Investing in the Student Experience
The University of Leeds Print and Mail Service has an interesting setup, as explained by Business and Systems Manager Oliver Renshaw.
“We’re in the basement of a lecture theater with 25 lecture theaters above us,” he says. “There’s a pond with a heron sitting in it outside, and we’re down here in a bunker with no external windows.”
Despite the lack of external light, the Leeds, England-based print shop is at the heart of the campus, and amid an exciting install of a raft of new equipment.
“We’ve almost finished installing everything,” reports Renshaw. “Almost.”
The new additions to the university’s print portfolio include two color and two black-and-white digital presses, and on the wide-format side a new HP Latex 360 and Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000S. The haul even includes an edible ink printer from DTM Print that is “going down a storm,” says Renshaw.
A significant part of the investment centers on new finishing equipment, including a Duplo DC-648 slitter/cutter/creaser, a Duplo iSaddle 5.0, a Duplo PFI Blade B2+, a Duplo DuBINDER DPB-500 single clamp perfect binder, and a Matrix MX-530DP laminator and foiler from Vivid Laminating Technologies. One major contributing factor to the bolstering of the finishing department is a loss of manpower on the print shop floor.
“Some staff that were responsible for finishing have retired,” Renshaw reveals. “We’ve had four members of staff retire.” Sadly, the print shop also experienced the loss of a staff member to COVID during the pandemic. Renshaw now has 12 employees in Print and Mail Service.
Heavy Software Investment
The streamlined team necessitates increased automation, which as well as playing a key role in equipment decisions has also resulted in heavy software investment.
“We have implemented Switch from Enfocus along with PitStop Pro Server, and Ultimate Impostrip from TranseoMedia,” he details. “We currently use Digital StoreFront [rebranded EPS MarketDirect StoreFront] for Web-to-print, which works very well. We operate four online stores: one for staff, one for students, one for another university we serve, and a store for [the] National Institute for Health Research.”
The online store capability was a lifeline during the pandemic; the department created a dedicated portal for COVID-specific posters, floor vinyls, and other important signage, which as well as being crucial to keeping the campus safe, helped raise the profile of the Print and Mail Service internally.
“It promoted our online ordering system to a much wider audience,” explains Renshaw, “and because of the nature of what we were producing, it was an opportunity to promote some of the things that people didn’t realize we could do. Previously, we were called the Printed Copy Bureau, and that has connotations of a 1970s photocopying department and didn’t really reflect the breadth of work that we undertake, so we chose to rebrand as Print and Mail because that’s what we do.”
Renshaw and the team plan to build on this momentum with an extensive marketing campaign from the summer, with service-specific open houses designed to show different customers just how broad its range of services is.
A Mix of Print Work
The work produced at Leeds is typically very seasonal, with demand for posters and marketing materials seeing an uptick throughout summer. Unsurprisingly, course-related materials are always high up on the list.
“Our work here is mostly split into three distinct areas,” explains Renshaw. “We’ve got traditional document printing; then we’ve got graphic arts printing on the marketing side where the designers are producing pop-up banners, very high-quality marketing, brochures, catalogs, flyers, posters, so on; then we’ve got the transactional work, which is not huge, but [includes] things like offer letters using variable data, which we’re looking to grow.”
The in-plant’s recent investment will certainly play a key role in helping Renshaw and his team find success in those key growth areas, particularly boosting their capabilities on the graphic arts side and producing higher value work. As much traditional print collateral goes online, the team at Leeds Print and Mail Service strive to ensure print’s unique impact isn’t lost.
“There is a massive digital push here at Leeds, and people seem to forget about print as part of that mix. Our aim is to change the perception of print,” he says. “We love digital communications, but we want to show that print is a premium communication medium. Some people have a very old-fashioned perception of what we do, that it’s a dirty, industrial process. But as we know, it’s not. There’s a lot of technology involved, and the embellishment aspect makes it a really tactile and haptic experience to interact with a piece of print.”
This is a familiar challenge all over the print industry. To change that impression at Leeds, early discussions are going on about actually opening up the facility to allow students to experience print for themselves.
“It’s getting the [students] involved to come down and see what we do and how to do it. Whether it’s during their time at Leeds, or whether they use it later on in life, they may think, ‘Oh, I could do something with print,’” he says. “It’s not just about putting a mark on a piece of paper for us. We’re trying to think a little bit differently about what we do.”
University of Leeds Print and Mail Service is a constant throughout students’ time at the university, Renshaw explains.
“The minute they apply to Leeds, we’re one of the first communications that goes out as they receive their offer letter. When they leave, they leave with a graduation certificate. We’re at the start and at the end of their journey, and it’s what we can do in the middle to add value to that that’s key to us.”
That includes those special, “nice-to-have” extras that elevate the memories students are making on their academic journeys.
“It could be anything from a photobook to a canvas print, even to a printed biscuit that makes them laugh,” Renshaw notes. “A lot of what we do is focused on that student experience. At the end of the day, that’s our primary customer.”
Related story: University of Bristol: Evolving, Adapting, and Innovating
Karis Copp is a U.K.-based journalist and communications specialist. With a background as a writer and editor in the print industry, she writes about print and technology news and trends, reports on industry events, and works with businesses to help them tell their stories and connect with their customers. Follow her on Twitter @KarisCoppMedia.