Printing success with a three-point business strategy

Bangalore: In 2005, when Manish Sharma was looking to start out on his own, he was clear about three things—the business had to serve both the retail and corporate segments, have the benefits of scalable technology and cater to an underserved market. The result: Printo, a retail chain offering print and related services under one roof.

Printo Document Services Pvt. Ltd, of which Sharma is chief executive and co-founder, prints documents, business cards, brochures, manuals, presentation handouts, project reports, tickets, vouchers, certificates, posters and banners. Loosely modelled on Kinko’s, a US printing retail chain, Printo aims to move customers away from the unorganized print segment.

Focused: Printo CEO Manish Sharma at the firm’s Jayanagar outlet.

Sharma, 36, says he has considerable traction among both business and retail consumers. “The challenge for us now is to achieve scalability and efficiency without any compromise on our quality of services," he adds.

Besides regular print services, Printo offers a template bank that customers can rely on to customize a print order, saving printing time and cost.

Printo has 16 stores in Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and Mumbai (including on the premises of Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd) and plans to have 100 more outlets in two years. By 2013, Sharma says the chain will be 250-strong across India. Printo plans to utilize the Rs25 crore funding it raised from Sequoia Capital for expansion.

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Pricing, says Printo’s CEO, is at par with the other mom-and-pop stores, as the start-up does not charge for product design. An order of, say, 100 visiting cards would cost Rs150 at Printo.

“We have come a long way from a day when one customer would visit our store. Now, we get about 1,000 customers at our 16 stores, and the conversion level is (as) high as 95%," Sharma says.

Local printers make for able competition, says Sharma, but Printo is banking on its competitive prices, design templates, add-on services such as delivery for companies, to set it apart. Printo has a loyalty programme that offers customers a discount of 5% on a repeat purchase, for instance. Also, a customer can place an order in one city and ask for delivery in another city, where Printo has its outlets.

Printo plans to offer services such as courier delivery and stationery in the future. It currently has 230 employees and posted a turnover in excess of Rs5 crore in 2007. The firm sees revenue of at least Rs16 crore this year and expects to break even next month.

Sharma says he is not looking at an exit before 10-15 years. “We need to build a business for life. Exit can or cannot happen depending on the right price," he adds. Kinko’s was acquired by Fedex Corp. for $2.4 billion (Rs12,000 crore today) early in 2004.

An executive at a venture capital firm says Printo’s business model can benefit from clubbing services offered by different businesses under one umbrella, but there are challenges. “Each store needs to have a printing facility and hardware on the spot, so break-even for each store will take time. Also, the company needs an extensive geographic presence due to the nature of its business, so investments in terms of real estate and manpower will be high," this executive said, requesting anonymity, since he had studied the Printo business plan for investment earlier.


Lunch options for calorie watchers

Mumbai: Long years of being a bookworm, with very little exercise, began to show on Cyrus Driver in the form of an out-of-control waistline while working for a private equity (PE) arm of JPMorgan Chase and Co. in Singapore.

The Mumbaiite realized that eating healthy while putting in long hours at work was a tough task. “The only way to do that was to have a healthy meal in the right portions delivered to my desk," he says. That realization and an entrepreneurial streak saw him return to India in mid-2004 and start his own meals delivery service for the calorie-conscious in Mumbai, Goodlife Integrated Fitness Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

Under the brand name CalorieCare, it made its first delivery in September 2005, and has since grown to supply between 600 and 1,000 meals a day, depending on the season.

With around 50 people—dieticians, delivery boys and chefs—running the show now, his customers can choose from a mix of 500 recipes and 70 meal plans. “All our recipes and meal plans are fed into a proprietary software, which can automatically track calorie content," says Driver, who is also a director in Helix Investments Co., a PE investment vehicle of New York’s Cullman family and Bloomingdale Properties Inc., a US-based investment and real estate company.

Driver uses his own delivery boys as well as the Mumbai dabbawallas’ (tiffin suppliers) network to reach his customers. Supplying primarily to offices during lunch hour, CalorieCare managed to break even earlier this year.

In the works is an expansion to Bangalore and New Delhi, for which Driver has tied up finances from Helix, details of which he did not disclose.

The benefits of sourcing in a city-specific centralized kitchen will help Driver’s business, but growth will depend on how efficiently the company distributes meals and manages customer expectations, says Rahul Chandra, director at Helion Ventures Pvt. Ltd, which manages a $350 million (Rs1,750 crore) India-focused fund that also invests in consumer services businesses.

In Mumbai, CalorieCare counts Vital Foods and Positive Health Tiffin (run by nutritionist Vijaya Venkat) among its competitors, and will be up against VLCC Healthcare Ltd’s calorie-counted outlet in Gurgaon when Driver expands to the so-called National Capital Region.

Competition, says Driver, is hardly the main problem, with growing demand for the delivered meal service. “It’s the cost pressures such as wage and food raw material inflation that we are more worried about. We want to be able to grow our business with a decent margin."

Printo Document Services Pvt. Ltd, Goodlife Integrated Fitness Solutions Pvt. Ltd and Cane-O-La Foods Pvt. Ltd are among the nominated companies at the Tata NEN Hottest Startups competition, of which Mint is the official print media partner. Details of the competition can also be accessed at

Sanat Vallikappen


Cane juice, anyone?

Bangalore: Entrepreneur G. Srinivasa Rao is betting there is enough demand for sugar cane juice to justify a specialized chain of stores serving the syrupy beverage. His Cane-O-La Foods Pvt. Ltd offers the juice in six flavours—from plain to mint—at 13 stores in Bangalore at Rs10 for a 300ml glass.

Today, “people refrain from having it as it is not available in hygienic conditions, with it mostly being sold at roadsides", Rao says. Cane-O-La’s hygienic, air-conditioned stores, including at the premises of insurer Aviva Plc. and Infosys Technologies, attempt to address that gap.

Cane-O-La, branded under the same name, procures sugar cane from various parts of Karnataka to maintain a year-round supply, which is peeled on imported machines and stored in refrigerators. The year-old start-up expects to have 50 more outlets in Karnataka, Hyderabad and Chennai in the year ahead, relying on internal accruals and franchisees for expansion. Break-even at each outlet comes at 1,000 mugs a day, says Rao, who believes the Cane-O-La brand and tight rein on prices will be its competitive edge.

Deepti Chaudhary