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Cape Town's Hot Ink keeps business fresh and green

Hot Ink's offices in Long Street, Cape Town. Hot Ink's offices in Long Street, Cape Town.

In a price-sensitive industry like digital printing, it takes a brave business to prioritise quality and service over quantity and cost. But that's exactly the recipe that's made Cape Town-based digital design and print house, Hot Ink, such a hit with the city's trendy creative crowd, according to owner and co-founder Nic Johnson.

"When we started the business in 1997, we tossed the blueprint for a traditional print house," says Johnson. "For one, we recruited a dedicated in-house graphic design team, which immediately set us apart from other print shops and allowed us to become a genuine one-stop design-to-print service," he says. "We coupled that with a focus on the customer experience that has recently been extended to include free onsite WiFi and lounge room décor, which makes creatives (like ourselves) feel right at home."

Hot Ink currently counts as its clients some of Cape Town's major film studios and modelling agencies, although as these industries shifted towards online (rather than printed) material distribution over the years, so the company has had to evolve and expand its client base to include more traditional industries.

In November 2012, Hot Ink invested in the new Xerox Colour 1000 digital colour press, continuing its practice of purchasing the latest technology and trading in previous-generation machinery every four to five years.

"The Colour 1000 was a significant jump from the Colour 700, but so was the jump in quality, volume, media types and overall reliability," says Johnson.

"It's allowed us to steadily increase our capacity (volumes are up 20% since the purchase,) but more importantly, because we can turn around higher-volume jobs at the same or better quality, and at a lower price, it's given our clients more time to ensure their artwork and other materials are optimised before sending them to us to print.

"This in itself has opened up a bigger market for us, and in doing so, we expect it will help us generate more business in new industries and allow us to continue the focus on quality we set for ourselves from the start."

Co-founder and owner Lisa Saville says the benefits of working with Xerox and a dedicated business partner like Oxbow go beyond client satisfaction.

"The reason we consistently deliver the quality our clients expect is because we have quality staff that are motivated to do better and deliver more every day," says Saville.

"For starters, it means making sure we have the latest technology and that our computers are always up-to-date with current hardware and software, and creating a flexible, relaxed work environment that staff look forward to working in every day," she says.

"From a technology perspective, we've always been a Xerox shop – and will always be a Xerox shop – because there's no other brand that comes close to the quality of a Xerox digital press at the volumes we're producing. At the same time, our dedicated IT manager and part owner, Andrew Mance, is responsible for keeping our technology on track and troubleshooting any issues long before they become a problem for Xerox's support team."

It's this attitude that's seen Hot Ink attract more than 1 000 repeat clients, with products ranging from brochures, flyers, labels, business cards, wedding stationery, menus and photo books, to t-shirt printing, large format posters and canvas prints, window vinyls, signage, wallpapers and lightboxes.

Oxbow Group Managing Director Brett Furlong believes Hot Ink's success is indicative of an often-overlooked truism: passionate people drive the business.

"We can talk about the technical advances in our latest digital press workhorses, and they're important, but once you have customers at your door it's up to you, as a business owner, to keep them coming back, and that's something both Nic and Lisa have done incredibly well," says Furlong.

"Likewise as a technology partner it's our job to go beyond supplying the machinery that runs the business. This could mean simply offering advice based on our extensive industry footprint, or going the extra mile and assigning business development experts to help our clients win and deliver on major projects."

Paul Haglich, Product Marketing Manager – Production Systems at Bytes Document Solutions, says the strategy from a partner's perspective for a progressive company like Hot Ink is fourfold.

"The solutions we provide must help our customers delight their customers with outstanding service and print quality, produce more jobs by expanding the range of printed products they offer, grow their business with their passionate, experienced staff and matching complementary technology, and reduce costs with faster turnaround at a lower price," he says.

Looking to the future, Hot Ink has recently completed a major rebranding project, including an interior redesign and Web site overhaul, and is one of the only design and print houses in Cape Town to be certified carbon neutral.

"Going green and extending our services to include pro bono and socially responsible sponsorships is part of our ethos as a company, and is as important to us as it is for many of our clients," says Johnson.

"To date we've invested in gold standard carbon credits from an environmental project in Kenya and now a local Cape Town project, and have been a major sponsor of printed material for The Amy Biehl Foundation for several years. These are projects our people are personally invested in, which is why it's important that we keep the business fresh, funky and growing every year."

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