Company redesign has helped book printing businesses stay afloat in the digital age

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This article has been published 3/15/2018 (1294 days ago), the information it contains may therefore no longer be up to date.



Ten years ago, the outlook was bleak for Altona’s famous book printer, Friesens Corporation.

The first e-reader was released by Amazon in 2007, the global economy collapsed in 2008, and China became a cheap competitor in book printing, sending business overseas.

“We’ve had this digital threat, a foreign threat and an economic threat, all three have had a huge impact on publishing and on Friesens,” said Chad Friesen, who was appointed CEO last October.

But the ebook march hasn’t destroyed paper, as many predicted. In fact, e-book sales in North America have leveled off over the past two years at around 20 percent of the market, and even declined slightly last year.

Meanwhile, hardcover books – Friesens’ stock in the trade – have seen a small surge. They have climbed seven percent in each of the past two years in North America. Friesens is a private company and the CEO does not disclose his sales figures except to say that his earnings are comparable.

“We are delighted,” said Friesen.

“We feel like we’re hitting all cylinders.”

Although it may be too early to launch the “Paper Wins!” Campaign. Paper wins! Headlines, no one predicted. To meet growing demand, Friesens has embarked on a hiring wave. A total of 36 employees were hired in the Philippines last year, with 40 more in the works and expected to arrive soon.

What’s more, the company has reinvested $ 7 million in two high-end bookbinding lines, the kind of shopping spree the company wouldn’t have done five years ago, Friesen said.

But there were difficult times. Many printers and bookbinders left the industry between 2008-12. “There has been a kind of market widening in the book printing market,” Friesen said.

At Friesens, the private company has avoided layoffs in part because it is owned by employees. “The employee-owners have made some concessions on compensation,” including a pay cut, said Friesen.

The key to the turnaround, Friesen said, was for the company to maintain its sales force. When the economy began to recover, it positioned Friesens faster in the market than companies that cut sales staff.

The company also launched two new product lines. In 2009, he entered self-publishing services, where he helps people publish their own work. That same year, she launched a specialist packaging company, think4D.

Think4D is a plastic packaging company using patented thermoforming technology. Friesens bought the technology from the developer and holds the patent until 2025.

It’s decorative packaging that not only can be contoured, but also provides texture, and has been used by global brands on everything from Gillette women’s razors to children’s toys. (It’s called 4D instead of 3D because it incorporates a fourth dimension, the sense of touch, into the packaging.)

“It’s still print. We come from a print space, so we were able to apply some of those capabilities to the packaging,” Friesen said.

This involved reassigning some employees, but Friesens now has virtually the same number of employees, 570, as in 2007.

“It’s not that we just held the same people that we had in 2007 and they’re in the same types of roles. There has been a drastic change in roles,” Friesen said.

The two new companies combined now represent more than 10 percent of the company’s gross sales.

CEO Friesen has no connection with the founding family of that name. David Friesen, the last of the founding family members linked to the company, sits on the company’s board of directors.

Most of the new hires come from overseas, as Friesens accesses the Provincial Nominee Program.

It’s a surprise. Friesens is one of the highest paid employers, if not the highest paid, in southern Manitoba. His wages must remain competitive with those of unionized printers in Winnipeg. However, it already has around 570 employees in Altona, which has 4,167 residents, according to the 2016 census.

“We’re struggling to find enough people. We’re running 24/7 – four full-time shifts,” Friesen said. Employees work two 12-hour shifts one week, followed by four 12-hour shifts the following week.

The company started recruiting overseas about three years ago, and early arrivals included people from Syria, Venezuela and China. Lately, he has focused his efforts on the Philippines.

Ron Funk, vice president of the Morden Chamber of Commerce, said most large companies need to access the Provincial Nominee Program for Pembina Valley employees.

“Everyone is suffering from the same. They are in desperate need of workers,” Funk said.

Foreign workers can arrive a few weeks or months after recruitment and receive the same compensation as any other employee. However, it costs the company more to recruit. These costs include traveling abroad to recruit workers, reimbursing newcomers for plane tickets, and helping them get settled.

They receive funds from the Canada-Manitoba Job Grant to help fund training initiatives like English or essential skills training, but 55% of the costs are still borne by the business and the classroom itself. found on the company’s website, Friesen said.

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