Behind the Scenes
The results of Print+Promo's 2012 top suppliers list taught us to anticipate the unexpected. We saw positive and negative changes alike. The industry, including our publication, headed in a new direction; however, total annual sales revenue took a slight dip from the previous year. Would leading distributors follow in their supplier partners' footsteps? The answer might surprise you.
Similar to the October issue, the big list was condensed from the "Top 100" to the "Top 50". In terms of finances, many distributors reported an increase in overall sales compared to 2011, while the remainder experienced a modest decline. Interestingly enough, total annual revenue from all participants (beyond the top 50) was $2.31 billion—almost breaking even with last year's $2.30 billion. It is important to note the absence of Dayton, Ohio-based WorkflowOne LLC. The company put forth an admirable showing with sales totaling $502,400,000 million. However, because of WorkflowOne's unique position in the market and its inability to disclose how much of that figure consisted of distributor sales versus manufacturing sales, Print+Promo was unable to accept its submission.
Although this year's number nearly matched the 2011 figure, the list consisted of some new faces. Some of the usual suspects opted not to participate this time around due to mergers and acquisitions among other reasons.
The individual product sectors proved to be discouraging. Overall, many distributors opted not to break down their total revenue according to product categories. As a result, there was hardly a hint of improvement. In fact, only two categories headed upward. Direct mail came in at $72.6 million (2011: $66.3 million) and web solutions (e.g., PURLs, QR codes and software) climbed to $24.0 million (2011: $14.3 million).
Aside from a lower dollar amount, the top three breakout products remained the same. Promotional products retained its number-one status with $284.5 million (2011: $285.0 million). Commercial printing nabbed second place with sales averaging at $222.1 million (2011: $236.8 million). And even though business forms still proved to be king for the top suppliers, they finished third among the distributors with $165.2 million (2011: $183.2 million).
The remaining categories had the following endings: Labels and tags accounted for $82.0 million (2011: $84.0 million); e-commerce comprised $99.4 million in sales (2011: $125.6 million); and envelopes/folders/stationery averaged $55.0 million (2011: $60.2 million).
Keeping with the trend of total annual sales, plastic products/cards were fairly stagnant at $18.0 million (2011: $17.9 million). Meanwhile, the "other" category produced $53.0 million (2011: $53.4 million). Common responses for this particular sector were:
• Office supplies and furniture
• Specialty products
• Warehouse fulfillment
• Printer ribbons
• Freight and packaging
• Mailing equipment
• Digital print
• Industrial signage
• Stock paper
• Records and media storage
Some of these entries may skew the "other" category because the decision to consider apparel as something miscellaneous instead of a promotional product is left to the distributor's discretion. And, digital print was removed from the list of individual options unlike years past.
These findings may not seem reassuring, but remember, this is only a small sampling of distributors and does not represent the industry as a whole. But, it's not all doom and gloom. In line with the top suppliers issue, Print+Promo made another addition to the list: the inclusion of the top 50 promotional products distributors (published in May 2012) from our sister publication, Promo Marketing (PM). This list is based on 2011 revenue, and according to PM's results, the industry has a fighter's heart to remain relevant despite potential struggles. For example, new threats promised danger from different angles. There were government PR smears against promotional products and the industry also faced a business climate where companies folded, got purchased and merged in ways that would bring about major change. Nevertheless, lobbying efforts started to get traction with the government and distributorships kept innovating, thriving and expanding.
History has proven our industry is one that refuses to go down, and the Print+Promo staff remains optimistic for the year ahead. Consider the power you hold when strategizing your next move or planning for that game-changing meeting.
We congratulate each and every company that made either list and toast to better times in 2013. Happy new year and happy selling!
(*Factors to consider when interpreting sales figures are ongoing industry consolidations and responses reporting idiosyncrasies.)