The market-led organisation
The market-led organisation

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The market-led organisation

5.3 Wace Burgess: the importance of managing relationships

The case study below illustrates the importance of managing relationships. Read the case study, then answer the questions that follow it.

Case study: Wace Burgess


Wace Burgess is a member of the Wace Group, a company in the pre-press and print technology market, with a mission:

to become a world-class company providing complete production service for corporations, enhancing the perceived values of their products and services by improving the quality and efficiency of the communication process.

The Wace Group operates in a wide range of communication-related sectors including imaging networks, advertising, promotional print, corporate literature, academic journals, rigid and flexible packaging, and labels. Wace Burgess, a business employing around 250 people, specialises in the colour printing of greetings cards, gift wrap, posters, calendars, book jackets and folders. Their customers are mainly creative publishers, supplying retailers.

Greetings cards

The largest part of the business is the production of cards, which are of three types: Christmas cards, everyday cards (including birthday cards) and special days’ cards (Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Easter, etc.). Although Wace Burgess is the preferred supplier of many publishers, each order is typically quite small, but with many different designs. However, the situation had begun to change at the beginning of the 1990s. More and more cards were being sold through larger retailers including supermarkets, which had begun to take a greater interest in the highly profitable card market.

Wace Burgess had always been a company that wanted to be at the leading edge of the market and technology developments. If there was a market out there for supplying the larger retailers, they certainly planned to be part of it. Both as a result of their excellent reputation for quality and responsiveness, and as a result of considerable sales effort, they had their first real chance to supply a big retailer – Marks & Spencer (M&S). Vicky Dockety, one of the account managers, had for some time been talking, via a publisher, to M&S and she now seemed to be close to actually getting the first order. She had already outlined the preliminary requirements to some of the technical specialists and to several managers within the company.


The vast majority of the orders were for print runs of between 500 and 10,000 sheets, the average being about 8000. The most popular size of cards was around 175 mm x 125 mm. A sheet was a piece of thick paper printed in the lithographic printing machines, normally with standard sizes of up to 720 mm x 1020 mm, and with typically 12 to 16 cards printed on it. However, M&S had specified a smaller size of sheet with smaller cards, very carefully arranged on the sheet so that almost no paper would be wasted. They were asking for just five design variants. The delivery requirements were also unusual in that they would be precisely scheduled over several weeks, in contrast to the single delivery for most normal orders.

If they were to get the order from M&S, it would mean processing a single order of 600,000 sheets, so Vicky was somewhat concerned about their ability to deliver on time and to preserve their excellent reputation in the market. However, she had recently been in a meeting with the management team, where Barry Jackson, the Managing Director, had made the case for pursuing the order:

Our market is changing. We know now that the big retailers and supermarkets will play a larger part in the future of selling cards, as well as the specialist publishers, which have made up our traditional customer base. We must do all we can in order to be in that market when these changes take place. We don't want to lose our first-place position. I urge you all to ensure that you really have done everything you can to get these new accounts. As you all know we are totally committed and determined for Wace Burgess to grow with the developing market.

Barry was, however, aware that Vicky was close to getting the contract with M&S and specifically urged her:

Come back to me on that order, we could do with this business! If we can prove ourselves this time we might be able to win more of their work in the future. Check with the manufacturing and technical side once again to see that there aren't any issues we've overlooked, and come back to me as soon as possible. Because the prices will be tight, we cannot afford to have any problems with this one!

The factory

Although Vicky had been through the factory many times since she joined the company six months earlier, she paid particular attention to what John Wakeling, the Technical Director, had to say about the manufacturing details when they made a factory tour with some customers.

While the customers were being shown some details by one of the supervisors, John and Vicky started to discuss the M&S order. John reassured Vicky of their capabilities to handle the order, but admitted that capacity could be a problem. The situation did not look too bad and she trusted the judgement of John, who had been in the company for a long time and knew everything worth knowing about the printing business and technology. The factory certainly worked very smoothly and was good at keeping delivery promises, producing high-quality cards at short notice.

On her way back from the factory, she passed the Customer Services and Pre-press room. Here the graphics were finalised and checked by the customers and company specialists, before being made into printing plates. The staff here were among the best in the industry at ensuring that the artistic details in the card designs were reproduced accurately and to the required colour standards – routinely improving the customers’ artwork using the latest computer imaging technologies as well as the staff's own design skills. Vicky had confidence in these technical skills, but also knew that the customers valued the department's organised approach to getting this work completed quickly. There could be no better supplier for M&S, she was sure of that! She had done absolutely everything to accommodate them, but she clearly understood that, with these huge volumes, the customer could be very particular with regard to quality and delivery performance.

She had earlier asked one of the supervisors about the issue of extra personnel, should they be forced to put on an extra shift. She dialled his internal number again; the reply was, again, positive:

Yes, I have checked it with personnel as well, and there should be no problems. You know, it is quite easy for us to hire extra people when required, both students and others on a short-term basis; but only for the labour-intensive jobs such as packing. We usually put them in teams of two: one experienced and one new. It usually works out very well.

The M&S Christmas cards

The set of cards that M&S had ordered did not really appear so different from many past orders. All the cards were embossed, and the colours were mainly warm reds and greens, with some use of metallic inks and gold foil blocking, which had not often been required on this type of paper. The designs comprised simple eye-catching images including Christmas trees, tartan teddy bears, nostalgic images of children, and a winter rabbit – they were really very charming. The publisher's graphics skills had been used very effectively and the final designs were to be die-cut to give a more interesting shape. The quality of the special paper gave an unusually matt finish to the sample printing, and so the cards would have a very sophisticated, up-market appearance. Combined with Wace Burgess’ manufacturing skills, this design concept would be a winner, and so Vicky felt sure that this would be the beginning of a successful long-term relationship with M&S.

(Source: based on Johnson et al., 1997, p. 29)


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