David vs. Goliath
It’s David vs. Goliath all over again. With the U.S. economy on the brink of a recession, the major industry players seemingly have the advantage. Yet, when given the chance to do battle against its competitors, the smaller—but driven—company can leave the playing field victorious.
Commercial printers are no exception. Similar to those in other market sectors, commercial print specialists are feeling the crunch of escalating oil and natural gas prices, postal increases and sustainability pressures. Larger suppliers may possess scale advantages in purchasing materials, such as paper and ink, but studies indicate profitability is ultimately linked to effective sales operations. As a result, smaller- to medium-sized companies can rely on something much more meaningful—smart selling. Here, three successful commercial printers share strategies for staying competitive in a market undergoing flux.
Headquartered in Strongsville, Ohio, Dupli-Systems opened its doors in 1977. “It’s really funny how each distributor identifies the manufacturers they use. To some, we are still a traditional forms supplier, or cut-sheet provider. In the past 15 years, we have many who think of us as a high-end commercial printer,” observed Dave Griffith, vice president of sales.
He went on to say Dupli-Systems’s goal is to be known as a printer that can provide a complete package of documents, marketing materials and digital print to end-users through redistribution or a resellers program. To help deliver its promise of quality customer service, the company offers distributors a full range of digital media services.
“What we see as being successful and valuable to our customers is an affordable web-to-print software package that will cross many platforms,” Griffith said. “We have been in imaging art for proofs, film and CTP since conception. As all manufacturers know, the varied kinds and methods of submitted files by the reseller[s] and their customer[s] have always been a challenge. Our job is to be able to address these needs and give ultimate service.”
For more than 10 years, Dupli-Systems has offered FTP (file transfer protocol) services, and has been soft proofing via PDF files for almost the same length of time. The company has installed Kodak’s Prinergy system, which is beneficial for imaging different kinds of files, along with serving multiple users.
In addition, Griffith mentioned the company has taken its electronic prepress manager, Russ Rupple, and positioned him in the customer service office. This strategy, in turn, enables Rupple to collaborate with the inside sales group and distributors’ customers, as well. “This move has helped so many distributors show strength in solving customer file issues by connecting their customer to Russ. The jobs move along much quicker and the solutions are hardly ever waiting for a distributor salesperson to interpret the issue and relay information correctly—the first time—to their client and back to our plant,” he said.
Digital media, however, isn’t the only type of digital influencing the market. Digital printing has become a worthy opponent of traditional offset lithography methods. Griffith acknowledged the impact such technology has made on the way many suppliers conduct business.
“NAPL [also] stated last year that 25 percent of commercial printers have left the marketplace in less than five years, and they expect the same amount to be gone [within the next five years],” he noted. “The factors having caused this are not just commercial printing projects being diverted to digital print solutions, but the capital it takes to continually upgrade a facility in an economy where prices are being driven down has hurt many printers.”
Dupli-Systems continues to invest in new equipment to remain successful in the short-run segment. The company recently purchased a new pair of Epson 9000 contract proof printers. In addition, a second Duplo collator/saddlebinder—able to support commercial, cut-sheet and digital—was installed at the plant. This particular machine allows for quick set up and easy operator training, and it’s capable of flat collate for perfect binding as well as saddlestiching. Griffith added, “We are [also] operating a black-and-white digital machine, and will be adding a color unit very shortly.”
Hiawatha, Iowa-based J&A Printing has taken similar measures. “We have had black laser digital and color digital. The majority of influence has been black laser, as we have many large customers that print four-color shells, then personalize them and mail on a weekly or monthly basis,” stated David Jensen, sales and marketing director. “In the past two years, we have [also] added specialized mailing equipment for attaching pieces to mailings, a diecutter and folder/gluer. We’ve achieved more diversity in our service offerings and improved turn-time and control on die-cut, score and perf projects.”
Specialized direct mail, specifically involving personalization, has been a fast-growing sector for the company in recent years, along with fulfillment services such as warehousing, daily order receipt and shipping, reports and invoicing.
Thorn Hill Printing (THP), Freedom, Pa., is another printer making headway with direct mail. “Not only does direct mail seem to be on the upswing, but the print requested is changing. Customers appear to want four-color process printing for their mailings and it is not unusual to see up to four-color print as part of the specifications,” said Dan Reid, marketing manager. “With the larger quantities, pricing on four-color print does not seem to be as major of an issue as in the past. To keep up with this trend, we added a new eight-color web press with great flexibility.” Furthermore, because THP’s parent company is a large mail shop, Reid said THP can therefore offer all print and mailing services required on most print projects.
What’s in It for Me?
There’s no doubt about it—times are tough. But, price will always be a sensitive issue, regardless of the country’s struggles and achievements. In the meantime, there are still plenty of ways to alleviate the painful effects of the economy—educate and get real.
“The current energy crunch has caused many print buyers to slow down on marketing. This reminds me a lot of ‘01 where companies did not know how they were going to identify themselves in the marketplace. The costs we are faced with because of energy, for the most part, are out of our control. However, as a manufacturer, we must help educate the distributor on the reasons for cost increases (such as the cost of energy in a paper mill or the use of petroleum in inks, film laminates and coating materials),” Griffith affirmed. “There is not a manufacturing segment in the marketplace who is not facing the same issues. We are all facing the added expenses from environmentalists to add costs and be green, added expenses for energy to operate plants, employee transportation issues, raw material expenses [increasing] on a weekly basis, and at the same time, distributors looking to reduce product cost.”
Jensen agreed that due to the tightening market, customers currently aren’t creating as much collateral. “Because this strains all printers, our ‘loyal’ customers are being swooned by discounted prices that are certainly going below cost. To offset, we must succumb to pricing pressure when necessary, but we have also invested in customers and provided costly, yet rewarding, training and social functions,” he said.
If customers aren’t producing, if loyalty can be purchased and if demands are too overwhelming, then is it truly worthwhile for the novice distributor to entertain selling commercial print? Yes. According to Griffith, the good part about selling commercial print is that almost every business is a potential customer. He encouraged distributors to focus on a specific vertical market. By doing so, it will be easier to learn more about the end-user and his or her specific needs. Griffith reminded distributors to align with the appropriate designers as there are different types who handle reports, packaging, agriculture and corporate identity.
“The different departments that use commercial printing is amazing. There are marketing managers, public relations directors, human resource managers, project specialists, parts managers for packaging (small folded black-and-white pieces or black-and-white booklets that are inserted into finishing product boxes) and the list can be endless. This gives the commercial salesperson so many avenues to hunt inside each potential account,” Griffith stressed.
Putting aside self-serving goals, and instead, putting first the needs of customers is arguably the best way to defeat the giants. “Listen to the client, discern what you hear and go find the solution best suited for the individual being serviced,” Griffith suggested. “Asking for quotes or worrying about the competition is not going to make the sale.”
Partnering with a knowledgeable, reliable manufacturer will make the sale. If both sides of the trade spectrum combine forces, the puzzle is complete. Griffith and his peers realize a good manufacturer can only be one player on a large team.
Perhaps, more importantly, exhibit confidence and a positive outlook. Griffith speculated, “What better time to start selling a product than in a down-turn market? The new salesperson has only one direction to go, and that is up.”
Related story: Selling Points