This month I talked with Ruben Silva, director of Agfa Graphic Systems Canada, to find out how the company is gearing up for the new year and what Agfa is doing to stay ahead of the game in a changing industry.
K: I noticed that Agfa didn’t participate in the recent Graphics Canada show this year; can you tell me what some of the reasons for that decision were?
R: We saw the signs early on and when we looked at our entire business, we felt it was necessary to reduce expenses and defer some investments in marketing and communications. This, of course, affected our event marketing plans. Overall, we had some tough choices to make in order to effectively utilize resources this year and continue to deliver a high level of service to our customers. We’re not giving up on industry events by any means – we expect to be back next year at Print World.
K: What has been a recent major revenue stream for Agfa these days?
R: We have experienced significant growth on two fronts. Firstly, our inkjet products have been extremely well received in Canada. We expect the :Anapurna family of UV wide-format inkjet printers to continue to grow in 2010. Secondly, we have made significant investments in the research and development of our plate technologies. Our eco-friendly :Azura chemistry-free plates, which are based on Agfa’s ThermoFuse technology, and our :Energy Elite Thermal No-Bake plates have been very successful for us this year.
K: What kind of trends are you seeing in the industry that will take us into the new year?
R: One thing that is driving our industry right now is technological advancements. I think the current economic downturn will accelerate and help shape these changes because sometimes recessions serve as a kind of renewal process for technology. We are seeing big moves towards digital inkjet printing, thermal plates as well as companies who are really focused on targeting niche markets in search for higher margins.
K: What is the biggest area of need for your customers currently? How do you think their needs will change as 2010 approaches?
R: I think productivity will continue to be a big issue. It is a competitive industry, and margins are not what they used to be. When the Canadian dollar gets close to parity with the U.S. dollar, printers tend to get a bit nervous. In the past 15 years, we have had a low dollar, which has given printers an advantage over their U.S. competitors. I think that will be part of the productivity drive. Change must occur to stay competitive.
K: Are there any particular areas that Agfa is really optimistic about in the coming year – is there anything big coming up?
R: We are very optimistic about the coming year. I believe that the industry in general will come out of this recession much stronger, and we’re already starting to see the positive signs of recovery. As for Agfa, we see certain segments of the industry moving to digital at a rapid rate. At the Print 09 show, at least 60-70 per cent of our booth was devoted to inkjet technology. While we’re not giving up on traditional products, we’re seeing tremendous activity surrounding our digital products like the :Dotrix Modular inkjet press.
K: What kind of advice would you give to smaller print companies out there that are struggling right now, and what can they learn from Agfa?
R: I think something that is very important right now is to get back to business fundamentals. From an operational standpoint, you need to take costs under control and make the right changes to get through. Sometimes, that means putting less essential expenses in a deep freeze. From a sales and marketing perspective, printers need to define who their high-volume customers are. I strongly believe in the 80/20 rule: 80 per cent of sales come from 20 per cent of the customers. Printers need to service those customers like their life depends on it – because it does. Many competitors are trying to win business, so companies must have a clear focus on what is really important.
K: What do you think is a personality trait or skill-set that print industry leaders possess that has helped them become successful and get where they are today?
R: From my perspective, the most important attributes of a leader are the right mix of humility and drive for success. Our Canadian print leaders are resilient, unified in events and associations, and they are able to run companies delivering products and services to the extremely fragmented market that we call Canada! You have to be good to make that work. You have to have a drive for success and understand your market.
K: On a more personal note, are you reading any book in particular right now?
R: Currently, I am reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a great book with a twist, in that it quantifies success in measurable terms.