Business forms are not dead—they are simply succumbing to old age. But, like fading celebrities still craving the limelight, some of the former workplace heroes are reinventing themselves. An affixed product here, a slick redesign there, perhaps some variable imaging and a smidgen of color or even an ultra-hip electronic makeover—these are a few ways seemingly extinct business forms have reclaimed some of their glory.
Undoubtedly, the numbers are declining, yet statistics show forms continue to be a driving force for manufacturer and distributor sales. So, which business forms products are still holding their own and what types of applications are they serving?
Richard Kline, vice president of distributor sales for Datatel, Monaca, Pa., observed a lot of the pre-printed products that used to run carton-to-carton have evolved into roll-to-roll formats. “Jumbo roll applications are growing, particularly for data processing and direct mail imaging within fulfillment houses and service bureaus,” he said. “Jumbo roll processing systems continue to be on the rise for things like monthly and quarterly statement processing, direct mail components requiring post-press imaging, checks and security document production.”
Still, marketplace changes will inevitably continue to impact forms, and Rick Vullo, customer service manager for Dallas-based Hospital Forms & Systems (HFS), sees use of narcotic control sets, for one, declining. However, he also commented on new looks and redesigns for long-established products bolstering their longevity. For example, integrated labels on laser-compatible cut sheets are being updated with pattern adhesives for improved performance. “Pattern adhesives provide flat, even stacking for fewer reloads in high-speed laser printers, and they eliminate adhesive oozing, which contaminates the
machines,” he explained. In addition to the health-care market, HFS manufactures pattern adhesive products for a wide variety of business operations, including distribution centers and mail order houses.
Certainly, privacy and security concerns have created new opportunities for value-added forms products, including the confidential sign-in logs HFS provides. One design features detachable, shingled tickets which patients fill out and detach, while a security screen on the first of the two-part log sheet prevents patient information from being viewed.
Another option utilizes a two-part, carbon-interleaved unit set format. Part one of the unit set is label material, and each line for patient information is actually a removable die-cut strip that can be put on the patient’s chart. The liner on the back of the label material, as well as the carbon, keep confidential information out of sight.
Some changes, such as the introduction of pressure-seal technology, have resulted in a healthy boost in business forms profitability. Deanna Day, marketing manager for Montrose, Alabama-based PrintXcel, noted that the first patent for a cohesive used with pressure-seal products was issued in 1988, and ultimately had a dramatic impact on the popular multi-ply mailers also referred to as snap-packs.
“The self-contained, multi-ply collated sets were printed on impact printers, and held various inserts, such as a bill/remittance and return envelope, and were glued on all four sides. The traditional multi-ply mailer market was about $400 million back in the late ’80s, with approximately 90 billion pieces moving through the mail stream annually,” Day explained. “Then, impact printers went by the wayside as people switched to laser printers, which couldn’t print multi-ply forms.”
In 1996, PrintXcel introduced a package including the equipment and supplies that enabled smaller users to transition into pressure-seal products for a modest investment, opening up the market to a larger variety of businesses.
“It is a profitable sale, and then the consumables keep it going for distributors,” said Day. “Education is a good example—once [pressure seal is] installed for one application, [end-users in the education market] tend to use it for everything else, including late notices, grade reports, transcripts and paychecks. Check processing is usually the first application people think of for pressure seal, but the education market actually started with transcripts and grade reports and went from there.”
Due to its security-enhancing elements, such as the four-sided Z-fold seal, pressure-seal technology has been embraced for documents like tax forms, earning statements and rebate checks, and Day remarked this is still a strong, developing area for distributors.
She also suggested targeting implant printers, mailing professionals, service bureaus and equipment dealers. “One of the greatest misconceptions a lot of people still have is that the cohesive is going to melt in the printer. Some distributors also mistakenly believe their customers wouldn’t want pressure-seal or that it is too expensive and complicated and involves a longer sale cycle,” commented Day.
As for electronic forms, they need not be harbingers of doom and gloom concerning distributors’ profitability. According to Omar Ayala, account executive for NowDocs International, Brea, Calif., e-forms entered the marketplace in 1980 as a replacement for traditional, pre-printed forms. They were part of the document imaging management space, helping people move away from multi-part dot matrix forms. “In terms of it being a replacement for pre-printed documents, e-form technology has matured. The emphasis now is on further developing document management and archival options, as well as digital copying and workflow functions,” he said. “Today, e-forms offer greater integration, and there are module systems that easily add functionality to existing set ups.”
Ayala went on to say once a system has been installed, distributors can still enjoy repeat profitability from consumables revenue, whether it’s special MICR toner, blank security stock or laser sheets printed with a customer’s logo. “The customer may be using an electronic form to replace a multi-part form, but distributors can still offer canary, pink and blue paper to those who need the different looks and feels the multi-parts offer,” he suggested.
Paper-intensive distribution and manufacturing environments are gravitating to e-forms, and Ayala noted there are many vertical markets within human resources, accounting, shipping and receiving that find e-forms quite appealing. “There may be some lingering notions within the marketplace that e-forms are too expensive and involve difficult installations, but this is overcome with education,” continued Ayala. “Most environments can benefit from e-forms. Customers save on ink and labor charges to have forms printed and stored, and eliminate obsolescence. There are hard and soft savings associated with [e-forms] everywhere.”
Hazelwood, Missouri-based Bernadette Business Forms has been printing business forms for more than 40 years, and while the construction of the products may have changed, the company observed the need for paper forms is still high, particularly among direct mailers and service bureaus. Popular business forms products the company produces are frequently marketing-oriented rather than operational, including documents with integrated cards and labels, direct mail pieces and specialty form/envelope combinations.
Even continuous forms are managing to hold their own due to a variety of stock choices and value-added features for enhanced functionality. The company still receives a fair amount of orders for continuous forms used for invoicing, shipping and receiving, statements, importing/exporting and packing slips, in single-part, multi-part, carbonless or carbon-interleaved configurations.
The decline of business forms is not as dramatic as generally believed. Traditional products may not be recognized due to the sleek, new looks they sport today as a result of advances in manufacturing and finishing techniques. For example, Bernadette Business Forms uses special punching; perforations; regular, jumbo and modulus numbers; laser- compatible UV coating; pockets; and bar coding for efficient, multi-taking forms
The fact remains that forms products are still making the business world go round. Even electronic form technology is not eliminating forms usage, but putting the power in the hands of end-users to print their own forms. Whether through a redesign combining multiple documents into one or value-added features, the old classics continue to get the job done. It just requires a little more digging and creativity in providing today’s business form solutions.
Related story: State of the Industry 2007