Look into Higher Learning
For forms distributors, the cash is in the college market.
You don't have to be a Rhodes scholar to realize that a forms distributor's opportunities can be limited when selling to public school districts. With laser printers practically in the classroom, office supply superstore competition and, most of all, bidding regulations, what are distributors to do? If they're smart, say those who have been there, they'll skip school.
For colleges, appearance is everything, providing opportunities for distributors who can handle commercial print jobs. This brochure, for example, was created by Rick Lewis and Debra Bradfield of ProForma Preferred Systems in Long Beach, Calif., for Brooks College.
"We used to do a lot of mailers for the Wichita school district; and grade reports and transcripts were once big business," said John Osborne, president of the Wichita, Kansas-based distributorship Midwest Single Source. That, he noted, is no longer the case.
Today, schools know what they want and, because they are federally funded, they simply solicit bids for the lowest price. "Back in the '70s and '80s they needed insight on forms design, etc. Today that's minimal—teachers literally do most of it on laser printers right in their home rooms," Osborne said.
Compounding the problem is the fact that low bidders can come in from anywhere—including out of state. "There can't be loyalty. In most situations, you have to be the lowest bidder out of 20," continued Osborne. "When I'm awarded a bid it's almost always because I've made a mistake on pricing."
He also noted that those who are selling to the city generally have the right to sell to the county at the same price. "The accounts go to those that have the price matrix that gives them the appearance of being the lowest cost producer. They don't actually have to be, they just have to ap-pear to be."