Inventor and entrepreneur Graham Harris left his day job as a print manager after realising he had solved a major pain point in the print industry- expensive and time-consuming outsourcing. Now his company distributes over 500 products globally and is set to nearly double turnover next year.
What is the business, when was it started and what were you doing beforehand?
My company, Tech-ni-Fold Ltd, was originally set up in 1999, as a sideline business to my day job as a print finishing manager. I had this “romantic” idea, based on my knowledge and enthusiasm, to develop my own unique solutions to some of the global print industries toughest production issues, I was 36 years old and I remember thinking “it’s now or never.” I set out to create simple time-saving devices that would retro- fit existing print & print finishing equipment and would also significantly speed up and improve output quality.
Today we have developed over 500 products that sell through our own global distribution channel and have become leaders in our field, I set up CreaseStream LLP in 2011 to develop, promote and sell stand-alone machines that harness our patented technology
How did you get the idea, and what opportunity did you see when you started the business?
As a print manager I knew of the high costs of outsourcing printed items such as menus, greetings cards and leaflets to be pre-creased. Pallets of flat printed sheets would be sent across town to a specialist company where archaic machines would slowly punch creases in them, before returning them back to us to trim and fold through automatic machines. This process cost us over £50,000 per year but it was the added costs brought on by downtime that hurt, not to mention the ever-present threat of missing delivery deadlines due to production bottlenecks.
My idea was to eliminate that whole process by developing my own rotary creasing product to fit on our automatic folding machines, and if I could stop the spines of the folds from cracking, I figured I’d be a millionaire. Maybe that was a little “tongue in cheek” but no one in the history of print had ever succeeded, and despite everyone thinking I was delusional, it took me only three weeks to achieve it (from my garage) using a simple rubber o-ring to do the creasing, it was far softer than using the known steel everyone else used, and we called it the Tri-Creaser.
Today we have a £2 million turnover and are forecasting £3.5 million next year.
How did you finance it and what were the challenges of that?
After applying for a patent, I needed money to pay the patent fees, so I borrowed £2,000 from my sister and then had some early products made at a local engineering company.
My main challenge then was to sell enough devices to pay the engineers, so I could also order larger batch quantities. My wife, who began to support my venture, worked out that I needed to collect the cheques after my demonstrations, to avoid cash flow problems, and it worked brilliantly – I sold 200 devices in my first year whilst still holding down my day job, I then handed in my notice, and sales trebled, almost overnight.
What were your key marketing strategies?
For the first year, my best marketing strategy involved securing free publicity and it worked perfectly in helping me sell so many devices. I would call the leading print industry magazines to fix up interviews with new satisfied customers of my Tri-Creaser and the editorial would often prompt a flood of calls.
My early attempts at page advertising flopped, so I brought in a marketing consultant who helped me to plan a strategy, his methods worked amazingly well as we included a three-month money back guarantee that appeased the sceptics. We also developed an ecommerce website that allowed us to reach end users all over the world. Creating production videos of our solutions in action accelerated sales via the internet.
What is your revenue stream?
On average, producing one device costs on average £100, and our RRP for that product reaches towards £1,300, so profit when selling to the end customer is excellent. We can afford to discount around 40 per cent for our distributorship channel and that is enough to incentivise our partners.
The greatest element of revenue can be found in the consumable side of our business, where customers need to buy our rubber creasing inserts once they wear out. And with over 95,000 Tri-Creasers in the market this is a very lucrative area.
What are the main challenges you have experienced and seen?
Our main challenges include evolving our technology to keep pace with the changes in paper and print, as we need to constantly improve and stay ahead in our field. The implications of such changes can be found in our patent costs, which gets higher each year through our constant innovation.
We also develop an ever growing range of complimentary products to our creasing devices, and development can be expensive.
Possibly one of our greatest challenges comes from infringement cases, where lawyer fees have so far exceeded £500,000 in the last 7 years.
What advice would you give to early-stage businesses looking to disrupt markets?
Those seeking to disrupt markets need to first find out what major problems haven’t been solved yet and then pin one down. They need to identify a “pain” that hurts so much that their future customers would pay a lot of money to make it go away. And only when they calculate if that is good enough should they then think about how to solve it.
Get a conversation going at a pub, at a party or at work, and you will hear a few people who experience “pain” in some way, telling you that they would be a millionaire if they solved one problem or another.
In my experience most people assume that if something could be solved someone would have already done it, and nothing could be further from the truth. This is exactly what happened to me, I identified one of the biggest problems in print first before asking that question, why not me.
Find out more: Tech-ni-Fold Ltd
Graham Harris’ book ‘Against the Grain’ is available now on Amazon