How to Sell Integrated Print Solutions to Online Retailers
The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted a lot of sales online, a trend that some researchers are forecasting won’t reverse any time soon. Consumers are buying everything from groceries to cleaning supplies to masks via e-commerce, so retailers are in need of integrated print products to streamline shipping those in-demand products.
“We have a saying at Integrated Label, ‘Every time a brick-and-mortar store closes, our business increases,’” Martin Chowanski, vice president of sales and marketing for Integrated Label Corporation, Rockford, Ill., said.
Since the pandemic began, multiple traditional storefront brands, like J.Crew, J.C. Penney, Lord & Taylor, New York & Company and Neiman Marcus, among others, have announced permanent store closures or bankruptcies. Meanwhile, other brick-and-mortar stores have ramped up their online presence with Walmart surpassing eBay as the No. 2 online retailer for the first time, according to eMarketer, with 74% e-commerce growth in the first quarter that ended May 1. (The company includes grocery pickup in that figure.)
After all, total e-commerce from April to May 2020 was beyond the level of the 2019 holiday season—about $10.5 billion more than November to December 2019 and about $52 billion more than a typical April to May time frame, according to Adobe Digital Insights’ Digital Economy Index.
U.S. e-commerce sales are set to increase by 18% due to the pandemic this year, according to an eMarketer report. That boom is not all good news for retailers, whose overall numbers are expected to decline 10.5%—a steeper decline than during the 2009 recession—with e-commerce offsetting the 14% plunge in sales at brick-and-mortar stores. However, it is good news for those selling integrated solutions to e-commerce retailers and their warehouse distributors. Typically, after the holidays, the pace of orders calms down, but this year business never slowed down, Chowanski said.
“When you get into what’s happening in retail today, the lack of activities at one end are still being produced at the other end,” he noted. “Kohl’s may not get a lot of people in their stores right now, but they’re shipping out a lot of product. So our products we make fit that particular function, so our growth, yeah, has been placed—a good part of it—on the activity within the marketplace and the COVID situation.”
To learn more about where integrated print products are thriving and how to get a piece of this growing segment, we spoke with Chowanski; Hayden Wier, sales and marketing manager for Dallas-based Abbott Label; and Sue Bennett, director of sales, and Mike Newman, label division plant manager, for KDM Products, Carpentersville, Ill.
Who’s Buying Them
The combination of forms and labels is nothing new to the print industry, but there is one sector that has come to rely on such products. The retail vertical accounts for the majority of sales, though other sectors could potentially benefit from the convergence of print products. Retail warehouses (or any type of warehouses, really) streamline their pick and pack workflow with the use of barcode and ship-to labels on the pick ticket. The most common use of integrated products here includes the ship-to label and the packing slip on one sheet.
“So instead of folding a piece of paper and putting it in an envelope and sticking it on the outside of a box, what they do for the integrated packing slip or the integrated label [is] they take the label off [and] they stick it on the side of the box,” Newman said. “Before they even tape the box close, they’re able to put the sheet of paper inside the box. So that way, the packing slip, it tells you what you bought, it says ‘shipped to [recipient’s name]’ and then it’ll say that you bought these three things.”
The convenience of printing one sheet compared to multiple sheets is clear. The cost savings in that is obvious. too. As an added bonus, end-users can print QR codes directly on the labels that direct customers to more information about the company or how to return the product, Wier noted. Another approach is to use the space to send marketing messages directly to the customer, Bennett said. But the most popular addition is the return label.
“That way, you’ll see what you have in there,” Wier said. “If you don’t like it or it’s not what’s described there, you then can take that label off and send it right back to whoever sent it to you without having to worry about buying or paying for a shipping label.”
Though including a label that might not be used may seem wasteful, a lot of companies have found it to be a cost-saving measure by reducing the strain on its customer service team.
“From what I’ve understood, another concept behind it is that you’re not tying up telephones and bodies with trying to facilitate getting these returns taken care of,” Wier said. “It’s an automated process, so if the person doesn’t like it, they have all the tools in front of them to place the return and everything like that. That way, they aren’t bogging down people’s time with just talking to unhappy customers and stuff like that. Not saying they don’t, but it’s just basically a more efficient process.”
But not all companies go that route, with some opting not to include the return label and instead just combining the standard ship-to label with the packing list.
“Some of the end-users that [distributors have] assisted with creating these for them so that they have a marketing piece and they can streamline their business don’t want the return label on there because they think it makes it too easy to return it,” Bennett said.
What to Sell
Integrated print solutions may seem the same among suppliers, but it’s important to ensure that the material quality will meet your clients’ standards and that you’re using the correct materials for the designated application, especially when it comes to the label adhering to various surfaces. If the label fails, there’s a big problem.
“You want to make sure they don’t put a laser removable on there, stick it on the box and then it falls off on a FedEx truck, and nobody knows what happens to it,” Wier noted.
It also needs to withstand the heat of the printer, so getting insight from your supplier to prevent any unwanted printing mishaps is key.
“With the technology of printers, [manufacturers have] also reduced the heat that is involved in the printing process, so that also helps reduce any oozing,” Newman said of the label adhesive.
“We’ve had, in our experience, a lot of customers come to us and ask for a void adhesive around the edges of where we put the label so that if it gets hot and oozes out, [it does not go] into the printer as you can imagine label issues in a printer,” Bennett added. “We make sure we have high-quality vendors for our adhesives so that we don’t have that issue and we’ve actually converted a bunch of people over from that because it’s less expensive and more efficient to run it with just the regular adhesive.”
But regardless of what input you’re able to gather from customers, know terminology can vary from printer to printer, so it’s always imperative to send samples.
“There could be a difference between the pharmacy that has to have a specific adhesive—that’s why we do it dual-web versus an integrated label,” Bennett said. “If the distributor isn’t sure, we always get a sample to make sure we’re courting apples to apples and if they have—getting to the equipment—[the] make and model ... we can go to our vendors and make sure that we’re forwarding the right thing to them, too.”
Chowanski’s business sends a portfolio of samples and advises distributors to not only understand how each works before a sales call or visit, but to send the prospective client multiple options to try.
“When you’re dealing with an end-user and you say, ‘Well, here. Try this,’ give them two or three variations, saying, ‘Try this, this or this,’ so he has something to judge it against, something to evaluate it against besides what he’s using right now,” he instructed. “That’s a smart manufacturing way of doing things. That’s also a smart sales technique is [to] always provide more than one.”
How to Get the Sale
Don’t forget to use your supplier in the sales process. Aside from samples, there are a number of ways integrated product printers, like KDM Products, can provide an assist to your sale.
“We’re not in it just for them to give us an order,” Bennett said. “We work the whole system. Help our customers, find the customer, create the product, run the product and then we stand behind it, so we’re an all hands-in kind of vendor. And once you create a label for a customer and have more efficiencies and save them dollars, they’re pretty loyal to you.”
And there are ways to provide an end-user a better solution than it currently has. Chowanski recounted a customer conversion where he was able to outdo a competitor on an urgent order. When a distributor’s client needed the product in about two weeks and his usual supplier couldn’t meet the turnaround, citing six weeks as its best offer, that distributor turned to Integrated Label Corporation.
“So what it boiled down to was we couldn’t change the lineup,” he said. “We basically ran a second shift and worked into Saturday and we called them back, and said, ‘Yes, we can get this done, but there’s going to be a little overtime. This is not a rush charge, but here’s the actual man hours and with overtime we have to deal with, it was something in the area of like $90.”
Rush charges can typically tack on hundreds of dollars in extra costs to an order, but the client seemed surprised by the relatively low fee and the ability to get the job done in time.
“Well, we got the order,” Chowanski said. “And more importantly, we got the repeat business as a manufacturer. The distributor maintained his relationship with the customer by solving the problem at that end and he still has the business today, and we still have the business today. It’s not rocket science. It’s salesmanship 101 as far as everyone down the line has to be on the same page.”
When it comes to finding potential clients, clearly large retailers heavily use integrated print solutions, but there are ways to make an impact with burgeoning businesses that are still on the smaller scale and might not have switched over to an integrated print solution yet. It might not be a big sale now, but it could evolve as that business grows.
“And when they typically change over to these better business practices, that’s when you start seeing growth with them, and they actually start finding more success because they’re saving more money,” Wier said. “... And that’s actually what a handful of our customers do is they get their hands around certain brands—mid-level, small-level brands—and they basically just suggest logistics warehousing and packaging to them, so that way, they can [find the] best use [of] their money and make sure that the quality of their product is going to be the best.
“... It’s not going to be an item—if they’re already using that—[that] you’re necessarily going to be blowing their minds with, but it might be something very helpful that you can get your foot in the door with it on some of the smaller and mid-level people that might not be using that type of item,” he added.