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Relationships – not print - take centre stage at this busy printer
By Alison Whyte

With 25+ years in printing, Greg Edkins has had plenty of opportunity to learn what makes a successful business. 

His company, OSS Digital, started life as Outdoor Sign Services but its focus has now moved from outdoors to indoors.  Since the change in direction in 2005, the company has grown from 6 staff to a team of 28.  Greg expects the number to grow further.

Greg
Greg Edkins with his VUTEk printer

While OSS now specialises in high-end visual merchandising (VM) and ranks amongst its clients, high-profile companies such as David Jones, Billabong and General Pants Company, as well as many other fashion and cosmetic houses, when Greg started the business in 1985 it was for his attention-grabbing billboards that he quickly become known. ‘I loved the combination of being able to work outdoors a lot of the time and putting my creativity to work,’ says Greg.  ‘We became known for our attention-grabbing billboards, like dressing the Pyrmont silos to look as if they were on fire for IBM during the Olympic Games, and putting a live model in a cage for a Commonwealth Bank campaign.  We started with a 1.5 metre airbrush Powerjet machine out of the USA and I remember it took twenty-four hours to produce our biggest billboard which was 100 metres long.’

By 2005 Greg felt the fun had gone out of the outdoor signage business and was wondering which direction to take the business.  He met Zac Bank and the two of them decided to form a partnership and take the business in a new direction, from outdoors to indoors. As Greg puts it, ‘We didn’t want to be chasing price-driven business.’  Their decision was to focus on VM for high-end retail stores.

Located in Leichhardt, an inner-west suburb of Sydney, the OSS print shop buzzes with high-level activity.  The two main workhorses are a superwide format EFI VUTEk QS2000 UV-curing 7-colour printer and the HP 6-colour latex ink roll-to-roll Designjet L65500.  Running around the clock, these two machines produce around 75% of all jobs and the investment in more automated technology has doubled OSS’ capacity in the last 12 months.  Other key equipment items are a high-frequency welder for banner work and a Zünd multifunction digital router/cutter.

CCs_BILLBOARD SMOKE_MACHINE_BILLBOARD TOOHEYS_GOLD_BILLBOARD
Just three of the well known billboards produced by OSS  

When asked how many sales people there are in the OSS team, Greg is quick to point out that they prefer to think in terms of relationships rather than getting individual sales over the line. ‘We have a business development manager who is responsible for sourcing new clients and then we have a team of four account service managers to look after existing clients,’ says Greg.

To maintain quality output, functions are spread amongst a young and dynamic team of four ‘heads’ - head of printing (Chris Freeman, aged 38), head of production (Melissa Fuller,  aged 23), head of design (Ali Azodolmolki, aged 28) and head of finishing (Nabin Mainali, aged 25), with Chafy Yazbek (aged 28), taking on a general manager role.

5m_wide_POWERJET Old_Factory1 Old_factory
The original PowerJet 5m printer The old factory floor The old factory entrance

Greg believes on-the-job training gives the best value. ‘When we acquire a major piece of new equipment we generally pick two or three key people to be trained by the supplier. They can then pass on the knowledge to the rest of the team. ‘It is one thing to learn in a controlled classroom environment, but there is nothing like a production deadline to work out how to get the best out of your equipment,’ comments Greg wryly.

An in-house back-end system, affectionately known as Big Brother, keeps everything on track  including scheduling jobs and producing reports, displaying artwork proofs for a production QC, and alerting the Accounts Department when jobs have been completed and are ready for invoicing.

As Greg sees it, there are three key challenges he faces with running a successful business. The first is what he calls ‘not getting carried away with yourself.’  For Greg, this means keeping grounded by focusing on the client and remembering this is why they are in business, and most importantly enjoying what they do. The second is understanding the available technology. ‘Knowing what you need and what you don’t, is very important,’ says Greg, ‘or you can get carried away and spend large sums on equipment without having the work to pay for it.’ The third is also technology-related and Greg refers to it as ‘seeing down the track’. He describes this as differentiating between what the equipment-seller tells you is coming and what the market is demanding. ‘Actually, it is the customer who tells you what is coming,’ he observes.

NEW_OSS NEW_OSS2 NEW_OSS4
The new OSS entrance New factory floor New factory floor showing racks of media

For Greg the biggest opportunity facing his business is building strong client relationships. He thinks that new technology initially engenders a feeling of being able to own the world, but once the technology advantage is eroded there has to be something more substantial. ‘It’s painful for large companies to change suppliers,’ he says, ‘and sometimes you have to invest up to three years building a relationship before they are prepared to make the change. On the other hand, once you have a strong relationship it can take up to ten years before they will make a change. We work hard to really understand our clients’ businesses and how they operate.’ For Greg it’s clearly not about how many print jobs they can churn through but delivering a quality result on time, every time, to a selection of key clients that know they can rely on OSS. ‘The quality has to be evident,’ says Greg, ‘and then people will be prepared to pay.’

Focussing on what they do best seems to work well for OSS, but that’s not to say that Greg isn’t keeping an eye on developing technologies. ‘I think the whole store real estate space is going to move from being static to becoming more interactive,’ says Greg, ‘but I don’t think it’s quite ready yet.’

‘Keep it simple’ says Greg. ‘Resist the temptation to get into high volume, and understand the value of relationships.  And don’t forget to enjoy it!’

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