The decision to target one, three or five verticals is personal. Being able to offer expertise in a single field certainly has its benefits, and distributors who position their companies as true marketing value-adds, selling on the merits of creativity and resourcefulness, will fare well. On the other hand, those who choose a vertical that is regulated may see their business suffer.
It’s a lot of gray area to explore, but one thing is certain: No matter which vertical(s) you’re infiltrating, you’ll need to develop a coherent strategy. To help you along in your studies, Print+Promo consulted with proven suppliers in three key verticals. Here, they expand on industry trends, end-user preferences and hot topics.
Every business in every industry has had to go up against disruptors that threaten their livelihood, and print suppliers and distributors are no exception. Technology, of course, has been a major nuisance for the traditionally strict supply chain, influencing new—and less personal—communication styles over the years. But for those still invested, partnering up can lead to huge benefits and stronger business ties for all parties. Navitor is one such example.
With a tagline of “the power of us,” the North Mankato, Minnesota-based trade printer has committed itself to maintaining a symbiotic relationship with customers. As part of that pledge, Navitor researches different key verticals to identify those that have the potential for distributor profit. So when one of its largest customers requested samples that spoke directly to the needs of the automotive market, Navitor jumped at the chance to help.“That was the push we needed to bring the automotive vertical market kit to our customers as a sales tool,” recalled Beth Marston, vice president of sales, strategic accounts for Navitor. “We brought together the products that are the best suggestions for the market, especially tried-and-true classics and pieces to keep them on trend.”
“We wanted, though, to make sure that this wasn’t just useful to our larger customers,” Mike Johnson, Navitor’s vice president of sales and marketing, said of the automotive sales tool that joins the supplier’s eight other vertical market kits. “The automotive market is also an opportunity for our smaller customers to grow their business. Because [it] is such a strong market, that presents a great opportunity. Creating this vertical market sales kit allows [distributors] to borrow our product expertise and walk confidently into their sales meetings.”
The numbers don’t lie. According to the report “New Car Dealers Market,” published by IBISWorld, automotive revenues increased by 5.8 percent between 2012-2016 in part to renewed consumer confidence. In 2015 alone, 16,680 franchised dealers sold a record 17.3 million-plus vehicles with new vehicle sales reaching $938 billion—that’s a whole lot of cars to service, dealerships to promote and end-users to target. Other factors effecting change in the automotive market include higher average vehicle ages, new vehicle introductions and more knowledgeable consumers.
Speaking to the needs of the automotive market is one of the best ways distributors can come out on top. As Marston pointed out, automotive businesses have to manage a variety of different concerns, and print is only a small slice of their marketing pie chart.
“If you can walk in looking like an expert, that’s a great way to show businesses they can rely on you,” she said.
While the automotive industry has hit that 17 million-vehicle mark for three consecutive years, analysts aren’t quite as optimistic in their 2018 projections. The Federal Reserve forecasts three rate hikes this year, limiting the credit that drove demand and growth, Bloomberg reported.
“Consumers could face slightly higher costs for all their borrowing: credit-card balances, student loans, financing a house or a car,” Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, which owns websites such as Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, told the news outlet. “At the same time, higher rates drive up the cost to provide low-rate financing, which eats into profit margins and hurts the carmakers as well.”
Vehicle longevity also may contribute to a drop in purchases. Therefore, Johnson encouraged distributors to shift focus. “Repair shops and body shops are still a part of the market that will continue to thrive,” he noted. “This means that, for automotive dealerships, the market will become more competitive and require businesses to have an even more polished marketing strategy.”
In regard to print needs, Johnson said tried-and-true products still work—something that Navitor kept in mind when designing its automotive vertical market kit. The sales tool features the following 15 products:
- 3.5x2" business card (CLASSIC Linen Solar White 100 lb., full color flat, 4/4)
- 3.5x2" business card (White 14 pt. C2S, full color flat, 4/4 plus UV-coated front)
- 3.5x2" magnetic business card (White 14 mil, full color plus UV gloss coating)
- 3.5x8.5" door hanger/hang tag (White 14 pt. C2S, full color flat, 4/4)
- 4x6" postcard (White pearlized 105 lb., full color flat, 4/4)
- 4x6" durable banner sample (15 oz. vinyl scrim, full color flat, 4/0)
- 9x6" custom three-pocket landscape folder (White low luster 12 pt. C2S, full color flat, 4/4 plus aqueous coating)
- 4x3" Post-It notes (full color on white stock)
- 8.5x11" letterhead (CLASSIC Linen Solar White 24 lb., full color flat, 4/0)
- 5.5x8.5" two-part custom NCR form (one-color black ink with consecutive numbering)
- #9 business envelope (Security tint poly window, white wove 24 lb., one-color black ink)
- 2x8" water bottle label (White film label, full color flat, 4/0 plus UV varnish)
- 2x4" label (White matte stock, 4/0)
- 1.5x2.5" window lite decal (Clear window lite decal stock, black ink plus white backup)
- 3.5x8.5" rack card (White 14 pt. uncoated, full color flat, 4/4)
“Business cards are an essential element of any sales strategy, and automotive salesmen should have them on hand,” he explained. “Postcards are a great choice for oil change reminders or coupons for lapsed customers. Personalized service forms are useful for adding branded flair to dealerships, body shops and more. Personalized folders add polish to any paperwork or informational pieces.”
What is changing, Johnson added, is how these pieces are being used. Because digital marketing has gained momentum, it’s imperative that print coordinates well with the customer’s online presence. Whether it’s the messaging on social media pages, signage throughout facilities or business cards, branding should be recognizable across all channels.
Marston expanded on this concept. “Building on that, of the big trends in automotive marketing, in general, is adding more powerful imagery,” she said. “In the digital realm, this means that more automotive businesses are adding videos to their online presence, but it’s important for their print communications to reflect that, too. Using full-color print to highlight photographs is an important way to inspire customers when they’re looking to make big purchases.”
The Selling Process
Chances are, businesses in the automotive market already have a print provider, so distributors will need to work a little harder to show their competitive edge. Furthermore, clients in this sector are dealing with methodical end-users. The level of investment that consumers make with their purchases differs here compared to other verticals.
“A car is a substantial purchase, and that means that automotive businesses need to make sure every print piece is highlighting that their business is trustworthy, professional and worth the investment,” Marston shared. “As a result, when [they’re] working with automotive businesses, expressing that polish and professionalism needs to be the focus of their print order.”
When preparing for client meetings, distributors should ask prospects about their acquisition strategy. Understanding the intent behind the message makes it easier to recommend the most appropriate products. Marston offered a couple of examples.
“If a business is trying to highlight the luxuriousness of its products, then the best approach is to suggest specialty print processes that highlight that,” she said. “If [the business] is focused on aligning its digital and print marketing strategies, then it should look at its entire print offerings to ensure that every piece lines up with its brand standards.”
Johnson reminded distributors of digital marketing’s impact in the automotive industry—especially as it pertains to budgeting needs. “Whether or not budgets are tight for the business that resellers are working with—and, for many, budgets are tight—the balance between digital and physical marketing collateral has a huge impact on their spending. I think addressing that need is very important when distributors are preparing to meet with automotive businesses because they will ask why the investment is worth it.”
A good relationship is the backbone of a successful partnership. From a supplier standpoint, that means knowing your distributor clients so well that you can anticipate their needs before being approached—a technique that BCT has mastered over the years. One particular order comes to mind for Pam Gonzalez, director of marketing for the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company.
A distributor was having trouble closing the deal with a large hotel chain. The end-user had a specific need: keep its corporate identity consistent throughout the country, with quick turn times, naturally. BCT had the answer.
“The solution for them was our web-to-print online ordering solution (profit.orderprinting.com), which allows them to control their corporate brand and provides them ease of ordering,” Gonzalez recalled. “A key differentiator is that our web-to-print ordering solution is free of charge, fully customizable and, if needed, it can be integrated to your existing site, or we can build a custom integration with a third-party software.”
BCT handles multiple hospitality-related orders on a daily basis, and there’s a reason for that. With travel and tourism hitting close to $1.6 trillion last year, the hospitality market, a major player in the travel ecosystem, is poised to be one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors. According to Deloitte, a firm that provides audit and assurance, consulting, tax and risk and financial advisory services to leading brands, the hotel industry is projected to sustain 5-6 percent growth throughout 2018. The firm also reported that Americans now spend 44 percent of their food budgets eating out instead of cooking as a result of busy family schedules, and the growth in service levels and delivery options.
For BCT, popular clients in this sector include hotels, restaurants, restaurant groups, country clubs, beach resorts, travel agencies and tour operators. “The products can be broken down into corporate office and individual location printing supplies,” Gonzalez explained. “For instance, our products can vary from business cards to a complete corporate identity stationery, including memo pads, menus, informational booklets, key card holders, event signage and more.”
Distributors must adapt to evolving market and economic conditions if they want to come out on top in the hospitality market. The economy today has only helped the spending habits here, but that could change as quickly as you can say “recession.” Currently, end-users are looking for opportunities in strategic places, including customer experience, technology and loyalty, Gonzalez shared.
“Key card holders and event signage are some products trending now,” she observed. “Also, there is a need for your customer to show the excellence of their business and inspire their consumers with every printed piece they come across—[it] could be a postcard, business card or information booklet. The needs of the end-user clients will be enhanced and personalized for their customer’s experience.”
Again, this is where a strong support system can help. But with so many suppliers to choose from, how can distributors distinguish between printing providers and value-add partners? It’s simple. Does your supplier clarify questions and concerns, or provide the help and knowledge in regard to print? BCT does.
“We act as an extension of the distributor’s team,” Gonzalez said. “Some of our customers are not print experts, but that’s why we are here; we make sure that they feel comfortable using printing terms, and if they are in the local area, we can go out with their team to help them sell. If they are not local, we can get on the phone and be a part of their team, as well.”
The Selling Process
When selling to the hospitality vertical, it’s important to know your market, product, who to see and what the contact needs. For every product, there are different departments involved.
“Make sure to schedule meetings with the executives or the decision-makers of the business,” Gonzalez instructed. “They may be department heads, managers or directors, and [you should] present to them the options that best fit their needs.”
In preparation of their appointment, distributors should create a list of questions that seek information on how the prospect manages its corporate brand, as well as the approval processes within the organization. Understanding these areas is key to ensure brand consistency and accuracy, as proven with the hotel chain case study referenced earlier.
“Some companies keep corporate standards or a style guide to help suppliers understand their messaging, paper stock, colors, typefaces, etc., in all marketing channels,” Gonzalez noted. “It saves time and makes communication between teams more efficient, reduces redundant work and helps things run more smoothly.
“The approval processes vary within companies,” she continued. “For example, some companies let their employees go out and do their own business cards; however, there are other companies that require someone within the organization to approve all printing materials before they go to print to ensure brand consistency.”
On the flip side, distributors can expect questions concerning distribution, turn times, product capabilities and the technology that will set them apart.
The 2018 midterm elections, featuring hundreds of congressional, state and local primaries, will culminate with the Nov. 6 general election, but things are already heating up from a print standpoint. Just ask Gill-line.
The Lenexa, Kansas-based supplier, known for its custom decals and bumper stickers, has been printing political campaign products for more than 50 years. Integrating such experience has proven to be a major selling point for the company, especially in a recent race to win a 5,000-piece yard sign order.
Soon after realizing a different supplier was unable to meet its client’s rush turnaround, a distributor approached Gill-line. “We received the order and turned it around super-fast, so that it could ship ground, saving the campaign money, and arrive in time for the holiday weekend rally that was scheduled to take place,” Senior Product Manager Jeff Flowers said of being the candidate of choice. “Being in business [for] 84 years, you learn how to get things done fast.”
Gill-line’s political vertical offering consists of popular sign options, like double-sided, corrugated and polybag, which are ideal for larger quantities because they are lightweight; and as Flowers reminded, lightweight equals less freight. For extra selling inspiration, the company offers a full political product guide that can be left with candidates, easily mailed or accessed electronically. Distributors can also check out the current P2 promotion, featuring some of Gill-line’s best-selling sale products.
While this market has the potential to reap considerable profit (political ad spending for the 2016 presidential election alone hit a record $10 billion), it doesn’t come without challenges. Candidates typically hold fundraisers to collect donations for their campaigns, so they rarely have all of their funding the day they announce they’re running for office.
“Most distributors usually request 50 percent up front,” Flowers remarked. “If the candidate loses and there are no funds left, you don’t want to get stuck making a ‘personal’ contribution to the candidate.”
Because their campaigns are not overflowing with money, candidates are searching for quality products at competitive prices. As for what’s trending in 2018, Flowers listed Gill-line’s EZ-Peel Repositionable label. Featuring an ultra-removable adhesive, the label can be placed on doors to remind residents of their polling location and date—and to vote. Despite its “strong initial stick,” the item comes off easily, leaving no adhesive residue behind.
In addition, the printer’s double-sided yard sign performed well for the primaries that have already taken place or are yet to come. “Generally, yard signs cannot be put out until 45 days prior to the election,” he cautioned. “These policies may vary. [In] some areas, it may be 30 days, so the campaign needs to be aware of their local regulations regarding when signage can go up.”
Partisanship is another area of concern. Yes, whom you support could be the deciding vote between two capable distributors. “Some candidates will only want to work with vendors who are on the same side of the party line as them,” Flowers said. “We have some distributors that focus solely on one party, and others who sell to candidates with funds.”
Joining forces with a knowledgeable supplier is the first step in removing any roadblocks on the path to purchase. Not only can they guide distributors with products, they can provide insight on details they may not have considered. For example, did you know that democratic candidates often prefer a union bug on their products? Flowers did.
“Because we are a union shop, we can print a union bug on any yard sign, bumper sticker, Gill-line or Bebco product,” he mentioned.
Trust and transparency are critical factors to the success of supply chain partnerships. Distributors should lean on their suppliers, but also keep them in check. “Partnering with good suppliers that you trust to come through the first time can really help,” Flowers said. “Raw materials can get scarce in the heat of the political season, so make sure your supplier has sufficient stock—and buying ‘Made in the USA’ is almost imperative.”
The Selling Process
Before calling on prospects, understand that there is seasonality to political campaigns. Larger races tend to occur during even years (say, 2018, for instance), but there are many small races on the odd years, as well, Flowers noted.
“This year, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 Senate seats and 39 governors will be up for election,” he pointed out. “In addition, there will be over 6,000 state legislative chambers of the 7,383 seats up in November.
“The very beginning of the even years is busy, with Texas and Illinois both having primary elections in February or March,” Flowers continued. “Pretty much from that point on, it’s one state’s primary after another, leading up to the general election in November. So, as a result, political business can keep you busy all year long, especially in even years.”
Repeat orders are common within a single race, too, since candidates are raising money throughout the duration of a campaign cycle, as Flowers mentioned earlier. “The campaign may order 500 signs, and then a week later receive a large donation and want 250 or 1,000 more,” he said.
Similar to other verticals, there are certain questions distributors should ask. What those are depends on end-user need. “I think it depends if they are just placing a single yard sign order for their friend’s brother-in-law who is running for count clerk, or do they want to be a full-service provider?” Flowers asked. “Smaller campaigns don’t generally have a lot of paid staff, so if the distributor can help with other services that they can outsource as well, like direct mail, door-to-door and digital, their candidates will rely on them as the experts. If distributors can provide products for fundraising events and name recognition, they should be able to help their candidates do very well.”