In this “Over the Skype” session, we spoke with Sergio Castro, Country Manager of Agfa Mexico. In this episode, we talked about Sergio’s beginnings in the industry, the services that the company has offered their clients during the pandemic, as well as the evolution of the industry towards new markets that have proven essential, as well as the potential of e commerce.
En esta sesión “Over the Skype”, hablamos con Sergio Castro, Director General de Agfa México. En este episodio, hablamos sobre los inicios de Sergio en la industria, los servicios que ha ofrecido la empresa a sus clientes durante la contingencia, así como la evolución de la industria hacia nuevos mercados que han demostrado ser esenciales, así como el potencial del comercio electrónico.
Hello, good afternoon, I’m Claudia Mendoza and today I have the pleasure of talking with Sergio Castro, General Director of Agfa Mexico.
Thank you very much for being here.
Thank you for the invitation.
So why don’t we start talking to you. What is your background and how did you get started in the industry and what is your career path?
Well, I started my work at Agfa 26 years ago – 27 almost to the day.
I started at Agfa in the graphics area and two years ago I was also in charge of Agfa’s radiology area and for many of these years I was in my country of birth, Argentina, and now for seven years in my country of choice, Mexico, less here.
Tell us a little bit about Agfa and what has your background been?
I started out as an implementation engineer for RIP’s, software, and camcorders. I don’t want to bore you too much with that, but essentially helping users understand the benefits of the products. First you had to understand them and then help explain them and also support the use.
I was introduced to the commercial areas such as: marketing, sales, the newspaper area for many years for Latin America and then with my work as general manager in Mexico.
So, how’s it going as general manager?
Well, I think it’s been good.
Well, I’m not one to judge that, but I can say that it’s a very challenging
interesting and that I am happy every day to be able to contribute to the customers and the Agfa team.
For how long have you been CEO?
Two years and I spent five years in a previous phase also in Mexico, so already more than 7.
And now you are entering a little bit into the field of printing and into the industry.
Can you tell the entrepreneurs why they should choose your solutions?
I think it is always important for an entrepreneur to be able to dedicate himself to what his business really is, this is my opinion.
In this case, the printing and selling of what you print and looking for new customers and new business opportunities, and I think that for this purpose it is better to have a supplier, in this case Agfa, who gives you the comfort of not having to deal with the supplier, on the contrary, that the supplier gives you security, gives you peace of mind, solves the problem and helps you to optimize your processes.
This is something we can talk about now, so that the entrepreneur can focus on the business.
I believe that the main thing is to dedicate oneself to selling, not so much having to be wondering all day where and how to buy and if I have to fight with this or that supplier so that they can solve this or that issue.
Agfa first and foremost gives our customers long-term relationships and security.
Perfect. And right now in these times Sergio, how are you innovating?
Have you launched any special products?
What have you done during this time?
One important thing to mention is that at Agfa, and not just in Mexico but worldwide, we realized that we had an enormous value, a very useful knowledge for printers that was generally used to support the products and up to there, but we realized that we could take it further and we have transformed it then into a service that we call consultancies, which is essentially to help the printer detect areas of improvement in relation to printing standards. In particular, one of these is ISO 12C47-2.
So we can and are giving several printers the service of evaluating how areas for improvement are working, recommending those improvements eventually and implementing some of them ourselves and then following up over time, because what is it that a printer needs most today?
What do they look for most? Generally, when we talk to them, they tell us that they are looking to lower costs and I can see this a little bit further.
It is not only about lowering costs, but it is also about increasing productivity, it is about increasing quality and therefore increasing productivity is a way of lowering costs.
It is doing more with less or more in less time and increasing quality and consistency, above all.
So, the best way to do this is to work within standards.
You know, I’m not going to find out myself, that offset printing in particular, has multiple variables, many variables, and sometimes it’s difficult to know where we are accommodating the variables when the end result is not the right one or is not stable. So, at Agfa we give this consultancy service to help the printer – and we call this service Restart – to detect the areas where they can make improvements; there are always areas for improvement and it is always good to have, we believe, an external party to tell you where you can improve.
Of course, printers are not for nothing, they are entrepreneurs with many years of experience and they have knowledge and resources and many times they already had their own standards, or rather, they use standards. But it is always good to have an external consultancy and we have always detected areas of improvement when we do other jobs where clearly their work translates into strong savings such as: strong savings in ink, paper, start-up time, consistency in the jobs, that the work does not have to be done in this press and in the morning, because if I don’t do it in another press and at another time it is not going to be the same.
There are ways to provide good consistency and traceability, not only through the work Agfa can do for printers, but also with the help of software that is always checking that print quality stays within the standard.
And when I talk about standards, I don’t necessarily mean that the printer is seeking certification, which is sometimes the case.
Sometimes, moreover, the printer is looking for certification and for this kind of help from Agfa that will help them.
But mostly because working to standards always brings savings. It always brings consistency and it always brings benefits.
Exactly that is what the printer needs, and what he is looking for.
Yes, everyone is really telling us at this time of so much pressure, not only now because of the COVID but in general, the evolution of the business shows that: that everyone needs to lower their costs. However, very often the best solution is to look for optimization, there is a lot of room to do it. We have seen it and we are very happy to give that kind of service and see the results.
Sergio and for you, how do you see a new normality in the industry, how do you perceive it?
Well, this is a situation that evolves every day.
It’s hard to have a strong opinion right now.
What I can tell you is more than anything else what we are seeing in our clients or the market in general in the area of large format printing, not so much offset, but large format, where we are seeing good opportunities for new services, new types of work that are related to the pandemic such as separators, masks, etc.
I can’t cover all the possibilities, but new jobs and new demands have been created on the advertising side that have to do with what is happening with the pandemic. And another area of work I can recommend is that I’m seeing much more interest than in the past in e-commerce.
The fact that we can be in communication like we are right now.
Unfortunately not in person, but through the electronic media.
There are very good systems for selling printed matter in electronic form.
At Agfa we have, we are not the only ones, but we have a very good one.
It is called StoreFront, which is very practical and allows the printer to interact with his client or his client’s clients through electronic sales, either with a password or totally open to the public.
It is an area we have suddenly seen a boom in interest because that is when it is most needed.
So I suggest that the printer, the entrepreneur, also pays attention to these new opportunities that are opening up via e-commerce, which is a lot easier than it looks. This is very simplified and very practical to do.
It is a matter of deciding to implement it and I now see a lot more willingness to spend a few days or a few minutes on that.
And you guys at Agfa, what’s your way of working?
How are you performing? Do you have security standards? What are you doing in that regard?
We have applied all possible and necessary safety measures, but at the same time we have kept working.
We continue to deliver material, we continue to work in warehouses, we continue to physically deliver the freight, we continue to service the customers when necessary
with a machine or a support in press and do the same with the consultancies I mentioned. Of course, the level of face-to-face activity has dropped.
We do this mostly by decision of our clients, also our decision to do the essential. But all the basics are still there.
No customer of ours has been left without the necessary support or material from Agfa, nor will they ever do.
We are open and in business and many of us are working from home, those who can do it remotely and those who have to go out into the field are doing it with all the precautions that our people need and that our customers need.
And that’s important, that people can hear us and that they get the message that Agfa is still working.
Agfa is still committed to offering its solutions.
Yes, we are working. We consider ourselves, and many of our customers have made us see this too, part of an essential production chain, because much of what is produced in the printing environment goes to essential areas such as food or medical products.
We even have a medical area at Agfa, I think I mentioned it, an area of Radiology, so for these reasons too we are very active, because we are involved in many key sectors which are essential to this country’s economy.
Last but not least Sergio, any advice you can give to clients who already have your equipment or to clients in general.
Any advice you can give them to continue to prosper in these times.
What is your opinion?
Well, I think I already mentioned it, it’ s to pay attention to it and to develop and implement e-commerce.
It adds up, it adds up a lot and it’s surely going to help them position themselves better in the future and it’s quite simple. It’s really not something that has to be developed from scratch.
Suppliers like Agfa have already developed it and it is a matter of implementing it under some adjustments for each one’s use.
In the case of large-format printers, I also see that it is time to pay attention to new business areas that are opening up and always move away from pure work or volume per square metre, weight per square metre, which generally leaves no profit, and dedicate more and continue to focus on the valuable print.
We are seeing, I comment that not only now, but for several years now, an interesting dedication of several of our clients to print jobs, almost I would say industrial, I do not know, hotel decoration of all types of industrial work.
I am missing a better example now.
However, from making a new product, different or more striking, where the value of the product itself is already discussed, and not how much it cost per square meter or how much it sells for our square. This in the large format area is working well together with the larger volume that has to do with the displays for sales stands, for posters, interiors or decoration. These are areas that are growing a lot and where I think you can still harvest a lot more.
In the offset area, these are hard times, yes, but it is still a very good business and we are there to support it and where I think the two points where I can recommend you to focus is on taking advantage of these consulting services to optimize what you already have. Many times I hear that more production capacity is needed and I am thinking of putting in one more press, but the first thing is before buying a new press, to optimize what you already have and use it better.
And there’s a lot to do there and well, I suggest you get into it.
You can count on Agfa’s help if you feel like it.
And don’t forget about e-commerce.
Of course, the picture isn’t as gray as it appears to be.
No, no, no.. More than one would rather miss the possibility of working and selling and making prints.
These days we’re all at half-mast, too, but as we call our consultancy, the Restart is about to arrive very soon and it’s time to get ready.
Also take advantage of this time to take online trainings, to talk to customers and suppliers online because there is a lot that can be done.
Different, but surely also productive.
Sure, sure, now you’re talking.
Finally, anything to say to your clients; to your users?
Count on us as always.
If there is one thing I learned in my many years at Agfa, it is that we are a company that prioritizes and demonstrates that it cares about long-term relationships.
You never sell a product and then it disappears. We are always here, not just when we sell, but afterwards.
I also say it many times, our main job is not to sell, our main job is to support what we have sold, so count on us because that’s what we are here for and I think we can take away a lot of internal worries so that you can focus on the business, on the external.
That’s a very good message, Sergio.
Thank you very much and thank you for this opportunity.
Let’s hope everything goes well for everyone.
Thank you for the opportunity.
I hope I have been clear and have given an idea or a message that will be useful to you.
A very good message.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
We’ll keep in touch.