Print+Promo 2020 State of the Industry Report: How Do Printed Forms Fit in a Modern World?
Print+Promo remains committed to providing the best news and resources we can for you during these unprecedented times. For Print+Promo’s 2020 State of the Industry Report, we dug deep to measure print industry health, learn more about the major issues currently affecting the print industry, and find answers to questions, like: Which verticals are poised for growth?
As part of our investigation, we reached out to experts in various market segments: printed forms, labels, promotional products and direct mail. Below is an excerpt from my conversation with Steven Osterloh, vice president of marketing for Ennis Inc., Midlothian, Texas. Find out what he had to say about the current state of printed forms, the influence of M&A activity and the future.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the business forms sector?
Steven Osterloh: Although traditional business forms are seeing a decline, some types of forms are seeing larger declines and some are seeing more opportunities. For example, multi-part forms, typically printed on carbonless, continue to be impacted by the shift from impact printers to laser printers. Sales dollars and profits are higher for manufacturers and distributors on multi-part form orders over cut sheet orders. Bright spots would be integrated forms (labels and cards), variably printed (primarily barcodes) and higher color work, which help offset some of those declines.
What would you say encapsulates the mood of the forms industry for 2020? What would the theme of the year be for you?
SO: At Ennis, although we have diversified over the years, traditional forms are still a large part of our business. Customers are using less of these items, but we are also seeing a shift due to the lack of attention to selling and, more importantly, selling the benefits of these items over their replacement products, which is usually a technology solution. Selling only traditional forms isn’t a strategy that I would suggest for a company in our industry, but I also wouldn’t suggest that you abandon the profitable, repeat sales that these items continue to deliver.
It’s no secret that the paper industry has undergone violent shifts in demand surrounding certain paper products. How, if at all, has that affected your forms business?
SO: Years ago, Ennis chose the strategy to select a partner, and that decision has paid off for both organizations. When the paper supply is tight or when the paper mill is looking to add grades to replace products with declining demand, partnerships pay off. We are very lucky to have partnered with Pixelle to supply the majority of our core products. Even the current coronavirus scare disrupting imports could affect the supply market, and because of our relationship, we are better-suited to continue servicing our customers with high-quality products that are available and in stock.
How has the ongoing activity from a mergers and acquisitions standpoint affected the forms market? Your business?
SO: Mergers and acquisitions has been a big part of Ennis’ strategy over the last 20-plus years. The additional manufacturing locations, along with the added product lines, have allowed us to diversify and ultimately be a healthy and strong partner to our customers. From the distributor standpoint, some of the [deals] have been by manufacturers looking to acquire sales or a sales force. This hasn’t been the Ennis model, but for those distributorships that have been acquired this way, we have seen some disruption as the manufacturer tries to move as much of that business in-house as possible.
Based on past trends, what are your expectations for the short-term future of forms products? And, who do you think the future belongs to?
SO: I see the trend of year-over-year demand declines continuing. Traditional forms will continue to be replaced by technology solutions where available and logical. Although the declines will continue, these products haven’t and aren’t going to disappear [in] the short-term future. Products with added features, some of which I mentioned earlier, will be what carries the torch for forms sales in the future.
Please note: News about the novel coronavirus is changing quickly. As we finalized our 2020 Print+Promo State of the Industry Report, there were different statistics compared to when you are reading this, as forecasts did not account for COVID-19’s profound effect on the economy.