Tags and Labels: Selling the Product That Sells Itself
Take a stroll through any grocery store or retail outlet, and an empirical truth shines down like a beacon of light through the clouds. A quality tag or label can sell itself by becoming a product in and of itself, in some cases upstaging the commodity it was designed to hawk.
A beautiful, well-designed and innovative tag or label is a magnet to consumers, often obfuscating the selection process while rendering another tag—the small black-and-white sticker that carries the retail price—meaningless. Take unflavored, bottled water, a product with sparse differentiation from manufacturer to manufacturer. It can be argued the product’s label performs 100 percent of the heavy lifting that lands case after case into consumer carts.
Ah, but this isn’t a symposium on the merits of design, marketing and sales. While a tag and label may sell itself, you, the distributor, don’t get off quite so easily. As the linchpin between manufacturers and tag/label buying clientele, it is your job to demonstrate the value of the product, highlight your role as a facilitator and a repository of knowledge, and outline those points of differentiation that separate you from the distributor down the block.
Joseph Thompson, general manager for Ennis Inc.’s DeWitt, Iowa, facility, maintains that a distributor must focus its efforts on being a solutions provider in order to impress (and win) a buyer’s business. That is the No. 1 point of differentiation, he said.
“How does it benefit the buyer, make their job easier, save time, improve their bottom line and enhance user experience?” Thompson observed. “Answer these questions, and doors will open.”
He noted that partnering with innovative, knowledgeable, resourceful and committed manufacturers allows the distributor to provide more value beyond the product itself. A tag or label that combines multiple solutions within a single product draws immediate attention. It behooves the distributor to do his or her homework, and understand the customer’s workflow, pain points and challenges.
“Successful manufacturers today survive through understanding the importance of workflow, labor savings, process improvement and the overall effect on cost,” Thompson added. “Not every product can be integrated, combined or improved, but when we do hit upon a few, which we will, the benefits will be real.”
Any distributor can sell a label. Providing the best, optimal tag or label for an application is the distributor’s true value proposition, according to Andrea Fugitt, marketing supervisor for Elgin, Illinois-based Continental Datalabel, and that can be accomplished simply by becoming well-versed in the offerings and capabilities of the manufacturers upon which they rely. “Any problems along the way can be seen as opportunities to build relationships and trust,” she said. “We even offer seminars to companies who are looking for sales training and new product education to ensure they have the knowledge and confidence to provide the right solutions to their customers.”
The ability to act as a consultant for tag and label buyers is of utmost significance in the quest to differentiate among distributors. Tony Heinl, president of Tipp City, Ohio-based Repacorp, encouraged distributors to garner expertise in material offerings from major suppliers such as UPM Raflatac, Green Bay Packaging and Fasson. This will enable distributors to make qualified judgment calls on materials that may be overkill for a given application or provide cost-effective alternatives.
By knowing the manufacturer’s equipment; the inks and materials used; the widths, speeds and setup times for the presses, Andy Heinl, Repacorp’s vice president of digital printing, noted, it becomes easier for the distributor to sell to a customer a tag or label that is superior to a competitor’s offering. Other tips include:
- Maintain a checklist that garners all necessary specifications in order to quote a project—size, unwind direction and how the label is used.
- Use physical samples.
- Be creative in order quantities. “Instead of ordering the same label every few weeks, see if you can agree to a blanket order or a three-month supply,” said Repacorp Account Manager Ed Kools. “I work with a distributor who performs a weekly label inventory for her customer. What better way to keep an eye on things and make yourself a valued supplier?”
Another measure of a distributor’s true worth can be found in how he or she interacts with both the manufacturer and the client in challenging situations. In this regard, the print provider reflects upon the distributor when problems arise, and a three-tiered relationship calls for patience, understanding and problem-solving skills. How a distributor relates to the manufacturing vendor, and the quality of that relationship, can be a make-or-break proposition.
Fugitt related the tale of a distributor who called late on a Friday afternoon in December, requesting a custom label quote. The job called for a large quantity of sheets on a custom material with a special adhesive, printed four-color process for a giant in the health care space. The label was being inserted into a promotional piece for the upcoming year.
“We had to deliver the order no later than the next Friday afternoon so the mailing house could insert it over the weekend to get it mailed out on Monday,” Fugitt said. “We contacted our material vendor and made sure they could meet our delivery date. The minute the material hit our dock, our production crew went into high gear. We made our deadline and so did the mailing house. Our customer called us with a big thanks from the end-user and himself.”
Repacorp recently partnered with its reseller, end-user and an RFID integration company for a project where the end-user switched from employing a UPC label to an RFID-enabled tag to track inventory. The implementation helped reduce loss prevention, improved inventory accuracy and enhanced processes, all of which increased margins.
Several years ago, Ennis was charged with providing a distributor with a laser sheet tag for a client that would be applied in wet, foundry-like conditions. The tags were to be imaged on the customer’s printer, broken down into individual parts and connected to the product by a zip tie. “The distributor invited me along, which turned out to be a truly invaluable experience,” Thompson recalled. “The knowledge gain ultimately provided us with the direction needed to provide a totally unique custom-engineered solution, which is still in place today. Without question, the distributors and manufacturers collaboratively partnering today will be delivering the products and solutions for tomorrow.”
While a quality partnership between print vendor and distributor is essential, there are numerous pitfalls the latter can avoid earlier in the project in order to ensure a smooth workflow and delivery of tags and labels. Fugitt encouraged distributors to accurately evaluate the overall complexity of labels and their construction. “Distributors should always try to get their hands on a sample, and always ask as many questions about a label or tag as possible,” she said. “That includes the type of material needed, the application of the label, when the label/tag is applied and what surface it is applied to. They need to know if it will go through a printer and need a ribbon, the make and model of the printer, and what elements [it will] be exposed to—service temperature and environment. Lastly, it’s important to know how long the labels are in use and whether they will be applied manually or by machine.”
Kools feels some distributors are a bit shy when it comes to asking questions of their customers. Offering a press proof goes a long way toward avoiding headaches if the client wants a high-quality label, a certain material or needs to match color. The small fee of a proof is greatly outweighed by the potential issues that can arise. “I’ve run into a lot of distributors that like to guess the answers to my questions (such as unwind direction, label environment, etc.) instead of checking with their customer,” Kools shared. “They’re concerned that they will appear to be pestering their customers. The result is the wrong label material is ordered, the label is coming off the roll in the wrong direction and so on.”
What does the future hold for the tag and label market? Repacorp offers multiple digital presses, each with a different run length sweet spot for label applications to make its distributor clients more competitive. It can provide short-run jobs for 100 labels with laser cutting (sans plate and tooling charges) and has a seven-color digital press that produces high-quality imaging. “A new niche market is shrink sleeves,” Tony Heinl remarked. “Our distributors have asked us to get into the shrink sleeve business, so we purchased the equipment. We are seeing many of our distributors selling short runs of full-body shrink sleeves and tamper-evident perforated sleeves.”
Fugitt echoed the digital revolution sentiment, pointing to the growing demand for high-quality labels containing variable data that require short turn times. “Additionally, there are countless opportunities to cross-sell products to end-users from what you are already offering them,” she said. “As your partner, we are here to help you discover and capitalize on these opportunities through concrete solutions.”