Obviously, our Dutch neighbors are particularly creative when it comes to choosing business models. When it comes to marketing print products via the Internet, there are a number of different ways of doing so, all of which have their own appeal and chances of success. There are order brokers or print marketers without their own production capacities (who then have RPI produce them, for example), as well as pure online printers who print most of their products themselves, and when it comes to addressing customers, a distinction is usually made between B2C and B2B shops. A completely different approach is taken by Probo, an online printer based in the Netherlands, which only supplies resellers with digitally printed products in large format printing. A niche supplier, if you will, but very successful.
Founded in 2001 in Dokkum, North Holland, the company has been operating with an online presence since 2012 and has more than 3,000 active customers. This may not seem like much at first glance, but each of the resellers addressed by Probo can have a customer base of anywhere between four and five figures. The company has grown predominantly through well-established operations in the Benelux countries – with expansion into the UK and Germany, each with its own domain, being a logical consequence. In 2018, Probo generated a sales volume of over 40 million euros with around 330 employees and is one of the fastest-growing printers and market leaders in the Benelux countries.
Therefore, the run of one copy in large format can prove worthwhile. In the Probo shop you will find over 200,000 print products in various sizes and on more than 250 materials, from asphalt stickers and photo prints to posters for outdoor advertising. Top sellers are large-format banners. But this market is becoming less and less interesting due to the fall in prices, according to Probo CEO René de Heij. In 2001, a square meter of banner was still sold at 12 euros – today it is only 7 euros. “Nevertheless, many online providers rely on these products because they sell well. However, this exposes them to an enormous price war and makes them largely dependent on Google for marketing,” explained de Heij in his lecture.
Instead of becoming the next Google addict, however, Probo prefers to be inspired by unusual ideas and implements its own concepts. Probo has now entered the label market and, as an LFP printer, is involved in the lucrative field of “digital textile printing” – not only with T-shirts etc., but also with bed linen, pillows and tablecloths. The “tried and tested” is obviously not enough. In his search for innovations, René de Heij has initiated a new business segment with “accusticpro”: This is a noise-absorbing textile interior made of recycled jeans. And de Heij has recognized large-format and personalized wall decorations as a new trend. Here, too, Probo combines e-commerce and fulfilment with its own production.
And since shipping the large-format products via courier services is extremely cost-intensive and in some cases unreliable, Probo is currently setting up its own transport service in the Benelux countries and western Germany with “Onbezorgd”. “Think big, start small, act fast” is the motto here as well, concluded René de Heij.