The Benefits of Domestic Manufacturing in the Print Industry
Even with the best planning, business can be unpredictable, so it is important to have a system in place that supports you when surprises occur. Let’s apply this analogy to the print space. Because so many projects require lightning-fast turnarounds and immediate changes, you, as a print provider, need to be flexible and nimble for your clients. This is where sourcing print products from within the U.S. can make a huge difference. Think about it. If you needed something tomorrow, wouldn’t you want it to come from a local printer?
“Our whole world is fast turnaround,” said Craig Moreland, president of Coast Label Company, Fountain Valley, Calif. “Talk about an emergency situation. I have a customer that manufactures ventilators for health care. Well, there’s a nationwide shortage of ventilators right now. So, this company is subcontracting out ventilators to a major U.S. automaker. And this U.S. automaker now needs labels to go on the ventilators that they’re going to assemble—and they need them now.”
The health care industry is a prime example of why fast turnarounds matter for print orders. Items, like labels, are crucial for medication bottles, equipment, signage and more. And, as Moreland pointed out, now especially in the age of COVID-19, there isn’t always time to wait a week or more for something to arrive from overseas.
“I have a number of companies in the health care space that are ramping up their needs due to the current health care crisis,” he said. “But, emergencies are common all the time because the label becomes part of the product.”
They’re not always situations of life or death, mind you. Agriculture is another industry that often requires updated labels at a moment’s notice, and anticipating this vertical’s needs can feel impossible.
“A lot of companies don’t always know the exact demand of their crucial printed products,” said Taylor Schulty, vice president of sales and marketing for AmeriPrint Corp., Harvard, Ill. “So, in many instances, getting them their essential printed piece becomes very important to the core function of a business.”
“Sometimes, the number of products that [the customer] needs is ever-changing,” Moreland added. “So, all of a sudden, they’ve got to deal with that change. If you go to fresh food, for example, sometimes they don’t know how much of a particular fresh food product that they’re going to yield when they pick until they pick it—tomatoes, fresh berries or whatever they put into these small packages for retail sale. All of a sudden, that ramps up, and they need it now.”
Print Is Not the Same as Promo
Overseas sourcing is much more common in the promotional industry, where items can be ordered from a catalog, imported from a country, like China, and then maybe customized in the U.S. And, not that time isn’t of the essence in the promo space, but there typically is more predictability with deadlines for T-shirt or pen orders compared to pharmaceutical packaging labels used to identify life-saving medication. Because of that, both Moreland and Schulty said that print distributors sourcing from overseas for U.S.-based clients is all but unheard of. It just doesn’t make sense.
“The only way you could get [print products from overseas] anywhere close to on time would be to air freight it,” Moreland said. “When you look at why you’d go to China for promo products, my guess is that they’re labor-intensive. And labor is a very large component of the total cost. That is not the case in label manufacturing. In label manufacturing, the much bigger costs are raw materials and capital equipment. So, you’re not going to have the huge labor savings that make all the transportation worthwhile. Plus, you have the communications issues [and] the time issues. So that’s why, to my knowledge, there’s very little manufacturing of labels in Europe or China for export to the U.S. in an unapplied form [or] in roll form.”
Print products, including labels or forms, are complex. They’re not just printed on cheap computer printer paper. Details, such as adhesives, matter for the end-buyer, so distributors need to be consultative partners in order to solve customers’ problems and ease pain points. It’s tough to do that when you have to deal with an additional middleman as a result of overseas production, or work around a six-hour time difference between the manufacturing plant and your office.
“That’s almost always an element when we’re dealing with our customers, particularly our reseller customers,” Moreland, the immediate past chairman of the board of TLMI, the 350-member North American trade association for the label and package printing industry, said. “Their opportunity to supply a customer oftentimes ends with their ability to solve a problem. There’s an old saying in the business, ‘Solve the problem. Earn the order.’ So, the question is: How well could the distributor collaboratively work with a manufacturer that far away, and where there possibly would be a language challenge, time zone differences and long, long supply chain issues?”
The Art of Transparency
So, the benefits of domestic sourcing for printed products exceed boosting the local economy. It makes the most sense for you, as a print distributor, to interact with end-buyers and make the entire sales process as quick, painless and transparent as possible. Let’s touch on that last one here for a minute, though, shall we?
If a print manufacturer says it prints in the U.S., that’s pretty easy for the factory to back up. That said, you can assure your customers that even the paper was made in the U.S., like the promotional products parallel we brought up earlier. But customers asking about that isn’t all that common.
“Other than some distributors checking the paper was bought in the U.S., there really isn’t any question if it is made in the U.S. or not,” Schulty said.
Even so, customers still might want to take a look at the facility with a critical eye to make sure everything is on the up and up, since not all U.S. factories are created equal. When customers are from industries where failure or mistakes are not acceptable, this becomes even more of an issue. Providing your customers with compliant and certified manufactured products that adhere to standards regarding product safety and labor standards sets you apart from competition.
“Because medical and aerospace and a number of other categories that we specialize in [are our end-buyers,] they do want to know where this stuff is being made,” Moreland said. “So, it’s common for us to do joint plant tours to show them what our place looks like. It’s 100 percent air conditioned, it’s clean as a whistle, [and] it’s very brightly lit. And people come in and they can’t believe we’re actually printing in this place. But that’s the way we like to operate. That’s the kind of customer we’re going after, [the one] that wants that sort of environment.”
The Law Is On Your Side
In that same vein, there is always new legislation in the U.S. to monitor. Our labor standards have been fairly consistent over time, and our manufacturing facilities are a far cry from those of other countries with more lenient standards when it comes to labor. But, policies like increased wages as a result of new legislation can create a ripple effect throughout the whole supply chain.
“As a U.S. manufacturer, we are subject to federal regulations, state regulations, county regulations and city regulations,” Moreland said. “As a general rule, those regulations are getting tighter and tighter and tighter, rather than looser and looser. If you look over the last few years, there’s been state and federal increases in minimum wage, health insurance requirements, employee benefits in the form of required sick time and family leave, [and] ever-tightening environmental regulations. You’re always going to need to adapt to the current regulatory environment.
“The minimum wage hasn’t affected us, because we don’t pay minimum wage,” he continued. “But, as you force the minimum wage to go up, then that sort of raises the bar of the wage range. And so that’s been [a factor] for not just us, but for all domestic manufacturers.”
Legislation like California’s Proposition 65, which requires potentially carcinogenic ingredients to be specifically labeled on consumer goods, doesn’t change the label itself, but it could create business demands when companies need to redo all of their packaging and labels.
Why Partnerships Matter
The bottom line is that, as a domestic source for print products for your customers, you can provide the most crucial act as a business provider: You can be there when they need you.
End-buyers want to keep working with the distributors who cater to their needs, respond quickly, and show honesty and integrity.
“At AmeriPrint, our turn time depends on many factors, but we always try to accommodate the delivery needs of our customers,” Schulty said. “Almost every single day, we face emergency situations where time is of the essence. We have a very full production schedule with many jobs that our customers need as soon as possible, while also receiving new rush jobs with even hotter delivery dates. [We give] each one of our customers the best service to ensure we make them look good to the customer.”