The industry is changing. That’s some cutting-edge information, right? I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Brendan, you clearly have your finger right on the pulse of the printing and promotional industry. What hot take will you think of next?”
I’m so glad you asked.
OK, all jokes aside, the industry is changing all the time, but you knew that, of course. As e-commerce and one-stop shops like Vistaprint, CustomInk and the like become more popular and widely used, providing service directly to customers, traditional distributors and suppliers need to learn how to adapt to survive. (That’s become even more apparent as these online retailers have gone simply from the faceless internet existence to opening brick-and-mortar locations, as we saw with Vistaprint in Toronto last year.)
So, how can you do that? What can you do to set your business apart from the companies that allow one-click transactions? What makes you special?
Well, it turns out, a great deal sets you apart, and you might not even know it. Vladimir Gendelman, founder and CEO of Company Folders Inc., Pontiac, Mich., said that just being the kind of print and promotional company that provides a deeper experience than the Vistaprints of the world is a good start.
Whatever You Are, Be a Good One
Gendelman said that the biggest mistake companies make is trying to compete directly, becoming one-stop shops, forgoing their prior specialization.
“A lot of printing companies, the way they have traditionally operated, it was a neighborhood shop, right?” he said. “And the customer goes there to get everything done, whether it’s a business card or a folder or a brochure, postcard—whatever it might be. So, at the end of the day, those print shops did not really specialize in anything in particular—which was totally fine, because it didn’t matter. You were a neighborhood shop. People come because you’re close, convenient, whatever. Nowadays, when you have Vistaprint, general printing became very, very inexpensive.”
When companies choose generality over specialization, they run the risk of being taken over by these bigger companies,
“In our case, and companies like us, where we really win is with specialty,” he added. “Our specialty is presentation folders. And, if you go to Vistaprint, they have, I don’t know, six or eight different styles of folders, which are all standard, 9x12" folders, for example, and they have one pocket or two pockets, or something like that. ... They would only print four-color process, and it would be on blank stock. So, [those] who are looking for that folder, they aren’t our customer anyway, for the most part, because our customer is looking for something more elaborate, or something more interesting, and for something that’s a bit more high-end. Vistaprint is a less expensive option, and quality goes with it, as well.”
As Gendelman put it: “The moment you start doing everything, you become nothing.”
Technology Moves Fast
If that also isn’t the understatement of the century. The other big thing that these companies have going for them is their ability to get things done quickly and efficiently, and that includes shipping.
Mark Larson, vice president of commercial sales for ColorFX Inc., Van Nuys, Calif., said that companies like his need to stay up-to-date when it comes to order placement technology, streamlining operations and being available for fast shipping.
“We are meeting the manufacturing challenges by having four manufacturing and six will-call locations, putting us closer to our reseller locations; [and] updating and upgrading our print equipment for better quality and faster throughput from the front of the press to the back, maintaining a consistent product,” Larson said. “Size of manufacturing footprint and product offering both play key roles in keeping costs down with standardized stocks, printing solutions and print consumables. We maintain our competitiveness from coast to coast.”
Larson also noted that application programming interface (API) connectivity and other technological advancements would continue to be market drivers in the near future, since this would allow for streamlining the ordering process, fulfillment and routing. He added that the continuing evolution of smartphone integration with just about every aspect of business, as well as everyday life, means that companies will need to be able to include smartphones to place orders, manage orders and report information to customers.
It’s Still All About the Money
The understatements and hot takes keep on coming. Specialization and technological advancements are great theoretically, but there’s one thing that many of you might have already considered while reading these tips: This is all expensive.
And, that can be true. It’s easy to say, “Oh, just include more technological integration and more efficient shipping strategies,” in the same way that it’s easier for me to say, “Oh, well this BMW will get me to the grocery store much faster than my bike.”
Mardra Sikora, CEO of Pocket Folders Fast, Omaha, Neb., agreed that the biggest thing setting your company aside from the Vistaprints of the world is cold, hard cash.
“The biggest challenge is the volume of capital that these companies have to invest in new technology,” she said. “The way we adapt to this is by carefully choosing our own investments to include print and finishing technologies that offer unique combinations of processes.”
Companies can do everything they can to stay up-to-date, but sometimes it’s just not feasible when you’re counting the 1’s and 0’s. So, this all comes back to what Gendelman said before: Know what you do, and do it well. Provide something that these one-size-fits-all solutions just can’t do.
“While speed is the first factor in our business model, Pocket Folders Fast also offers an array of options that gives our distributors an edge over the generic, mostly commodity-style print offered by the ‘big online’ companies,” Sikora continued. “Additionally, we provide customer service that includes knowledge of both conventional and new print and finish technologies, and follow up with specific samples in order to support distributors and print marketing professionals.”
And, as these companies focus heavily on technology on the horizon, one of which being artificial intelligence, according to Sikora, that means there’s one thing they’re not focusing on: the customers themselves.
Regardless of what you specialize in or what you even do as a business, you know that customer appreciation is paramount. People don’t want to be treated just as a number or a cell in a spreadsheet.
“Relationships mean a distributor understands the client’s message, and, therefore, offers a specific array of options that confirm and reinforce a company’s brand across a multimedia spectrum,” Sikora said. “Relationships help the customer to decide when to put a brand’s identity in the hands of a gang run, or choose a craftsman who is honoring that message. Distributors educate their clients on the new technology options, and guide them through the exciting ways to share the company message, using cooperative platforms and providing each business and their brand personal attention, as opposed to cookie-cutter options.”