Nuova Gidue has a short but fascinating past. The company was known to the label industry simply as Gidue since its first appearance at Labelexpo Europe in 1999. It did some advanced public relations, promoting itself in this and other industry publications, and as a result drew quite a bit of attention in Brussels at its tiny stand.
Of great interest to converters was the open design of its flexo print station, which it called “the flower.” The new entrant to the press market drew the interest of competitors, of course, and the Gidue people became concerned about security. Your correspondent, always eager for info and images, especially of something new, had a brief encounter with a Gidue bouncer when I began taking photographs, but all turned out well.
The company’s presence at European label shows grew at a rapid pace, eventually occupying both sides of one of the heavily trafficked aisles with several presses and a two-story exhibition structure. Label converters from Italy and other countries in Europe acquired Gidue presses, as well as those from the Near East and the Far East and South America. Managing Director Federico d’Annunzio became active in FINAT and drove the company to innovate at a rapid pace, so that each appearance on the world’s label stage would promise creative evolution.
D’Annunzio is a talented engineer, a good communicator and a tireless promoter. He’s also a determined competitor. In 2005 Gidue was a nominee for the Label Industry Award for New Innovation, presented at Labelexpo Europe to a fairly new company whose innovative work impressed the panel of judges. The other nominees were ANI Printing Inks, AVT, Esko-Graphics, and MPS. The prize went to Dutch press maker MPS, a decision that made d’Annunzio unhappy. The next morning he challenged several of the judges (yours truly among them) in person, then scrapped his planned presentation at a press conference to explain why Gidue should have won the award. What he doesn’t know is how the judges voted.
One thing that Gidue was unable to accomplish was to pique the interest of label converters in North America. The company joined forces with one partner after another on the continent throughout its first decade, but with no success. Somehow an installed base of 320 presses elsewhere on the globe was not enough to cause North American converters to give the Gidue machines a chance.
The year 2008 was a dark one around the world. The Great Recession took its toll on businesses in every industry around the planet, Gidue among them. In January 2009, d’Annunzio announced that the company had filed for voluntary restructuring, an act equivalent to Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States and administration in the United Kingdom. Even with record sales of €34 million, the company was hit by the recession “far beyond any possible expectation, causing an unexpected strong downturn in sales, which are no longer sufficient to cover the company’s fixed costs,” he said.
Nevertheless, a new version of the company emerged in mid-2009, known as Nuova Gidue, keeping the same Gidue logo, brand names and web address. D’Annunzio remarked on the difficulties of the transition, but expressed cautious optimism:
“It has been a really hard experience for us, for our suppliers, for our employees and our customers in these months: The market conditions have quickly changed, and we have to admit errors in the past in managing with excessive optimism a continued and unsustainable growth of our industry.
“In these new market conditions we should provide a flexible organization which can listen and react fast. So we had to act fast, and in the full respect of the Italian and European laws. Thus we changed management, organization, manufacturing sites, a new ownership and quickly slimmed down to recuperate efficiency and a sustainable organization for the future. This was specially needed to protect the service, and the press value, to all the 250 converters who invested in the Gidue presses in the past 10 years.”
Sales followed, as did press innovations. Converters in Turkey and India, among other nations, became customers of the new Gidue, and in 2014 the company realized sales of €31 million. And yes, it finally penetrated North America with a few installations. Just a couple of months ago the company announced that it had hired Lance Shumaker, the former head of AVT in the US, to run its North American sales organization.
Industry recognition also arrived. In 2014 Nuova Gidue received a Label Industry Global Award for Innovation, and in May of this year was the winner of the coveted Technical Innovation Award from the Flexographic Technical Association. The FTA recognized the company’s Digital Flexo Excellence system of technologies that make the workflow, setup and operation of a flexographic press fully automated and digital.
Now along comes Bobst. Here is a household name in the global converting business. Joseph Bobst opened a printing supplies shop in 1890 in Lausanne, Switzerland, and by 1915 was manufacturing equipment. Today the company is public, with 2014 sales of €1.24 billion and 4,800 employees. It has production facilities on three continents and a sales and service network that spans 50 countries. The corporation makes products of many kinds for coating, laminating, printing and converting. It is an enormous presence in the packaging industry, devoted to the treatment and converting of films, papers and boards.
Despite its pedigree and penetration, Bobst has never participated in the narrow web marketplace. The Nuova Gidue acquisition could be the entrée it needs to enter this lucrative segment of the packaging universe. With Bobst’s financial leverage and technological know-how, the Gidue brand could expand well beyond its current small footprint. At this point it is far too early to tell what Bobst’s plans are for its new division, but it’s a safe guess to say that the company will be pragmatic.
Entering a new segment of a larger industry can present challenges. One hundred and twenty five years in the wide web markets is not a resume for success in narrow web. What will help, most certainly, is intense scrutiny of the narrow web sector from the perspective of the converters themselves. Who are they? Who are their customers? What is their history and how do they compete? Keep the eyes and ears open and make no assumptions. Don’t expect a wide web equipment salesman to add narrow web systems to his portfolio and do a great job. It’s a different sphere, a different game. Consider Webtron, once a dominant press in the label industry: The brand was acquired some years back by a wide web equipment manufacturer, and now it’s gone. The old machines are still out there running, but they’re sliding into antiquity.
As I mentioned at the start, Bobst is wise to procure a place in the narrow web field. What will determine its success is the ability to respond to the real needs of the narrow web converter, not to decide what it thinks they need.
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. Jack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.