Small business: Adapt or die - Geoff Blackwell

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Geoff Blackwell, CEO of book publisher, PQ Blackwell

Geoff Blackwell of PQ Blackwell.
Geoff Blackwell of PQ Blackwell.

Please describe your business

For the past 15 years we have designed and originated award-winning books for international publishers. We have worked with many notable international non-fiction authors, including Nelson Mandela, but our specialty has been originating beautifully designed and produced large format photographic books that we have successfully sold in 33 languages. In recent times we have developed a complementary print on demand business, MILK, that allows consumers to go to our website and to create their own elegantly designed and produced books and have them delivered to their door. We have also partnered with the Italian notebook maker, Moleskine, to offer the same print on demand service using their famous materials.

What or who have the challenges been in your industry?

Online retailers like Amazon and the emergence of digital books have made life tough for traditional bricks and mortar bookshops.

Many, like Borders in America, have closed their doors and others have significantly reduced the number of titles that they carry.

Books made with paper and ink are under threat, particularly beautifully made illustrated books that appeal not just for their content but also as elegantly produced objects. These types of books need to be seen and handled in traditional bookshops and many bookshops now can't afford to stock them in the same quantities as they used to.

The knock-on effect has been that our print numbers of our large format books have been reducing pretty dramatically in recent years.

What have the naysayers said?

We haven't stopped to listen too closely but the general gist is that books made with paper and ink are on their way out.

How have you responded?

We believe that there is still real value in well-printed and designed books. We have years of experience and a real passion for books and we applied that knowledge and passion to creating a website and international printer network that ensures that anybody in any country with access to a computer can now design their own beautiful books - and have them shipped to their door.

Our technology is intuitive and modern but our books are made the old fashioned way with quality paper, linen binding, and are centre stitched one by one so that they open in a pleasing way and will last a lifetime or two.

How are you keeping your customers interested?

The great challenge is building awareness. MILK has only been online for a year but already over half our sales each month are coming from repeat customers. Our loyal customers love our quality and value, so we continually offer special deals and are adding high quality complementary products like customisable note cards and elegant framed prints to our site.

We are also seeking to build our customer database with strategies like "Refer a Friend" where customers are rewarded with discounts for introducing us to their friends and family who also get rewarded with special introductory offers.

Where does your product sit in a world where people are fixated on new technology?

We make beautifully crafted analogue products with modern technology that makes it simple and easy for people to be creative and to produce their own world-class books and other printed objects. We will also be launching mobile apps shortly so that customers can also make books on the mobile devices and tablets.

Why is it still relevant?

People can now digitally record their experiences and special moments more easily than ever before, but it so easy to lose that digital content. Elegantly printed books and other materials will ensure that people never lose those precious memories and archives.

A house full of beautiful books is still a much richer place than one without them.

Next week: A number of small businesses are looking for funding at the moment. In the current market, what is NZ's community of angel investors motivated by and who is benefiting from their largesse? Some companies just seem to attract fantastic investors, others not so much. Let's hear some tips from them.

- NZ Herald

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