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Ricoh technology drives print success at PCE

Ricoh technology drives print success at PCE
From its beginning as a school reprographics department to a fully-fledged commercial printer, a key aspect of the journey for Park Community Enterprises is its partnership with Ricoh, a relationship that has helped it to develop a thriving business and meet the founding principle of marrying education and enterprise.

Park Community Enterprises is a commercial printer with a difference. It was set up by the Park Community School, a coeducational community secondary school in Hampshire, as a business, but also as a vehicle to offer students a safe and realistic environment for work experience.

Following its ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted report, the school was encouraged to increase enterprise experience with the aim of marrying business and education. After considering several options, the school decided to set up a digital print shop.

Although owned by the school, Park Community Enterprises (PCE) is a legal business entity offering print services to the school itself, other schools and local businesses.

Gary Dickens, one of the directors of PCE, explained: “When we started, the idea was to try and establish a profitable company and to offer as many employment, training and life skill opportunities to as many students as possible, initially at our own school and then other schools.”

PCE has four staff and three other directors including the school headteacher and chair of governors. Around 40 percent of PCE’s work is for schools, with the rest providing commercial print services to local businesses and organisations such as builders, estate agents, charities and local authorities.

PCE evolved out of the school’s reprographics department but has had a patchy experience with a variety of different print products. When it launched as a fully-fledged business, a more professional approach to print equipment was needed. Digital print was key, as this would give students the widest scope of functions and capabilities to experience. Dickens considered several leading print equipment manufacturers, finally landing on two contenders. Both provided excellent proposals with Ricoh finally winning the contract due to the range and quality of its products, level of professional service and its focus on a partner rather than a supplier relationship.

Dickens continued: “Early on I had a meeting with Ricoh because we had an issue that needed sorting. I was geared up for a tough encounter, but the Ricoh team was surprisingly open, honest and straightforward. I was extremely impressed with that, and that approach has continued throughout my entire relationship with Ricoh to this day. I’ve never felt that I was not listened to, and you don’t get that with many suppliers.”

Over several years, PCE has developed and expanded its Ricoh print technology culminating in the commercial-grade production print facility in place today. This is based on a Ricoh Production Print Service comprising two Ricoh digital fifth colour production presses, one mono press, a range of finishing equipment, including a booklet maker, and several specialist printers.

PCE has been an early adopter of some of Ricoh’s print technology and recently identified Direct to Garment (DTG) print as a core area of opportunity. The business invested in a new Ricoh Ri 2000 Direct to Garment (DTG) printer, which was installed at its Havant premises in 2021.

Launched in March 2021, the Ricoh Ri 2000 DTG printer has been developed for the fast and easy production of personalised garments and other fabric accessories, with users benefitting from excellent output quality on both light and dark materials. It is suitable for printing virtually any digital image onto products including T-shirts, polo shirts, face masks, hoodies, tote bags, cushion covers and much more.

There is also a Ricoh Multifunction Printer in reception. Each time PCE has deployed a new piece of technology and opened a new service line, Ricoh has always been there to help.

“Anything that we have bought for PCE over the years that is of any value is from Ricoh,” said Dickens. “The production kit from Ricoh is the lifeblood of the company, without it we can’t do anything. The Ricoh products are high-quality and the benefit is that I know what I am getting is good. I’ve never been disappointed with a piece of Ricoh kit.”

As a commercial printer, PCE provides a range of typical print services, including business cards, letterheads, banners, posters, stickers and vinyl signs for vehicles. But, because of its history with the Park Community School, PCE has developed specialist expertise in servicing the education market.

Dickens cited the example of a school wanting to improve reading. PCE has already produced reading tools and aids including journals and diaries for the Park Community School. “We will go to a school, ask them what they want to achieve and then discuss a number of ideas, rather than just reacting to a print request. A normal printer can’t do that because they’ve not done it. Our knowledge of education means we can offer things to customers that they don’t even know they need,” confided Dickens.

In addition to the printing equipment, Ricoh also provides PCE with a range of support services, consultancy, advice on print techniques and consumable supplies.

Dickens observed: I sometimes forget the uniqueness of what we have done at PCE. We are the only school in Hampshire with its own business and it regularly attracts headteachers from all over the country. Ricoh has played a big part in supporting us and enabling that success. Had we chosen another supplier, I don’t think we could have developed such a strong partnership or shared vision.”

PCE has succeeded in achieving its main vision of marrying business and education. Students from the Park Community and other schools regularly come to PCE for work experience. They even have to apply for a placement, fill out an application and do an interview. While most students work in PCE as part of their curriculum, several have gone on to work evenings and weekends and have received a commercial wage. Some students, who have left school, have continued to work at PCE while at college and university. One pupil started working in PCE in Year 11 and continued there until they completed their degree.

Dickens added: “Work placements can be very varied, but I know that our students get an experience that is not available at other schools. They get exposure to real-world business life, but in a school environment with all the safeguarding measures. We are giving them a great opportunity to gain better life and work skills for the future.”

Reliability is a key benefit of the Ricoh solution especially since education print work is demanding and has tight deadlines. For example, PCE has to produce around 20,000 exercise books at the start of each new academic year. Dickens confided: “I can’t afford downtime or to be without a printer because of the demanding deadlines we have from schools. But, because of the close relationship we have with Ricoh, any downtime is reduced to a minimum. I don’t have to worry about a printer being out of service because I know Ricoh will sort it out.”

One of the standout innovations of the Ricoh presses is a fifth colour capability about which Dickens said: “It is simple to use, but it can produce stunning prints.” In fact, PCE has a new project to reproduce a series of line drawings of historical Royal Navy ships using white ink on black stock, a commission it wouldn’t have won without the fifth colour capability.

Dickens emphasised that one of the most important benefits of Ricoh has, and continues to be, the relationship. He concluded: “You want to work with people you like because it makes for a much better way of working. I’ve always felt that Ricoh has wanted to have a partnership with PCE, and it is a relationship, not a transaction. In fact, I don’t think Ricoh has actually ever sold us anything!”

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