Print, Redefined: How to evolve and grow in the changing print landscape
It’s been a wild ride for the print universe. While new technologies promise greater advancements and capabilities for print distributors, the digital age also brings with it an increasingly paperless society, and the fear that print may soon be obsolete. The good news is the print industry has been poised for historical opportunity, with digital, wide-format and personalized direct mail leading the charge for growth. For print distributors hoping to evolve their business in this transitional period, however, keeping steady won’t be enough—it’s time not to abandon print, but to think beyond the print box.
To help distributors get started, we spoke to three industry experts: Dan Lunoe, senior sales partner, HDS Marketing Inc., Pittsburgh; Andy Fornaro, account representative, Proforma R&E Graphics, Annandale, N.J.; and Greg Gill, president and CEO, thumbprint, Apopka, Fla.
The State of the Industry
In order to move forward, it’s important for print distributors to have an accurate understanding of the business climate. We asked our interviewees how their print business has been performing, and where they see it moving in the future.
“I think the print industry has been steady for the last years,” said Fornaro. “The main changes have come in the digital printing world. I think it’s been steady. There is some decline—more and more companies are getting away from continuous forms.
“In fact, I don’t think I print a continuous form for anybody,” he continued. “For some part, there are still unit sets out there, but that is slowly going away, too. Letterheads and envelopes [have] seen the biggest decline in the print industry. Envelopes have been one of the steepest declines I’ve ever seen, but other than that, I think it’s pretty steady.”
Fornaro added that he was confident that print would never decline to nothing, and that there would always be areas for growth.
Gill agreed that some areas of print are experiencing a drop. “I think what we found over the years is, obviously, the document areas of the business (forms, if you will), where we used to do a lot of work, is now in decline with the advent of e-documents,” he said. “So, laser printers changed that piece of our business, which used to be substantial.”
However, Gill also pointed out a few areas of growth in print. “The commercial printing, the color-work in the market, has been very steady for us, and I think that’s going to continue to stay steady, except there is a change with print-on-demand documents,” he said. “Copiers are getting more with variable digital print; you’re able to do much more targeted smaller runs with better quality. I think direct mail is here to stay—it’s still the best response rate out there.”
The Service Solution
While it seems printed products, like direct mail, continue to be a source of profits, Lunoe, Gill and Fornaro have seen success in offering their clients more service-based solutions.
“We do e-commerce, fulfillment services, pick-and-pack and drop-ship services,” said Lunoe. “My view with it is once I’m in there [selling], I don’t try to back myself into a corner and define what we sell, and that’s the beauty of being a distributor. ... There’s a bunch of random stuff, but I would say as many services and value-adds that you can add for your client is only going to make you more valuable.”
Gill advised distributors to re-evaluate how much stock they’re taking in online services. “I think if distributors don’t have some type of web presence or e-commerce solution, it’s going to be very hard to survive in the future,” he said. “As you see right now, as younger people come on-board, they want technology, and giving them a solution where they can do their ordering or anything online—that’s where they want to go.
“So, I think distributors that have that capability and can master it are going to be very successful,” he added. “And if you’re not, you’re going to be vulnerable in your accounts that have any type of size.”
The Promotional Punch
All of our interviewees pointed to the promotional product market as a natural extension of the print market that has opened a lot of doors.
“If you’re not selling promotional products, get into it if you’re a print distributor because you can expand your growth,” said Fornaro. “No. 1: The people buying printing from you are probably the same people buying promotional products, or they could refer you to the people in the company that do it. And, No. 2: If you’re in the company and you have a good name, people are going to be open to [working with] you.”
Fornaro also revealed that he has a much higher success rate with a new customer when he goes in selling promotional products versus printed products. “Eight out of 10 times, [the prospects] will give me promotional opportunities,” he said. “It’s much easier to get in to see people about promotional products than it is printing, so that is by far the biggest tool you should add to your arsenal.”
Gill revealed a similar story, and explained that most of his clients are looking for multiple product offerings. “Of our top 30 clients, I would say for 95 percent of them, we are doing their print, promo and apparel,” he said. “They are looking for a solution, usually its rapid technology, and then we provide all the products.”
To keep up with client demand, thumbprint even added an in-house embroidery operation. As a result, its business is currently 60 percent promo and 40 percent print. If the numbers have you convinced, but you’re not sure you have enough of a foundation to get started, Gill had a few suggestions.
“When I was first starting the process, I went to a couple apparel shows. I visited a couple people that had an in-house embroidery operation, and I did my homework that way,” he said. “So, small baby steps—learning about it, investing, going to trade shows, finding people that have been doing it and getting their advice, and asking, ‘What was good, what was bad, and if you had to do it again, would you do it?’ You have to educate yourself and do your homework, and really that’s how you do it.”
Lunoe had a few more tips on getting started. “Don’t overthink the details of the items,” he said. “Find a few good vendors for starting out, and really work with them. ... You don’t need to be a product expert on everything, you just need to know where to get it from, and that’s going to come from building relationships with your preferred vendors.”
And, when it comes to addressing your clients’ needs and suggesting promotional products, Gill revealed the question he likes to ask: “What is your biggest pain point?” If you can solve all their business pain points, you’ll prove an invaluable partner who can take care of their print, promo and apparel needs.