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A Gap in the Small Business Marketplace
It’s rare that a highly successful company mirrors its original business plan more than 15 years later. Amazingly, the vision and the insight into an unfulfilled customer need which Robert Keane developed in 1994 at the INSEAD business school France is still being realized at Vistaprint, the leading online provider of marketing products and services to small businesses around the globe. Keane, the President, CEO and founder of the company originally cited a gap in the printing and promotional marketplace in 1994 that wasn’t being filled by any vendor: affordable, low-quantity, high-quality customized products for small and micro businesses wanting to make a professional impression with customers. At the time, sole proprietors and truly small businesses were forced to print their own marketing materials or simply go without them due to exorbitant costs.
The first page of Robert’s 1994 business plan summarized the opportunity this way: “Imagine you are a small business... You want to develop a professional and aesthetically pleasing image. The market today does not provide a solution to meet your needs. Everyone knows that the terms high quality, color and professional design simply don’t belong in the same sentence with inexpensive, low volume, easy or quick. This incompatibility represents a gap in the market. Simply put, there is a clear market need.”
Started in a small apartment in France as a direct marketing catalogue, by 1998 Vistaprint had started to evolve into an Internet based e-commerce company, albeit one that was still dedicated to the same customer needs. A big breakthrough came in 1999, when the company developed breakthroughs in both internet-based graphic design tools and in production methods that slashed the cost of low volume printing. Using patented online graphic design tools and a printing process known as “ganging,” the company produced short run, small quantity orders of business cards in a rapid fashion. This drove down the traditional printing and labor costs and allowed Vistaprint to offer cards at a much lower price than traditional print shops. The company’s untouchable free business card offer was first launched in May of 2000 and nearly got the company to profitability. While the sky seemed like the limit early on, few could have predicted an Internet crash in 2000 would bring the company to the brink of bankruptcy.
Out of the Ashes…
The now infamous “dot-com crash” nearly derailed the company before it truly started and forced a drastic restructuring designed to save its long term prospects. Forced to sell off pieces of the business and trim the workforce by two-thirds just to stay afloat, Vistaprint survived and emerged as a profitable company in 2002. Three years later on September 29, 2005 Vistaprint went public with a successful IPO and a debut on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Since then, the company has consistently seen double digit growth rates while expanding into global markets like Europe, Japan and Australia. Vistaprint has also grown beyond just a business card company, offering hundreds of options and turnkey marketing solutions for small businesses; including dozens of printed products, apparel, signage, email marketing, websites and internet marketing. All products are completely customizable and can be designed online using simple, intuitive graphic design tools in minutes. But beyond easily designed, high-quality products, Vistaprint also developed technology to automatically match a design to a number of product possibilities. Rather than having to design multiple products, customers can create something like a business card and immediately see how that design would look on a postcard, a website or even a T-Shirt through our unique matching engine that generates previews automatically.
Expansion, Growth and the Future
Today Vistaprint has over 25 localized websites that serve various markets around the world, over 4,100 employees, three state of art manufacturing facilities and 13 offices, including its corporate headquarters in Venlo, the Netherlands. Vistaprint is focused on giving the 50 million micro businesses around the world a chance to make an impression and stand out with professional marketing products and services at an affordable price.
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