In With the New
What started as an industry rooted in print has changed dramatically due to consumer needs and the impact of technology. Service-based approaches continue to supersede traditional “ink-on-paper” business models; customized, on-demand printing is outpacing the need for off-the-shelf printing; and partnerships have replaced top-down edicts. The transformation of online printing, often referred to as web-to-print (W2P), can be added to the mix of excitement.
Think about it. While it’s hard to imagine a world without W2P, there was a time (say, a decade ago) when even the simplest tasks required a lot of troubleshooting. Just ask Mark Larson, vice president of sales for Zoo Printing Inc., Bell, Calif. “There have been many improvements the last 10 years in this space,” Larson remarked. “Technology has played, and continues to play, a major role in the W2P market. [There is] better prepress order process and art-file handling. Offset and digital presses improved quality, speed and consistency off the back-end of the press. Turn times have reduced to the point where many of us in the gang-run arena offer same-day printed products.
“Our customers have benefited with all the advancements from the order process to product production,” he continued, noting that the changes have provided more attractive price points without compromising quality or delaying turnaround times.
Zarik Megerdichian, CEO of 4over Inc., Glendale, Calif., also remembers those darker days. “The pace of automation and expansion is staggering compared to 10 years ago,” he said. “Outsourcing is now easier than ever, and much more affordable than investing capital in expensive equipment.”
Both operational and customer-facing automation have allowed printers like 4over Inc. to roll out services, such as EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) Full Service, which Megerdichian described as a “full service, end-to-end EDDM solution that eliminates the customer’s need to bundle and handle paperwork.”
Product production and efficiency are other areas that have benefited from automation. “Grafting new automation into print workflows is allowing printers like 4over Inc. to become more nimble and offer faster turnaround times from our 12 locations nationwide,” Megerdichian commented.
With all that being said, it’s no longer a question of whether or not W2P will catch on—it’s about where it will go from here, and how the industry will take advantage of this growth opportunity. We asked Larson and Megerdichian, along with Todd Eldridge, executive vice president of Dupli-Systems, Strongsville, Ohio, for their thoughts on the sector and what they’re doing to stay competitive.
THE BELLS AND WHISTLES
Dupli-Systems is hard at work for 2016. According to Eldridge, the company is in the preliminary stages of a site redesign, and hopes to be finished in approximately three months. “We are always looking for ways to make the online experience easier for the user,” Eldridge said. “[...] We are adding features to simplify the ordering process.” When asked to elaborate, Eldridge hinted that there would be fewer steps to get to checkout.
Zoo Printing is making a few site tweaks of its own, starting with enhancing its ZOO ordering site to be compliant for mobile-ready functionality. Larson also pointed to new features that will benefit Zoo’s customers in getting more information, faster ordering and updated graphics. One exciting enhancement for Q1 2016 is a new autoRIP system. “This capability will allow an art file to be uploaded into our prepress solution and, in real time, provided back to the user, and [there is] a file review to let the user know if it is print-ready or not,” Larson explained. “If not, we will detail what’s wrong with the complete file, page by page. It will provide many on-the-fly fixes that can be done instantaneously to correct the errors. Files can be reviewed before the end-user leaves the reseller’s location, reducing the back-and-forth time to preflight the files. This is a game-changer in this process.”
Meanwhile, 4over Inc. just capped off the year by opening a Northwest production center in Milton, Wash. in November. “Our reach will extend from Portland to Vancouver, with delivery services out of our Seattle location,” Megerdichian said.
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
Despite its booming success, the W2P market does not come without challenges. Larson cited the ongoing pressures to reduce turnaround times, improve workflows and provide timely marketing materials to a cross-section of resellers as examples. “Being consistent in all aspects of the product lifecycle is key to helping resellers maintain and acquire new customers,” Larson said. “The big three continue to be the factors that affect the resellers most: pricing, quality and delivery.”
Then, there’s the issue of an aging capital investment. “Skimping on investment generally means an aging fleet of presses that can’t keep up with the latest cutting-edge print and color management technology,” Megerdichian explained. “[...] Traditional printers struggle to keep up with the quality, innovation, value and turnarounds we provide. As a result, many of them are now outsourcing to 4over Inc. rather than investing in new equipment, executing on their growth strategies, while leveraging our capital investment.” Last year, 4over Inc. purchased three new presses—a decision that enabled the company to roll out more than 1,200 new products and options in the past two years, Megerdichian added.
For Eldridge, the goal is to dispel myths about customer service. “I think some have a perception that if you order print online, you won’t get good service,” he said. “We try to change that perception by treating online orders the same as custom orders, and provide the same service level for both.” This means being flexible. If a customer has a last-minute change to artwork, for instance, it is the printer’s responsibility to accommodate the request. “We have the customer service staff available to make that happen,” Eldridge said.
THE MORE YOU KNOW
When choosing a supply-chain partner, it is important to vet potential applicants. Reading Better Business Bureau ratings, Yelp reviews or testimonials is a good place to start. From there, ask detailed questions. Larson offered a few suggestions. “Based on the client base for the reseller and their customers’ locations, is the supplier able to service the account,” he said. “How easy [is the supplier] to do business with, and are they trade-only? [Pay attention to] product selection and pricing. What is the process for constant quality job-to-job and from plant-to-plant? What are the turn times listed versus the actual performance? What is the commitment to work with resellers, marketing support, customer service and company philosophy?