How Continuous Forms Printers Compete with Consolidation and Supply Chain Issues
It’s been 18 months since we got acquainted with the art of face masks and upped our hand-washing game by adding a 20-second singalong of “Happy Birthday.” Now, even as vaccine rollouts continue and we adjust to this “new normal” that gets thrown around so often, there are still lasting effects in business.
Namely, the global supply chain has been hampered by varying degrees of COVID security in different parts of the world, and as demand ebbs and flows, manufacturing plants have been pushed to the limit to keep up with orders.
In the print industry, there has been quite a bit of trouble acquiring various paper grades, with lead times increasing and manufacturing capacity shrinking.
This is the last thing the industry needs right now. But, despite the challenges, print distributors have found ways to prosper with products like continuous forms, securing stable customer bases, rolling up their own sleeves for their customers and relying on their teams to get the job done.
Let’s Get That Paper
Kimberly Suchy, sales and marketing manager for Royal, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, said that raw material supply chain issues are challenging for just about every company in the printing industry these days.
“Paper mills are operating at full capacity, mill inventories are at historically low levels, allocations have been put in place, and input and transportation costs continue to rise, which have contributed to the raw material supply issues,” she said. “These disruptions have reduced every printing company’s ability to accommodate short lead time requests.”
But, as with every problem, there is a solution, albeit an imperfect one. For the most part, it boils down to being open and honest with customers, and making sure they plan accordingly for issues out of their control.
“We have overcome these issues as best we can by ordering early, managing our inventory differently and working with our distributors on a case-by-case basis to find creative alternatives,” she added. “We are also trying to educate our distributor partners, along with asking them to inform their clients about these supply chain disruptions, and to motivate their clients to order early.”
Bob Saunders, vice president of sales for Wise, Alpharetta, Georgia, said that having a network of plants has allowed them to keep paper inventoried as best they can.
“When a specific paper grade is not available in one of our plants, we are able to search our network of plants for inventory, and, in most cases, successfully service our customer,” he said. “In the rare situation where paper is not on-hand, we offer a variety of solutions including, but not limited to, partial shipments, substitute papers or ... the possibility of redesigning the form.”
To get specific about the continuous forms market, distributors can find success if they know what sales verticals to watch, and what kinds of products each particular buyer is looking for. Wise has found interest with customers in industries like distribution, transportation, utilities and government.
It’s natural to think that the continued shift to tech-based solutions could kill continuous forms. Saunders, however, said that during the pandemic, the transition away from continuous forms has actually slowed.
“Someone is going to sell those continuous forms orders, why not you?” he asked. “Wise still has thousands of continuous forms orders manufactured in our plants every year, and many that have been repeating for well over 20 years.”
That’s one of the biggest benefits of continuous forms in Saunders’ eyes — the way one sale translates to repeat orders.
“The great thing about selling a continuous forms order is that you sell it once and watch it repeat again and again,” he said. “The margin dollars accumulated over the lifetime of the order can be significant. We often refer to this as a ‘print annuity.’”
Back to the topic of manufacturing plants working at max capacity: That actually benefits print distributors who sell continuous forms. Those plants and manufacturing facilities will look for products like purchase orders, work orders, payroll checks and shipping documents.
Suchy said that she and Royal have actually seen growth in opportunities for selling continuous forms, specifically in the food industry, during the pandemic.
“As an example, we recently received a large reorder on some continuous shipping order forms for a food manufacturing company,” she said. “Their reorder came sooner than anticipated due to increased volume they have been experiencing. We have also seen growth in form and label combinations, which are ideal for companies that use both forms and labels in their daily operations.”
Small Business, Big Ambitions
As with the promotional products industry and consumer-facing industries, acquisitions and consolidation are constant threats to small- and medium-sized businesses.
The natural worry is that these companies will become even more powerful and take up a disproportionate share of the industry’s buying power, pushing the little guys into the margins and eventually out of the picture.
In Suchy’s opinion, though, these smaller print businesses can compete not by wielding the bigger sword, but by using what they have more effectively.
“Our philosophy as a small, independent printing company is to create relationships and true partnerships with our distributors,” Suchy said. “We also actively seek ways to help our distributors grow their business. Several years ago, we changed our company tagline to ‘Your success is our business’ to give us the opportunity to tell our stories about how we build long-term relationships with our distributor partners.”
More than anything, Suchy said that her company’s biggest asset is its team. “All employees approach quality with an open mind, and we work collaboratively to ensure satisfaction,” she added. “We believe this is the value we provide to the distributor, and we have seen growth with distributors that align with our company philosophies.”
As Saunders said, too, every company has a role. That role might not be manufacturing or selling certain products, especially if the big fish are cornering that market. Then you’re just spinning your wheels.
“Although there has been a lot of consolidation within the print industry, it’s still a fragmented market with thousands of companies continuing to thrive,” Saunders said. “The key survival for printers, large or small, is their ability to excel in their sweet spots while continuing to develop new markets and products in which they can become a value-added supplier.”
To reiterate Saunders’ own words — someone has to sell those continuous forms — why not you?