Polestar finds true north

Posted on 10 Jan 2011 by The Manufacturer

Being focused on growing value for customers is an ideal which many in industry have struggled to support throughout recession, as cost cutting blotted every page. Not so at Polestar. TM finds out how the innovative printing company has stuck to a service driven mantra for confidence in troubled times.

It’s one of the great perks of industry journalism that the variety of insight into business models, operational challenges and product innovations is apparently unending and frequently compelling. It is not often, however, that the interest comes quite so close to home as it does with Polestar.

The Polestar Group is Europe’s leading independent printing company, offering an array of publishing services to a myriad of markets, including magazines, newspaper supplements, directories, financial services, travel and retail and direct mail. Looking over Polestar’s product range and service offerings from the point of view of a journalist, the value add propositions are striking. From a variety of high speed, high quality printing and binding services that make products similar to the publication you are holding now, they also offer complementary services around data management and document processing services for bespoke data base communications — and an innovative selection of cross media solutions so that targeted communications can be aligned across a range of media for maximum benefit to the client.

Polestar’s pride in, and determination to build on, its current position of strength is embodied in a clear mission statement that guides all of the company’s operations and innovations around products, processes and service. This statement declares that Polestar strives “to be Europe’s most customer-focused, innovative, and profitable printing company”. The way in which this mission manifests in practice is backed up by the company principles and policies, which look at the role to be played in achieving the mission statement by key stakeholders, including customers, employees, regulators, investors, suppliers and the communities in which Polestar operates. Support for these principles is given actively from top to bottom of the organisation. At Polestar’s largest UK investment, Polestar Sheffield, this means that MD Andy Reynoldson takes personal ownership of the way things are done day-to-day.

Polestar Sheffield represents a £100m one-off investment for the Group, and leadership at the plant have been daring in their customisation. Automated technology has been applied to a range of processes almost unprecedented in the printing industry — and all with the aim of speeding up response time for customers and freeing up capacity to do more for them in the delivery of services. An example of this technology pioneering lies in a 2010 initiative to automate all work in progress and finished material movement within the Sheffield site. Ten Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) were purchased for this purpose, each equipped with laser guiding technology. Speaking volumes for Polestar’s commitment to its internal stakeholders – its employees – as well as its external ones, it has been determined that no jobs will be lost through automation.

At the project launch Reynoldson showed his appreciation of how the initiative would set the company apart from competition. “This project is an innovative installation within the print sector,” he said. Only a small number of printers worldwide use this technology and it is generally limited to despatch or paper reel handling only. At Sheffield, we intend to transport automatically multiple printed products from press to bindery then onto polywrapping and despatch…

This project reflects Polestar’s forward thinking approach to maximise value for its customers.”

Sustain to gain
Polestar’s customers themselves seem to agree with this, both in terms of Polestar’s efforts to optimise its processes but also with respect to its attention to detail in advancing quality and its commitment to going the extra mile. In the last few months of 2010, the Sheffield company received customer accolades from clients in a range of sectors, including Virgin Trains, which has chosen to exploit Polestar’s cross media offerings with a deployment of its HTTpublish systems, part of the Polestar Applied Solutions platform.

National Magazine Company has also shown their faith in Polestar’s ability to deliver consistent value in product and service by awarding them a two year contract for the print and subscription distribution of one of the media group’s leading titles, Best magazine. Andy Parslow, group manufacturing manager at National Magazines, says: “Our long standing relationship with Polestar gives us every confidence that Best will be afforded the same level of quality that we experience with our current portfolio.” In addition to these specific proofs of Polestar’s ability to retain and develop customer relationships, the company received an ERA award in October 2010 winning European Publication Gravure Award for printing on improved newsprint. The award was attributed for their efforts with Telegraph Media Group’s Seven magazine.

Constant improvement on all fronts characterises the Polestar attitude; in line with core value sets and the principles mentioned at the start of this article, this includes attention to environment and community. The company has rigorously assessed KPIs around environmental standards and a steering group which meets regularly to ensure the company makes no infringements or current legislation.

Being aware of the company’s resource reliance on paper products, Polestar is committed to supporting the World Wildlife Fund, Global Forest and Trade Network, and to recycling all waste white and coloured paper collected on site. Polestar is also ISO 14001 compliant, and has many more environmental initiatives which reach across all the group companies and the intervening supply network.

The importance of a responsible attitude to environment at Polestar is driven by the buy-in of chief executive Barry Hilbert, who sees the importance of thinking about the long term sustainability of competitive excellence at Polestar. It is a leadership attitude which extends to ensuring that talent is nurtured in the next generation of industry leaders; Polestar works extensively with schools, teachers and training providers to promote awareness of industry opportunities and to develop appropriate qualifications for the future needs of the industry. Manifesting these good intentions in actions (and more than just printed words), the company has developed an award winning training programme which informs on different print processes from gravure through flexographic, weboffset and screen printing, as well as educating on related processes such as ink and paper manufacture and the production of industry-standard pdf documents.

The enthusiasm and engagement that this scheme provoked also led Polestar to become actively involved in the development and delivery of a nationally recognised manufacturing and product design (MPD) Diploma for 14-19 year olds. This qualification was greeted extremely favourably by representatives from Sheffield’s local schools, but recent restructures in the skills landscape and government cuts in spending have cast doubt over the future of all the Diploma style qualifications. This seems a great loss to the young people who might have befitted from hands on experience at a company like Polestar, but luckily the internal apprenticeship programme is still going strong.

There were some who might have said five years ago that the future of printed literature was finite – that quickly advancing new media formats and the web were sounding the death knell of the printing industry. What Polestar is proving is that a determination to exploit all available technology and delivery methods for outstanding customer value apparent threats can be turned into enhancements and furthermore, that such a spirit of adaptability will ensure new talent is constantly attracted to give its contribution to an organisation which is not afraid to change.