Crunching Numbers, Taking Names
If anything can be learned from 2013, it's this: Our industry is full of surprises. From key acquisitions to a cash-strapped Postal Service, the recent string of controversies has done little to instill confidence in clients. But as our March State of the Industry issue pointed out, change creates historic opportunity for the prepared. In other words, the industry is what we make it.
So, how did suppliers respond to the challenges at hand? Did the protracted recovery from post-recession fallout finally start to speed up? This year's Top 50 Suppliers list offered encouraging results.
Overall, the industry performed well. While some suppliers took a hit, the majority broke even or enjoyed increases in revenue. For instance, top-generator Ennis Inc. reported $533.5 million in sales compared to last year's $517.0 million. Meanwhile, 4over Inc.'s numbers jumped to $115.0 million from $95.1 million in 2012. Such improvements were reflected in total annual revenue from all participants, including companies beyond the top 50. To provide some perspective, the final tally was $2.36 billion, a boost from last year's $2.27 billion, though short of 2011's $2.53 billion total.
Individual product sectors, for the most part, followed this trend. Labels & tags took second place, overall, with $442.2 million (2012: $422.4 million); commercial print accounted for $319.4 million (2012: $267.4 million); promotional products climbed to $284.0 million (2012: $265.2 million); direct mail inched to $125.4 million (2012: $123.3 million); and envelopes/folders/stationery landed at $182.8 million (2012: $182.6 million).
The "other" category also took a step in the right direction, proving industry players are finding new ways to complement traditional product lines. Sales came in at $87.4 million (2012: $68.8 million). Common responses for this sector were:
- Flexible packaging
- Screen-printed apparel
- Wide format
- Bindery finishing
- Installation services
- Digital printing
- Promotional print
- Integrated forms and labels
- Plastic bags
Note, some of these entries may skew the "other" category; the decision to consider screen-printed apparel, for example, as miscellaneous instead of promotional products is left to the supplier's discretion.
Some product categories weren't as lucky. Once again, printed forms put forth the highest showing at $502.0 million-but this figure was down from last year's $513.3 million. The remaining categories followed suit. E-commerce finished at $32.2 million (2012: $44.2 million); barcodes/RFID fell to $39.1 million (2012: $57.0 million); and plastic products/cards totals declined to $121.1 million (2012: $124.9 million).
Perhaps the biggest upset belonged to the Web solutions category (e.g., PURLS, QR codes and software). After last year's impressive showing of $182.6 million, Web solutions only consisted of $17.1 million.
With the recent surge in multi-channel marketing and web-to-print activity, these numbers are puzzling at best. Some companies were unable to break down total revenue by product sectors, which may account for the discrepancy. Either way, Print+Promo plans to look for similar patterns among submissions from the industry's leading distributors next month.
The Top 50 Promotional Products Suppliers chart returned for another year. Published in July 2013 from our sister publication, Promo Marketing (PM), the list is based on 2012 revenue. And according to PM results, there was a significant increase in numbers from 2011 to 2012. In fact, suppliers brought in roughly $200 million more in 2012 than in 2011. PM attributes the bump to a newfound confidence after years of scrambling to recover lost funds. PM's research revealed a steady increase of new hires, demonstrating confidence in the product, the long-term growth of the company and, most importantly, distributor partners.
In a constantly evolving industry, it is nearly impossible to identify long-term trends with certainty. While executives wait for the ink to dry on freshly signed contracts, they should be thinking of different ways to spend their creative energy. A bright future awaits those willing to work for it.
We congratulate each and every company that made either list and wish them the best of luck in 2014. Check back in November to see how the distributors fared over the last year.
(Editor's Note: Factors to consider when interpreting sales figures are ongoing industry consolidations and responses reporting idiosyncrasies.)