Does the printing industry need a fresh perspective?

The open letter at the end of March, in which 26 Belgian companies in the printing industry asked to order printed matter in their own country in times of corona crisis, went down the wrong track with Dutch colleagues. What they probably did not know, but puts the project in a completely different light, is that this call was actually in response to an open letter launched by the Belgian retail sector a few days earlier. In it, they appealed to Belgian customers to buy from local online stores during the corona crisis.

Jesse on the need for a renewed look at the printing industry

Jesse Marynen, manager at Mechelen-based Buroform and also initiator of the open letter puts things in perspective: “Our letter was actually meant as an appeal to Belgian retailers to also be loyal to us and order their printing and signage locally as well. After all, we notice that more and more printed matter from Belgian and European entrepreneurs is going to low-wage countries. This is unfortunate, because as Belgian graphics companies we also want to secure the future of our employees. With our open letter, we simply wanted to make it clear to Belgian retail entrepreneurs that we are in the same boat and need them just as much as they need their customers.”

“Our letter was actually intended as an appeal to Belgian retailers to also be loyal to us and order their printing and signage locally as well.”

No narrow-minded steeple mentality

Jesse Marynen: “In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better for our appeal to make a clear reference to the retailers’ open letter, because the last thing we had in mind was to start preaching a narrow-minded message of an ‘under the steeple mentality.’ Because that won’t benefit anyone. Febelgra figures also show that 35% of print produced in Belgium is destined for export to the Netherlands and France. So by insulting our neighbors to the north with such a short-sighted vision, we would only be shooting ourselves in the foot. Let there be no mistake about that.”

Looking inward

“On top of that,” Jesse Marynen continues, “we Belgians have a lot to learn from our Dutch colleagues. Just search for a product on the Internet. Invariably, it is Dutch websites that appear on the first search page and not Belgian ones. High time to put our own hands in our pockets. Because in this area, we are missing out on a lot of orders. The corona crisis is actually the perfect moment to do some marketing and to let people know that we are here. Belgian companies in the graphics sector urgently need to work on their strengths and also make sure that they can easily be found online, because I am convinced that everything that can be done online will also go online in the future.”

Innovation in the industry

The fact that the open letter was signed by “only” 26 CEOs from the Belgian graphics sector also puts another pain point on the table. Jesse Marynen: “It also shows that we are divided in the printing industry. Rather than competing with each other and waging a price war, we should consult and support each other. I am convinced that this works better in the long run. For example, about 30% of everything we do at Buroform is outsourced because other companies are simply better than us at certain things. This crisis is perhaps the right time for the next young generation of graphic arts companies to bring innovation to the industry and make themselves heard to bring out their vision for the future of this industry.”

Have you not yet read the open letter from the participating Belgian graphic media companies? Do you still want to do this? Then you can find them here.

A publication of: Graphic News