Stick with Tradition
Customized, value-added traditional products remain popular and profitable.
Continuous forms, unit sets, checks—not very exciting, are they? But, these traditional products—distributors' bread and butter a few decades back—have plenty of profitable life in them yet despite falling sales, said manufacturers.
"Sales may be flat to steady for traditional forms, but we notice sales overall are up," said Deanna Day, brand manager for forms products at PrintXcel, Fairhope, Ala. This is due to a changing product mix, Day said.
"Since 1995, we've seen a 15 percent shift from basic traditional products to specialty and value-added," she noted.
Becky Douthat, vice president of National Business Forms, Greenville, Tenn., gave this overview. "For unit sets, it's been a gradual decline. Checks are holding steady, and continuous forms, in volumes of 5,000 or less, have had growth. Longer-run continuous orders, especially 25,000 or more, have seen a steady decline," Douthat said.
She echoed Day's assessment that current sales and growth will come primarily from more specialized products. "Plain vanilla traditional product orders are down. You can only offset that with aggressive pricing," Douthat said. "But, for unit sets, for instance, we have a lot of unique bells and whistles—pattern perfs, jumbo numbers, transfer tape, etc. Those orders have been steady."
Mike Fleming, vice president of operations at Golden Business Forms, Golden City, Mo., tracked a decline of 5 percent to 7 percent in both unit sets and continuous forms during 2001 and 2002. "Then, in 2003, both products started to rebound," Fleming said. "With the economy growing, companies want to be separated from each other and not buy generic forms. Customization is the selling feature."
Customize to Compete
The message is clear—distributors need to emphasize custom features and processes to set otherwise ho-hum products apart, including the generic offerings at office superstores.
Checks, for instance, are still a moneymaker, especially with added security features, which manufacturers offer in abundance. Golden Business Forms' Thermocheck program offers stock laser checks "featuring the ultimate in security features," Fleming said. This includes security papers, warning bands, prismatic printing, void pantographs, micro-line border printing and heat-sensitive ink.