Surviving in the Age of Amazon
Things change. We’re aware of this. If you want to get really philosophical with it, you could say that change is really the only constant in our world. We can’t fight change.
But, what we can do is learn to adapt. Humans have proven pretty darn adaptable in our time on this planet, but it’s all a matter of choosing to do it.
In today’s print industry, one of the driving forces of change is the internet. The internet made it possible for people to order print and promotional products directly from the supplier from the comfort of their homes, without having to speak to a single individual or even get out of sweatpants. And in a world governed by convenience and instant gratification, spearheaded by big-name companies like Vistaprint and Amazon, how do the traditional print distributors stay afloat and keep their business as profitable as possible?
The answer is to adapt. It doesn’t seem that the Vistaprints of the world are going anywhere, and trying to beat them at their own game is an exercise in futility, but the most adaptable, savvy and courageous distributors can make it through just fine.
Get Online, Even If It’s Not Your Comfort Zone
The best way to start competing with these online conglomerates is to get online. It’s as simple as that. But, before you buy domain names and rush into anything, there needs to be a plan in place. Because when younger customers, who are comfortable with the internet, see a landing page that looks outdated, clunky or buggy, they are going to take their business elsewhere.
“If you don’t have an online presence, I think you’re going to be lost to your customers, and that doesn’t mean email,” said Steven Osterloh, vice president of marketing for Ennis Inc., Midlothian, Texas. “Someplace they can go online, view your products, order your products, place reorders, ask questions, those types of things. For us, I can tell you that we’re a $400-million company, and I think this year, if you don’t include our financial group, 20 to 30 percent of all of our orders are placed online. You wouldn’t think of that for a custom manufacturer like us. So many of them are repeat orders that people are using our online technology to say, ‘This is what I want again,’ or they’re ordering stock or semi-custom items.”
While the storefront presence is necessary to compete against these big online companies, as it’s something they typically can’t offer (more on that later), you need to complement the human side of your business with the online presence.
“Traditionally, printers have been very storefront-oriented, and they’re discovering that’s not enough anymore,” said Brian Meshkati, vice president of marketing for SinaLite, Markham, Ontario. “These online printers have come out. So, in order for print distributors or printers to still expand from their local market, they need an online presence. The first step is getting a website, which many of them do have. But the second step is to actually make it e-commerce, because everyone wants an online instant quote these days. Because of the Vistaprints of the world and the Amazons of the world, they want a quote immediately. They don’t really want to call someone or email them and then get their quote back in 24 hours.”
Do Not Be Afraid of Social Media
A lot of people have held out on social media for a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t see the point. Maybe they don’t want their information on the web for all to see. Maybe they’re a little nervous about figuring it out. That’s OK! Those are all valid concerns. But for the sake of your business, it’s imperative that you create a social media presence for advertising your business and your products to the masses.
“Something that’s happening now and printers need to all get on board with is, when they’re promoting their own businesses, obviously traditional printing and traditional ways of advertising like magazines and direct mail still have a place there, but printers need to also get into digital marketing,” Meshkati said. “So, for example, SEO is really important. Everyone is using Google or Bing to search things. If you’re not on Google and your result isn’t up there, it’s going to be very hard to compete. [Printers] need to be very heavy in social media, and they need to get on, for example, Facebook ads, Google ad words. Others are doing this. It’s not a means of actually trendsetting these days; it’s a means of actually keeping up now.”
Online printing giants can offer a wide variety of products easily, as they have capabilities that most traditional print companies just cannot extend to customers. The way to compete against that is not simply by trying to do the same; it’s by doing fewer things better and more efficiently.
“I think they’ll have a lot more success, at least with the [companies] we’ve seen and worked with, if they focus on a specific vertical or a specific type of product,” Osterloh said. “So, if they’re focusing on a vertical toward the automotive market, or they’re focusing on a vertical toward multilocation retail, or they’re focusing on a market to music stores or something to that effect, they’re going to have a lot more success because then they’re more specialized. And when they’re specialized, they hopefully will come up higher in the search rankings when they’re searching for that specialized industry product, versus somebody like a Vistaprint or a Deluxe or some of these major printers out there that are trying to sell to everybody versus that specific niche market.”
Aside from choosing a specific vertical to focus on, you should be prioritizing your actual product offering as well. From there, your production costs and investment will likely decline and you can see more profit.
While your first instinct might be to stick to the tried-and-true print items like business cards and fliers, it could be worthwhile to look elsewhere. This is where being brave and paying attention pay off. Find a need that isn’t being fulfilled by others for whatever reason, and populate that space.
“What printers should and need to be doing is expanding their offerings and services into other areas in print that are not as competitive and very profitable,” Meshkati said. “For example, signage, large format, banners, stickers, roll labels, packaging—these are actually growing areas of the print segment, and a lot of printers that I see aren’t there yet, but I think they need to be onto them as product offering. And, to be honest, they don’t even need to bring in new machinery. For example, a lot of our customers who actually start ordering roll labels and banners from us mark it up and start selling it to their customers. And, if the demand is there and they want to bring it in-house, they can choose to bring it in the future, instead of taking the risk and buying the equipment today and realizing, ‘Hey, in my market, core plastic signs didn’t do well, but I just put this much investment into it.’”
Be A Person
Your humanity is the best defense you have against the nameless conglomerates. While you could go onto a site like Vistaprint and chat with a representative, it’s impersonal at best. Where traditional print businesses thrive is by providing the ability to complement online convenience with the ability to talk to a real person who can address their issues and remember their needs.
“I think that just the fact that you could pick up the phone and call someone, or email someone and get a human response versus being dropped into a call center or, even worse, being forced to use chat and not ever being able to talk to somebody, I think that definitely separates them,” Osterloh said. “We have some partners that we work with that we host websites for, and we’re the production side and they’re the face. I can tell you most of those are successful because they’re either using the technology after they’ve already sold it face-to-face or they’re able to offer that extra level of customer service when somebody’s trying to produce something from a print perspective. They usually have questions. It’s not simply a repeat order that they say, ‘I want a repeat of this previous item,’ or ‘I want this SKU, but I want it in a large.’ There’s a lot more that comes into play, like ink color and artwork and things like that, and I think a lot of these people appreciate that they can pick up the phone and actually talk to a human.”