsible investment

For 18 years, Calligraphy-Print, a printing firm located near Rennes, has been countering the structural decline in volumes and margins by striving for industrial excellence, backed up by major investments. The company is now one of the most successful in the region, and is attracting big names from the SBF 120 stock market index, partly due to its environmental certifications. Its big name supporters include Societe Generale, which has tasked it to print the bank’s very first Integrated Report.

“We help boost the environmental performance of the major groups, which are subject to stringent requirements in this area.” Olivier Pouchin, CEO, Calligraphy-Print

Programmed resilience

The digital revolution has literally overwhelmed the printing industry. In 1989, nearly 10,000 companies were active in this field. Today, that number has dropped to 2300, and is likely to fall to as little as 500 in the next few years. Many company directors have thrown in the towel and turned to other activities. Olivier Pouchin, CEO of Calligraphy-Print, has decided to stick it out and demonstrate the virtues of resilience. He transforms each difficulty into an opportunity to boost the performance of the business founded by his father in 1989. Where does he get his strategic inspiration? The desire to seek a competitive edge by constantly renewing investments and, above all, analysing the returns on investment down to the finest detail.

Investment generates a €500,000 profit margin

Is the market stuck in a downward spiral? Calligraphy-Print’s response was to launch a new €11 M investment in 2017, even though the company’s total turnover amounted to €11 M. The goal: perform previously outsourced folding, cutting and binding operations in-house, thanks to the purchase of new facilities housed in a brand new building spanning 4000 sq. m. “Thanks to this move, we were able to reintegrate €700 K of cash which until then had been used to fund sub-contracting activities. And most importantly, we generated an additional profit margin of €500 K. This investment gave us the means of boosting our competitiveness, by cutting 15% off our prices while ensuring we had full control over our production schedules.” As a result of the financial crisis, many specialised sub-contractors have gone out of business. “In certain niche professions, there are now only one or two suppliers who are quickly full up in the busiest periods.”

Securing strategic orders

Having full control over an order’s entire production cycle, meeting all the agreed lead times, is a critical advantage for customers who are subject to very stringent regulatory constraints, such as listed companies. “For example, we won the contract to print Societe Generale Group’s integrated business report, which has a very demanding set of technical specifications. The contract stipulates that we have fewer than 4 working days in which to produce the first 1000 copies of this strategic 56-page document relayed by digital means. It was essential that we deliver them the day before the annual shareholders meeting held on 23 May.” The bank selected the Brittany-based printing firm on the basis of its impressive performance, but that was not the only reason. It was also one of the few firms able to adhere to such a tight schedule while meeting the highest standards in terms of quality and environmental criteria. “There is a high level of mutual trust. We have learned how to work together successfully, since Societe Generale is also our banking partner and supports our investments in equipment and facilities as well as our real estate projects.”

Ensuring mutual visibility

Because he is used to handling tense negotiations with buyers, Olivier emphasises the benefits of offering them maximum visibility regarding corporate strategy and investment scope. “Naturally, their aim is to negotiate the most competitive prices. But they also need to guarantee that the service providers they hire will still be in business a few years down the line. We generate 2% profit margins. So, if a customer asks us to lower our rates below a reasonable threshold, we know how to decline the request and defend our stance. In the past 20 years, we have cut certain services by 150. It’s sometimes better to refuse a job rather than to make a loss.”

A shared economic vision with Societe Generale

Societe Generale is an important customer for the printing firm, and the two businesses made ties in the framework of the Small Businesses Pact (“Pacte PME”). “Our customers consider the quality of our products to be just as important as our environmental certifications, which are an essential way of ensuring the group meets its own commitments in terms of social responsibility.” And in this area, Calligraphy-Print is little short of excellent, since it obtained ISO 14001 certification as early as 2009 and has won numerous awards including the Oscar for sustainable development from the Ile-et-Villaine department and a trophy from the Chênes du Grand Ouest, which rewards successful family businesses in Brittany, Normandy and the Pays de la Loire region. Its CSR policy has also been singled out for its excellence, since it has been assessed as Corporate Social Responsibility Gold by Ecovadis since 2015 - the highest possible grade. “We are probably the most active printing firm in the CSR field in France, having obtained ISO 9001 certification in 2005 and ISO 14001 certification in 2009, and given that we have been a member of Global Compact since 2009. This has become a real sales argument. We’re getting more and more requests from major groups and medium-sized companies to help them improve their own environmental performance via their publications.” The firm has some convincing assets to share, with a range of initiatives that promote the protection of biodiversity. Examples include the presence of beehives on its production site since 2011, and an eco-grazing scheme launched in 2014 covering 15,000 sq. m, which helps protect ancient breeds of sheep from the French island of Ushant, as well as goats.

Printing as a complement to digital format

Olivier is optimistic about the outlook for his business, and notes signs of renewed interest by advertisers for printed publications. “TV didn't kill radio. The digital revolution won’t kill printing. We’re currently going through a transitional phase and the stakes are shifting. Two factors are boosting the appeal of printed documents. Firstly, new European regulations are going to force Internet providers to block senders of intrusive emails. So advertisers who send out huge volumes of non-targeted emails are going to have to find new communication channels and print media represents a promising alternative. The other positive factor? The behaviour of some big players on the online market, known to be ahead of the game when it comes to successful marketing. Amazon - a prominent member of the “big 5” web giants - recently produced a widely-distributed 16-page brochure promoting an online Lego sale.” And Olivier confirms this trend. “I’ve observed the returns on investment of my own customers. They regularly generate heavy traffic at their points of sale with targeted print media such as flyers and catalogues. Some even increase new sales by over 30% thanks to printed documents. Sales figures are stagnating for those who use online media only, because their targets are starting to get overwhelmed by message overload.” To meet rising demand, Calligraphy-Print is seeking to attract new talents to join its current team of 70 employees.

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