Gitte Amby, Jan Justesen, and Lars Justesen are the three family members behind one of the leading binderies in Denmark. This interview is the second in a mini-series about growth. We have already presented Buch’s who have chosen a growth pass as a full-service provider. Centrum Grafisk Færdiggørelse is growing through M&A’s and a clear strategy for products, services, and customers – and though in a small market and declining they seem to have a clear focus. We will get back with more information about the third company in the series in just a few weeks. This episode is in Danish with English subtitles – if you have problems seeing the subtitles when played from INKISH.TV please go directly to our YouTube channel for closed captions (CC).
My name is Gitte Amby and I am one of the three owners of “Centrum Grafisk Færdiggørelse”. I am the manager responsible for HR, productivity and the work environment. And you could say, also with a whole lot of learning and development.
So, is there anything you are not in charge off?
00:25: I don’t deal much with the economics.
Who and what is Grafisk Centrum?
Yes, well, it is a family company and it was founded by our father, who you could say, bought himself into something in 1971. He actually developed the company from being a small, local manual bindery to being an industrial bindery.
1:07: And we had a change of management in 2001, when Lars, Jan and I took over, and have managed the company ever since.
And it is a market that grows quite a lot!
“Hah”! No, it is not, but you could say that we have experienced quite the paradoxical effect. For the first few years, in the 2000’s, we had a 50% growth. During the first eight years that we had the company, we expanded and invested in perfect binding and equipment and multiplex. And then, the financial crisis hit the industry in 2009, where we almost went the opposite way. We were a bit prepared and had started doing some cuts, so in a way we landed kind of softly in it. There were some years of crisis management during the following years. Actually, until we got the hardcover production in 2014, which means that today we can make everything that has to do with bindings, which is everything from booklet production to softcover, hardcover, flyers, Wire’O, Spirals, and some nerdy stuff, which requires you to think out of the box a little.
The market disappeared in 2009 – was that due to market or that printing companies suddenly in-sourced their entire production?
No, the first thing we felt was a market that grew smaller because of the crisis, which meant fewer printing jobs. Following that, the printing houses started searching outside of the country, considering if they could get any cheaper prices at all. And following that, we started to reach Germany, the Baltic States and just overall Eastern Europe. You could say that there has also been a development on the printing side. Consolidations, which mean that we get larger printing houses. They have also started investing in more bindery equipment, which means that we have been, and are, affected from many different fronts.
You say that you were affected, but when I come here as a guest you don’t seem to be very affected, you seem to be a very optimistic company.
But Grafisk Centrum seems to have a positive approach to the future?
Yes, and that is because we have a strategy that we follow and trust. We then of course have to alter it a bit as changes in the market occur, but we are very dedicated towards it.
So you are basically implementing your new strategy at current time?
Yes, that’s what we have done.
Your acquiring of the bindery Sandersen – was that part of your new strategy?
3:57 Yes, it was.
Is part of your strategy non-organic growth?
No, maybe it could be a combination, is it not? You could say that in these regards, the strategy goes two separate ways. On the one hand, and I don’t want to reveal too much, some acquisitions and merging should take place, and it would be good if it was within a scale of… Well, yes we think that within five years’ time, we will be two acquisitions or mergers smarter.
Also, we would like to do a strategic approach with the printing houses, in other words our customers. We would like to have a dialogue with them about how to do clever bindery, when you are in their position and you can’t do everything.
Is size really SO important for a bindery like yours?
Yes, it is, because if we are to produce the broad array of products which the printing houses also need, and if we should be able to do it on a technical advanced level. Because there are some things that they can do themselves, but they lack the equipment for other things. It requires a lot of machine capacity, which means it requires a lot of capital, it requires a lot of volume. That is one side of the case. On the other side are some things about delivery times, ensuring that they don’t get longer, rather they should get shorter. And if we should be able to honor the flexibility around that, and if the printing houses should be able to deliver to their customers as they wish, then we need to be able to work in two or three shifts when it is necessary. And that is not possible if you don’t have enough size or volume, then you would need to compress it to one shift.
Acquiring another bindery is not because you need more capacity, but because you need more customers?
To be able to have more shifts and faster service?
Is price the most important KPI in choosing a bindery as a partner?
Yes, it is price. There is also delivery time which has something to say, but the rule of thumb is that the cheapest price gets the job. Well, of course there are also other things that are important. It could be how well you can handle a job, how you can take ownership of the task. It could also have something to do with the fact that it is easier to work with a Danish supplier, than a foreign supplier.
The general market consolidation will help you to make more money?
7:16 That is true! Of course, it is. It is the determining factor and you could say that, it is what our whole company is built up upon. That there is a lot of volume in our production.
In 2014 you invested in a hardcover production line?
How has your acquisition of Sandersen influenced the Danish market in your opinion?
Well, I think it has been an advantage! I must say that, but it is difficult to only talk about the market situation just in Denmark, because that is not how we see it. In our eyes, the competition is European and eastern European, and in regards to price, we have to be able to compete there. Some might be concerned that our strategy was to make the prices go up, but we know that, that won’t work. In regards to supply security and in regards to ensuring that there will be a big and viable bindery in the future. It is important for the printing houses, that if they can’t get their things done, except for the work that they can do in their own houses, there must be a place for them to go. What should they do otherwise?
Will the industry in your market suffer from less diversity in product offerings, when both printers and binders consolidate?
Basically, I look at it oppositely, because when all the jobs lie with us then we can do everything. It is true that it is a big industry and a big production-device, but that does not change the fact that we are technically flexible. And we can solve niche-productions, so basically I think that it is going in the opposite direction.
When you acquired Sandersen, did you have to merge different cultures?
First of all, you can say that here in the house it has been a very positive wave to be on. And we needed another wave of positivity after the development on top of the hardcover investment. But we have not combined two cultures, because what we are doing is to move the production from Næstved to Randers, and our production assortment are very much alike. There are a few specific tasks that are big, there are some about GMP production, for the medical industry, and those are new for us, and we train doing that, and we are working on making a concept around that. We have an ambition of doing it a bit better than they did at “Sandersen”, because that’s what makes customers happy, right?
So, you could say that the acquisition really had nothing to do with merging companies and company cultures, it was actually to buy a row of customers and some capacity. Actually just to shut down Næstved and then make some money.
Acquiring a competitor was just about limiting competition and increasing your own market share?
11:15 Actually, no, you could say that the basic idea was that there is not enough space for two big binderies in Denmark, and if we could not in one way or another find a way to merge, then none of us would probably survive. And that has been the leading argument to do this, and we also take some of the capacity out of the market.
A leading CEO in the DK market has predicted a dramatic decrease in operations – actually as low as going from 200 to 20 in ten years – how do you see this?
It is obvious that you should not just shrug your shoulders at a prediction like that. I think that if the amount of printing houses was reduced to that level, it would mean that the range of products that you can make in Denmark, how you bind, what kind of products you roll out, it will be reduced. The printing jobs will be less exciting and we might just see a lot of standard production. Which on the one hand is fine, but for the printing industry as a media it is not so positive.
The consolidation of printers have limited your customer base, how has that influenced your company?
Well, yes, that is clear, we had 120 co-workers in 2008, and now we are down to 70. So, yes it has a big importance, and we think you could say that our sales from book bindings, we don’t have an expectation that they will reach unexpected heights. There are still some market areas that we have not touched yet, and we have been thinking for many years that we are in a “last man standing” situation. And we still think that we are in it. But, we are probably not as naive as to say that we can see an increase in sale from many of our products. There could be something about hardcover because it has some tendencies that make just that product move a bit. For some companies making books becomes part of their branding.
14:40 That is why we sometimes see that a furniture catalogue becomes a coffee table book, that is super nice. And in this matter, it is an upgrade especially for hardcover. We are also seeing the inclination towards the softcover production, and we can also see that there is a development from very large productions to smaller productions, and a little less processing, and a little more exciting play around a specific product.
Are you as a company considering to look at other markets?
Yes, it could also be in other production areas, yes.
My name is Helle Uni and I am an office assistant.
You have been here for many years and experienced some ups and downs, how has it been?
Well it is not boring, I can say. Well, I like to know everything from start to finish.
17:04 From the productions side, and then coming the other way in, I think that has given me some advantages out here, that I have some knowledge of the production.
As an employee, your experience of the acquisitions has been good for the company?
Yes definitely, it has been very nice to feel the rush and energy that it has brought, and you suddenly had to up your work a bit, and you suddenly had some more work to do, which feels very nice.
Lars Justesen, Production Manager
So what can’t you produce here?
Well, in fact we can do everything. We brag a bit about the fact that we are probably the bindery in Scandinavia which has the biggest array of possible solutions, maybe even in North Europe.
Do you produce and deliver to countries outside Denmark?
Well, we are primarily in the Danish market, but we also have customers in Sweden and Norway.
How do you keep track of all your productions?
Well, at first glance, it might very well seem that way, but we have actually made a lot of different steering systems via some Lean projects, and that brings us quite far in the everyday work.
Would your customers benefit, if you were involved in the product and planning earlier in the process?
21:07 Yes. Well, that is something that we would really like –to be a part of the planning of the job from the beginning. Because, sometimes we experience some aggravating printing jobs, which even end up having to be reprinted, because we haven’t been part of the planning from the start.
Could you give me an example of what kind of mistakes that could include?
21:26 Well, it could be set up errors. Basically it could be, we often see it on hardcover, it could be cutting marks that might end up on the covers. Then, when we make the bindings, there will be cutting marks on the front of the cover.
Then you will need new print and eventually it will delay production and delivery time?
Yes. Well, I know that it is something that our customers care a lot about, that we deliver on time, and we care about it as well. We always try to deliver at the agreed time. But of course, sometimes the deadline is so tight that it cannot be prevented, and then we have to move it a day or two.
How do you measure your output? Is it in signatures, tons or?
Well, we don’t really care that much about how many sheets we run through our machines every day, but we keep an eye on our productivity by looking at a time average every day. But of course we have a large capacity here.
Well, it is actually rather simple. When an order is completed and it has been post calculated, then we simply divide what we get for the order by the number of hours used. From that, you get an average price, and we keep an eye on that average price.
22:06 That it does not exceed our goals.
Do you share your objectives with your staff?
Well, it is the whole house that has been informed about this. First, when the number arrives. It normally arrives once a day, then it is spread by mail, and then it gets displayed on our bulletin board, allowing everyone to see where we are.
Then it turns into a sport? Or what?
Yes, well you could say that. It is a kind of scoreboard.
After your acquisition of Sandersen – your workload will increase?
That is right, it will increase with about 30%. And, we will have loads of machine capacity, which is not the problem. The problem is to acquire manpower, qualified manpower.
And what do you do then?
Well, right now, we are in the middle of hiring apprentices, we produce our own manpower here.
Is it difficult or easy to attract apprentices?
Well, it is difficult.
Yes it is, because not a lot of young people dream about becoming book binders, which means we have to get them inside of the house, and show them what this place really is.