Erwin de Lange of Veldhuis Media warns, if you make an appointment with him, to come and see the new workplace in Meppel: 'Wear comfortable shoes if you want to see everything. Because we have quite a lot of space here!'
André Harmens of NOM had already had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes. He is full of admiration for the radical but logical step to move from Raalte in Salland to the Eekhorstweg in Meppel-North. In search of economies of scale. That took a lot of nerve. You have to remember: the graphics sector is suffering a lot of blows right now. There is an enormous shake-out taking place; the small ones and the companies that have not kept up with the times are having a hard time. So are the generalists and 'all-rounders', who often lose out to the specialists. At Veldhuis Media, they deliberately don't make everything. They focus entirely on the magazine and book market segment. They are very good at that.
'To start over with all your staff somewhere else, you don't shy away from the risk. Quite an adventure, I would say. I think they are commercially very clever at Veldhuis Media; they understand the market. The fact that the prices of raw materials are now skyrocketing, that paper is sometimes no longer available at all, apparently did not come as a complete surprise out of the blue; they bought in on time. Therefore, they can now start working with quite a large stock, a lot of cubic meters of virgin white paper. I am really impressed, how skilled they are as entrepreneurs! A nice boost for Meppel City Council. This has traditionally been a real printing town - now they suddenly have another very strong one! Plus in one fell swoop over 100 high-quality jobs. Soon perhaps even more. Thanks to a local subsidy, there is a bonus for each expansion on the number of employees already coming along from Raalte. That growth, it will come, I'm not afraid of that.'
Those hiking boots, that wasn't bullshit. To admire the whole process from front to back, you have to walk meters. Owner Erwin de Lange himself wears bright orange sneakers. 'We're not a print shop, we're a booklet factory! Our printing presses, they are only part of the story. You only see one operator at work at each press. The printing press applies ink to blank paper; only then do you have a semi-finished product. We do everything ourselves here, from lightning-fast folding (17,000 copies per hour), cutting, collecting the loose quires, to binding with staples or threadless binding. Then we sort them for the mail and seal them into manageable packages. Not just by zip code area; we even take into account the order in the route the letter carrier takes through a neighborhood. For those amazingly extensive and complicated logistics, we needed that extra space - 9000 square meters here in Meppel, in Raalte we only had half. Especially efficient and handy for the intermediate storage of pallets with stacks of semi-finished products every time, waiting for the next step on the way to the finished product. That should be easy and error-free!"
First we pass through a modest hall (still half a soccer field in size). There lies, as Oscar Jager calls it, the "white gold. The paper stock. Tall apartment buildings full, all identical at first glance. Only the professional recognizes the 180 different specifications. Jager points up with satisfaction: "We saw it coming last summer: paper shortage. Then we started buying like crazy, wherever we could, downright detective work. Now we have 2 million euros' worth of paper. Because not only has the stock doubled, so has the purchase price. So together, four times the value we were used to. You have to be able to do it and you also have to dare to do it. I hold my heart if the paper price now suddenly starts to plummet!
Anyone can buy a printing press; it's the people who make the difference!
Erwin de Lange, Veldhuis Media
Fond of printing
You don't think about it every day, but print is everywhere. The shoebox of your new shoes, the labels and wrappers on packaging on the store shelf. There are graphics companies that purely make those kinds of labels and cardboard packaging. From Veldhuis Media's "booklet factory" come 600 different titles. In print runs of 750 to 8000. Made for publishers with various trade magazines and hobby magazines to small, closed communities with their own magazines that you will never see in stores or newsstands. These are delivered door-to-door to members of patient associations, to dog groomers and songbird clubs, to fans of classic sports cars or mopeds, or of hip-hop music.
You cannot think of any hobby or interest, or there is a magazine for it in the Netherlands. Erwin de Lange sees a bright future for this kind of printed matter: "These people are all crazy about their hobby. They can afford to pay for a fine and valuable magazine that can be seen. I also think it is a misunderstanding that people read more and more digitally, on a phone or tablet. Just look on a beautiful vacation day at the beach, where people have time to read as relaxation. Few e-readers, lots of "old-fashioned" cozy, paper magazines to enjoy at your leisure! Attractive pictures, nice and big and clear, good design, just flip back - and soon on again. We have something to do here for now.'
'Another misunderstanding: print is said to have a greater impact on the environment than 'paperless' digital reading. As if such a mega-data center is not slurping up power all day long; sometimes they use as much energy as all the households of a medium-sized city put together. Besides, we work as sustainably as we can. The ink, the paper, the lighting. Outside is a gigantic installation that sucks up all the paper scraps from cutting machines. That is compressed there, ready to be recycled at the paper mill.'
The move, it suddenly had to happen quite quickly. 'We had been looking in a 40-50 kilometer radius around Raalte for a while. We knew that this building would become vacant. The printing company that was there decided to opt for new construction close to its own headquarters, away from Meppel, in other words. We had exactly one year for a gigantic operation. There just wasn't time to patiently dismantle our old printing presses and rebuild them here. We chose to invest in new ones.' Now there are four identical, state-of-the-art 8-color Komori presses, printing double-sided 70×100 sheets with 16 pages at a time. The fifth offset printing press (single-sided) just arrived, ready for use. It is slightly smaller, but still the size of a city bus.
A big advantage was, that thanks to the previous user, the premises were already very suitable for printing on an industrial scale: for example, flat floors everywhere that can bear a lot of weight. The building did need some love and attention. New coating on the floor, nice LED lighting everywhere. Oscar Jager explains: "That energy-efficient LED lighting was mandatory, by the way; as a company, you have to take energy-saving measures if you can recoup them within 5 to 7 years. But that wasn't our point; we would have done it anyway. You get some support from the province of Drenthe - in the form of a favorable loan - but you have to pay for it yourself. We attach great importance to a pleasant and safe working environment, also because people work here 24 hours a day, at night just as well.
During a tour, you immediately get the impression that the atmosphere and warmth are just fine at Veldhuis Media on the shop floor. It's probably not just because of the expensive LED lighting. Lots of smiling faces above the purple company polo shirts. Everyone is busy, clearly enjoying their work. Proud of what they make. When a young woman on a forklift patiently tries to avoid her boss (she succeeds, thankfully), while the boss is busy talking and gesticulating, it earns a smile, a pat on the back and a brief chat. At a printing press, which to the layman really does seem fully automatic, Erwin de Lange says, "You would almost say: it's just a huge printer that you can operate at the push of a button. Wrong! It is still very precise professional work, for someone who understands everything about printing techniques and colors. The job description is officially "process operator. You have to constantly adjust and pay attention to quality. That dedication and craftsmanship is something we take great care of. I always say: anyone can buy a printing press; it's the people who make the difference!
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