Printers can reap the benefits of a healthier print arena, were they need to unite under an association like the Printing and Publishing Group (PPG). Undercutting will lead to unhealthy competition between the presses within the industry," explains the executive director of the family owned Asiatic Printing Press, Vipin Ramachandran.

A mechanical engineer by qualification, Ramachandran joined his father and brother S J Nair, who established the Asiatic Printing Press. The family-owned business also employs Ramachandran's mother as the head of HR, while Vipin looks after production and marketing.

"Our core strength is our staff who have stood by the company through thick and thin, we still have people working with us who have joined the day Asiatic was formed."

Posting a year-on-year growth between 20-30% until 2007, Asiatic chose to control investments during the slowdown period at the end of 2008 until mid 2011. "In the last few years, the run lengths are coming down and we are branching into digital. Now, we are fully equipped offset and digital printers. Our last investment was in Kodak's NexPress 3000. The printing industry pre-recession was a quantity market, we could sell huge quantities and smaller orders were brushed off. Every customer was given a sales pitch about the cost benefits of printing larger quantities. However with the run lengths declining, customisation and demand for variable data, we are equipping ourselves with digital machines to serve the needs of all clients. The decision to start an outdoor signage company, Asiatic Media in 2009, was based on the premise of establishing a one-stop-shop."

"When quantities were large, there was a tendency of printing and wasting. Usually for exhibitions, customers would have 10,000-20,000 flyers printed, simply because they have been advised about the decreasing cost per unit with an increase in quantities. However, now customers are only ordering quantities that they actually require. 2008 was a reality check for most people. For me and our team, we are now looking into areas where we never looked before. We are focussing on reducing wasteful expenditure, optimising our staff strength and controlling expenditure into machinery. Lot of printers have the habit of increasing capacity, and then are forced to undercut prices to keep these machines running."

Printers according to Ramachandran should not indulge in price wars. "Printers," he says, "should support each other instead of competing in unhealthy ways, this is one way in which the industry will grow. Just because a fellow-printer has an 8-colour machine, that doesn't mean Asiatic too should buy one. A more realistic way would be to first gauge the size of the market and then plan additional investments in technology. For us, outsourcing print jobs is also a viable option."

Expressing his regret at the credit policies being adopted by printers in the UAE, the executive director feels that printers are to blame for bringing in detrimental terms of business. "The 90-120 days credit terms are unheard of in other businesses. At Asiatic too, we need to take hard decisions sometimes. Depending on the credibility of the customer, we decide the credit terms."

Dwelling on the challenges facing the printing industry, Ramachandran says, "Mainly it is the drastically falling quantities that is posing a problem to printers. With the Indian market booming, recruiting staff is another challenge since operators are now reluctant to work in Gulf countries. Also the print industry being labour intensive, if recruiting and retaining staff were to become more challenging, we will need to move towards automation. Another factor that is coming into play is the expectations of customers, which is very high and difficult to match, since clients want superior quality at low prices. With declines in quantity, digital and inkjet media is more in demand. Customers now do not want to spend anything more in printing extra quantities. The trend these days favours smaller runs and variable data."

Dubai, according to Ramachandran, is far superior in print technology than the other Middle East regions. Asiatic Printing Press has received the ISO 9001 and 14001 certification and a total of 4 awards at the Dubai International Print Awards organized by PPG.

Walking down memory lane, Ramachandran says, "The most memorable moment in my career was when we bought our first KBA 105. It was a big step for us, since we were a small-sized commercial printer until then. Success, to me is hard work by the entire team."