More than bringing unique brand concepts into the Philippines, the Primer Group is elevating the local graphic scene with its highly innovative digital printing technology

Big ig ideas make people nervous—especially if the big idea requires an eyepopping amount of investment. But most of the time, that’s how you know you’re on to something.

This stands true for Willy Sy, the Managing Director of Union Inks & Graphics Philippines, Inc. (UIGPI), a member of the Primer Group of Companies. Mostly known for bringing a score of one-of-a-kind retail brands and concept stores into the Philippine market —R.O.X., ResToeRun, Sanuk, Victorinox, The North Face, FitFlops, Tough Jeans, to name a few—the Primer Group is composed of five founding directors who have since handled different areas of the company as business has gone beyond retail distribution and now includes agriculture, air-conditioners, ink manufacturing and creative industrial printing services.

“Anything that makes good business sense is something we are going to invest in,” shares Sy, who handles the ink manufacturing and textile-printing arm of the company. “We are very diversified. As long as it makes business sense, we go for it. We can’t say that all our ventures were successful, but we want to learn in as many aspects as possible. Anything we feel will profit, pasok lang (we get into).”

A One-stop Shop

When Sy acquired the first automated silkscreen-printing machine from M&R Printing Equipment in the ’90s, the main purpose was to support the printing needs of its sister companies within the Primer Group. “When we got the machine, we realized it was also the first of its kind here in the country,” shares Sy. “We thought, why not share this type of technology? So we got the exclusive distributorship of the automated printing machines from M&R and because clients saw that the advantage of using the machine outweighs its cost (which is around P5 million on average), we’ve sold 130 units. Fully automated na.”

The M&R silkscreen printers can print as fast as you can load. “In a showdown in the U.S., a machine can print 2,000 shirts in an hour,” shares Sy. “But here in the Philippines, the standard I give is 600 to 800 pieces of garment per hour, regardless of the number of colors in the design. Our printing setup was primarily for in-house brands or as a back-up for our clients, but since we also manufacture solvent and UV ink, we’ve become a one-stop shop for quality printed products.”

With its expanding creative printing business, the partners decided to put up Brushstroke Creatives, a full-scale creative group under UIGPI that specializes in the production of quality printed products used for innovative visual marketing campaigns, non-traditional advertising collaterals, signage solutions, visual merchandising, and even for applicable special projects, interior design and architectural applications.

“We can print on almost anything now—even on wallpaper; we are the first company in the country that can print on wallpaper,” enthuses Sy. “We’re a one-stop shop for anybody doing silkscreen printing. Regardless whether you’re printing on bottles or nameplates or electronic boards, we can do it. We do everything from artworks on canvas, color separation, framing and preparing the stencils—everything a client needs. We have all the materials and accessories.”

Going Digital

Currently, Union Inks & Graphics is slowly making the move to convert its entire analog printing equipment to digital, entailing eye-popping amounts of investment. “When I told my partners that I just spent $500,000 for the latest printing equipment, nanlaki mata nila (their eyes popped out of their sockets),” laughs Sy. “But that’s how we operate. We take risks—calculated risks naman eh. We’re investing in all this high-end equipment because we have a dream to elevate the printing business in the Philippines.”

Indeed, with printing equipment like the HP SCITEX 2750 that can print directly from the computer to even on the most rigid materials (“We can print on the door!,” enthuses Sy) and routing equipment like the Multicam 3000 router, which cuts and engraves artwork on rigid materials like wood, acrylic and fiberglass, more clients are definitely coming in—and they’re all willing to pay the premium.
If you take a peek into UIGPI’s list of clients, you’ll be impressed with the roster of luxury brands

availing of their service. “In just a year after investing, we were already servicing the printing needs of the big companies,” shares Sy. “We have a lot of high-end targets so it’s exciting. The trend today is really to go digital—from industrial printing to textile and even in publishing. It’s a bandwagon—everybody is moving towards that direction. If you play it safe, you’ll just end up left behind.”

Published in the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin, August 16, 2010