Any Harvard business school textbook applicable to businesses in a sector where there are hundreds or thousands of competitors essentially offering the same product in a limited market, like the modern day printing sector, will say that the only way to grow is to either become the biggest and eat the rivals or find a niche and make it your own, otherwise it becomes a race to the bottom price and results in unsustainable business.
Roger Kirwan, founded Foxcil as a trade label printer five years ago, coming out of a strong heritage in labels, and has since gone on to add three other business divisions, one through acquisition and two through identifying gaps in the market and creating a business to meet that demand. All four businesses are niche operations.
Today in addition to Foxcil he has Roller Poster, a trade plastic roll printing business that he bought out of administration, he has an online signs business suddensigns.com and in the next two months will have a new trade plastic bag printing business.
One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor goes the saying, and when Sydney printer Roller Poster fell over in 2016 the timing was fortuitous for Roger Kirwan and his Foxcil business. Kirwan was looking to move from the premises he was renting, which was two blocks from Roller Poster in the Sydney suburb of Brookvale, and was looking to expand his own business.
Roller Poster is a specialised print business producing LDPE and BOPP in continuous reels, and had a well-used Simon VK central impression flexo press as its main piece of production equipment. Most buyers having a look around were put off by this, as the Simon VK is a relatively obscure piece of kit, but for Kirwan it had the opposite effect, one Simon VK flexo press was used at the first printer he worked at Mainguard Packaging in Christchurch, which at the time had 120 staff and half a dozen large flexo presses, and he was entirely comfortable with what he saw. He says, “Most people walked in, saw the big Simon VK, and said ‘what is that’, but I knew exactly what it was and what it was capable of.”
Foxcil is a digital label printing business, so Roller Poster meant entry into a new market with continuous rolls of film-based printing, but with the kit and the staff Kirwan knew if he put sales and marketing effort in he would be rewarded. The previous owner was more hands off with less going into sales and marketing.
Kirwan says, “Foxcil had got to the stage where we were really strugglilng for room, we were in just 400 sqm. Then Roller Poster came up, and it had 2000sqm. But what really attracted me was its staff, equipment and its niche market. I could see synergies saving costs, for instance in administration, and by moving the Foxcil business in we were saving the rent, but more than that I could see it had the basis of a great business, and was delighted to buy the business. There was virtually no crossover in clients which was good. I saw the capabilities of the press straight away, those machines run forever. It was an opportunity at an opportune time.”
Kirwan bought the business, kept half the six staff and moved Foxcil into the Roller Poster building, which as it turned out was a necessary move. He says, “Everyone knows that moving a manufacturing business is a costly exercise, but I would have had to do it anyway, the week after I bought Roller Poster, the landlord of the Foxcil building put it up for sale and as we were only on a rolling lease the decision to move was effectively made for us, so moving into Roller Poster was the perfect opportunity.”
From his beginnings in the industry at Mainguard with the Simon VK press Kirwan went to Kiwi Labels in Christchurch, which when he joined was 100 per cent letterpress, part of his remit was to convert production to 100 per cent flexo.
Kiwi Labels was then bought by Geon, and installed the first Xeikon digital label press in Australasia, with Kirwan then in the role of general manager. He then transferred to Geon in Australia as operations manager. He had moved on three months before the company went under, and was working for Opus, as well as setting up the Foxcil business, in full agreement of the Opus team, and five years ago he launched Foxcil, as a two person operation. Numbers are now up to twelve.
He says, “I started Foxcil because it was becoming apparent that there was a need for short-run on demand labels but no-one to service that need. Variable data was also emerging, although this has been a bit of a slow burner. I had the commercial experience and the label experience. And I had a lot of contacts through working with Geon and Opus. My main market was trade printing. Many print businesses are asked for short run labels.
“At the start though it was a struggle to convince them that we could produce what they wanted, but eventually they realised that there were not that many trade label printers that could offer a two day turnaround service on labels.”
Kirwan started Foxcil with just himself and one other person, with Kirwan himself the main printer, servicing other commercial printers of Sydney with labels. Today there are six times the number of people working at the company, and business comes from all over Australia.
Kirwan says, “We know what commercial printers want, we know what pressures they are under, and we give them what they need when they need it.
The main production equipment at Foxcil is the Xeikon digital press. Kirwan of course knew Xeikon well from his time at Kiwi Labels, and is a fan of the Belgian manufactured digital colour printer. He says, “It has been brilliant, reliable, and consistently producing high quality work. I have been to the factory in Belgium, talked to the people there, they really know what they are doing.”
Kirwan hired the former Xeikon technician who had worked at Kiwi Labels for the first year of his operation, after that he was on his own. He also invested in a Roland DG wide format printer, for ultra-short run stickers.
He says, “It was intense in those early days, I was running the press and the business, but the Xeikon never let me down for printing. And I bought some Smag finishing equipment, which has also served us very well.”
He says, “The first two years was tough, so much to do, with limited resources and a limited customer base. The biggest challenge was expanding the customer base, but thankfully we got through that stage and have now built up a good reputation for ourselves, with sales coming through word of mouth.”
These days Kirwan has moved out of production to technical support, and sales and client relations, which is still almost exclusively with printers for the label side of the business.
He says, “I oversee all the sales for both businesses, I have a great team here now who take care of production, and we work to meet the client demands. We are a new business, so we are agile, flexible, and know how important it is for the customer to be satisfied with what we deliver. And so far so good, we have customers that we have had since we began, which is a great testimony to the fact that we are providing what the market wants.”
Now that Roller Poster is bedded in Kirwan is looking to expand the product offering, and is looking at alternate applications in the flexible packaging space. Kirwan says, “Roller Poster is based on quick turnarounds and short runs. We have a got a fantastic machine and guys that know how to run it.”
Kirwan has invested in new equipment for the job with a new
GE DLD320 digital plotter / cutter 320mm from Gulmen Engineering, which is a computer to cut, slit and finish-rewind for digital printed media rolls, for the ultra-short run work.
Starting a new business demands energy and creativity, and Kirwan has shown plenty of that, which is also leading to his latest venture, an online signs business www.suddensigns.com where customers can order generic labels – Leased, Sale and the like.
Kirwan says, “It is a retail shopfront where anyone can order these type of signs. Trade customers can also go on there but they will get a trade price. Essentially it is part of the development plan for the business. It is a new way of reaching the market, of providing a service to people.
There is no customisation, so there will be little appeal to our trade customers who tend to want bespoke work, but we feel there is a demand for this low cost generic work as well, it is more for the mum and dad retail businesses. We are dipping our toe in the water and will see what kind of a response we achieve.”
Creatabull plastic bags
In his latest move Kirwan is taking steps to move into plastic bag production with Creatabull. This is also a trade service providing bags to printers and print buyers.
Kirwan says the company would never compete against big runs of plastic bags out of China because print buyers are required to buy significant volumes and wait many weeks, and unlike those overwhelmned by the production power and prices from China he saw this as an opportunity.
He says, “In today’s instant world there is an incessant growing demand for quick turnarounds, something the Chinese simply cannot offer. That is where we come in – smaller runs and fast turnarounds. We believe demand for our bags will be from our print customers servicing retailers looking for high street shopping bags fast.
“Typically the bags will be quality printed low density 80um style of bags, recyclable or biodegradable, we are not looking at the high density single use supermarket style bags,” he says.
Kirwan says there were two main reasons he expanded his company into the plastic bag business. “First it is the perfect fit for Roller Poster, it already has the big flexo graphic press which you need to do bags. We have already got the big expensive press all we need is the finishing line.
“The second thing is my whole strategy is to service printer and print buyers with non-standard products. I am not interested in business cards and letterheads, I do not want to compete with my customers. I am all about producing and sourcing things that are difficult for a client to source and bags seems obvious,” he says.
“We have targeted machines that we believe will provide the best range of alternatives for our customers. We expect to be able to offer bags that will feature a choice of handles, including flexi loop, and die punched, as well as closures including hot melt and tape courier style bags with sealable flaps
Kirwan bought two machines in the UK with a wide range of capabilities.
“Because of two machines I have a wide range of capability. I imagine the bags can be up to any width within reason and for printed bags probably a max of around 600mm length,” he says. The equipment is still a couple of months away from final testing and installation.
Easy to do business
The Foxcil business has caught the attention of the NSW government and specifically its business development team. Foxcil will be one of six business that are featuring in a new programme titled Easy To Do Business, each of which aims to highlight industries that the government believes are prime areas for people to start new businesses.
Some in the industry may raise an eyebrow at the government citing print as an area for people to begin new businesses, but there are people who are starting innovative print businesses of one kind or another as the industry recalibrates, with Kirwan and Foxcil a leading example.
Labels, printed plastic rolls and plastic bags are all required by general print buyers, but the servicing of trade buyers in these spaces is far from ideal, and the suppliers in these spaces do not understand the price and turnaround pressures commercial print buyers are under.
Starting a new business is not for the faint-hearted, but Kirwan has created and positioned Foxcil to meet a clear need in the market, and has now established the foundations to go on and grow the business. By diversifying but leveraging existing knowledge trough Roller Poster and suddensigns.com he is building on those foundations, and showing that print with a clear focus can deliver results.