Print Best – an Estonia-based printing house with global scope – celebrated its 25 years of history in 2022. Stepping into the new quarter-century, Tanel Venderström and Kaarel Ausmees from Print Best’s management team sat down to share what they’ve learned along the way, and what is the key to leading a company through turbulent times.
Print Best was founded in 1997 in Viljandi – an idyllic little town with less than 20 000 people, located in the middle of Estonia. “Our first headquarters was set up in a garage, on Pargi Street,” Tanel recalls the early days of the company. Even though Print Best has carried an international name from the start, it’s unsurprising that the first clients came from the local market. Only years – and many detours – later did the management realize that true potential for growth lies in Europe.
Get ready to leap into the unknown, often
The ‘90s were a busy time, rich with business opportunities for anybody who dared to take risks and dream big. To keep on moving, Print Best opened a sales office in 1998 in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city, to move closer to big clients. Through their on-site store, they also offered office supplies, and a service to create page layouts for their customers. Tanel recalls the competing printing houses in Tallinn being skeptical of the newcomer: “They said it’s impossible to deliver results from Viljandi, 160 kilometers away. Apparently, locals had the advantage to go to clients’ offices and discuss work face-to-face.”
Tanel was a part of the three-member sales team in Tallinn. He experienced firsthand how Print Best’s range of services and potential for growth started to rapidly grow, despite the skeptics. “Small-scale requests such as name tags and bills of delivery were originally our bread and butter. In 2000, we made another big leap, expanded into the ad segment, and launched a steady cooperation with advertising agencies,” Tanel explains the strategies of the early days.
A new home – out of the garage, and into the wide shoes of a legacy-carrier
At the same time, Print Best made another strategic move by buying its current home, the big red brick building at Männimäe 4. It was a necessary move for finding wider space and keeping up with the clients’ growing demands. The building had history – during the Soviet time, it hosted the legendary printing house Kiir. Their network of orders and deliveries spanned across the USSR. Privately, the building’s previous director has shared colourful stories of what these walls had silently witnessed, from the operations of KGB, to the daily “normalities” such as printing food coupons for the masses, under the watchful eye of armed guards. “By Estonian standards, we moved to the “big league” when we acquired the legendary printing house in Männimäe,” Tanel shares.
As the new headquarter provided more space, Print Best bought its first large-format printing machine in 2003. It was the 4th of its kind in Estonia. Once again, the skeptics were loud to express that the market is “full”, there’s no more space for a new service provider. Tanel is fond to remember that within half a year they had caught up with the competition and grabbed a fair share of the profits within the sector. The international breakthrough arrived soon after – in 2004 the sale team signed the very first foreign client, from Sweden.
The opportunity of a crisis – the best time to make a move is when everyone else is cautious
2007 brought along the global economical crisis. Suddenly, companies didn’t print ads like they used to. Encouraged by the opportunity to shift target markets, Print Best started printing books. Sales Manager Kaarel shares the winning strategy that got their foot in the door: “We promised to deliver in two weeks what was normally expected to take a month. How? We invested in technologies that simply allowed us to be faster than others.”
In the following ten years, books took over 90% of Print Best’s production capacity. And more importantly – the majority of them were exported to foreign markets. “It’s baffling to think back on our growth,” Kaarel shares, “while 10-15 years ago we were knocking on doors with no answer, we’re now sitting at the discussion table with 300-year-old companies, reputable publishing houses in Europe, and receiving feedback that we’re an invaluable partner for them.”
The arrival of COVID-19 led to the shutdown of Print Best’s office in Tallinn, as the local clients were justifiably cautious to meet in person. But even in this Kaarel focuses on the untapped potential to shift, adapt, and grow: “98% of our sales consisted of export anyway – Scandinavia, Germany, Belgium, and now France… When we’re not scattered across physical offices, we can better focus on our global strategy. I was the last of our team to leave Tallinn and move down to Viljandi, where all our production is located, and our sales team is now working, online.”
In a hectic era, change is the only constant. Get comfortable.
Another challenge to overcome was the collapse of global supply chains, as the coronavirus turned the international economy upside down. “Deficit has been on the rise, along with prices of everything,” says Kaarel, “The price of paper has gone up almost 100% within two years. But let’s be frank – paper has been too cheap for too long. Our strategy is to run along with the rise of expenses, and not wait idly for the consequences to hit us. In a time like this, relationships and trust matter more than ever. The entire production chain within our industry has to get aboard with lifting their prices, and thus carry it to the end customer, the reader.”
Despite hectic times, Print Best has made its biggest decisions and most impactful investments within the last few years. They allocated 10 million euros to expand their production space, modernize the machinery and double it in size. “We’re actively bringing our core values into every decision we now make. For example, our recent efforts in post-production set-up, paper-free management, and implementing new IT solutions take us closer to the goal of being a truly sustainable company.
As a bonus, these changes make us more effective – the smarter we are at designing our processes, the more time we can take for hiring good people and training them. Our newest production line will feature robot arms which means that one person can now manage the work that used to demand the time and energy of four people,” Kaarel explains.
Value your employees as you value your best clients
Building trust with current clients has proven to be the best way to reach new markets. “Word spreads fast,” Kaarel elaborates. “Our goal is not to boast the biggest revenue in the region, but to be the number one partner for all our big clients, for the leading publishing houses in Europe.”
Tanel adds that trust is also a key element in leading a team through turbulent times. “It’s important to realize that each and every person matters. We want to make our people feel as valued as we want our best clients to feel. For some years now, we’ve been receiving feedback that we’re among the best in the industry, internationally. In my eyes, that makes our employees the best in the industry, internationally. And I hope they realize it too!”
Considering that Print Best currently employs around 95 people, and the company’s revenue for 2022 is expected to be 15 million euros, the calculated productivity per employee is impressive. By 2025, Print Best’s annual revenue is likely to grow to 35-60 million euros. “We live in interesting times. Increasing our annual numbers 3-4 times is more than possible but depends on countless details we can’t fully foresee. From inflation, increase in prices, and growing costs, to actual availability of necessary machinery – these are all factors we have to adapt to and keep up with, in order to keep on growing and expanding,” Tanel shares his vision for the future.
If you wish to be among the valued clients of Print Best’s team, leave us a message! We’re excited to hear from you!