The Real (Positive) Deal with Continuous Forms
This is not a doom and gloom story. The world is so full of those right now that, frankly, we don’t feel like adding onto the pile. There’s always room for a little positivity.
The best part of this is that we don’t need to embellish any truths to write something optimistic. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the print industry just as it has done every other facet of our lives. There’s no real way around that. And in an industry that already fends off a constant barrage of “print is dead” claims from critics, people don’t need another reason to feel worried about their professional futures. This is especially true for a particular segment of print: continuous forms, which has felt the sting of technology eroding its relevance in the world for quite some time now.
While we’re not going to sit here and pretend that everything is great and that there are no problems with the print industry, we are going to say this: Print isn’t dead. To be more specific, continuous forms aren’t dead. And even a global pandemic couldn’t kill them. The business is there, you just need to know how to look for it and know how to close the deal. And that’s no fooling.
“It’s 100 percent true that print is alive and well, including continuous forms printing,” said Mike Allen, general manager of multiple plants for Ennis Inc., Midlothian, Texas. “Like many, I have heard for the past 20 years that continuous forms are going away and it no longer makes sense to keep the manufacturing equipment. But the reality is different. Continuous forms used to be the backbone of any traditional forms printing facility. While they may not necessarily be the main product today, they are still an important revenue-producing product line for my customers and my facilities.”
Bob Saunders, vice president of sales for Alpharetta, Georgia-based Wise, the parent company of Datatel Resources Corporation, has responded to these “doom-and-gloom” critics with a version of, “Yeah, yeah. We know.” Saunders regularly goes to visit his company’s distributors and their facilities, so he sees that continuous forms very much still have a place in this industry, no matter what people say.
“I certainly understand it,” he said. “We’re not lost on the fact of how technology has had an impact on our business. The shift away from continuous forms happened many years ago, really probably driven by end-user software applications. So, software changed and the form changed. That’s certainly the case, and there are applications that have stood the test of time and continue to work well, and some customers haven’t seen a reason to change.”
And in a great example of putting your money where your mouth is, Saunders said that four of his company’s five manufacturing plants are still making continuous forms.
“I just laugh and say, ‘It’s not dead,’” he added. “It might be a lot smaller than it used to be, but it’s not dead.”
So, breathe a sigh of relief, continuous forms enthusiasts. As you may have heard over the past few months: The business is there; you just might have to pivot.
Selling Amidst a Global Crisis
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do just about everything right now, Saunders said that it hasn’t affected the continuous forms business any more than it has affected the rest of the print industry overall. And actually, there may be additional sales opportunities presented as a result of some industries working overtime.
“So, any essential business, we have seen an uptick in usage in that space,” Saunders said. “If somebody like a distribution and transportation company was using a continuous form as their application, some of those businesses we’ve definitely seen an uptick in the usage there. The pandemic itself, how has it really changed the print industry? Probably not any different than any time we’ve had any disruption in the economy. Whether that be 9/11 or the 2008 recession. It causes us all to take a step back and look at the way we currently do business and see if there’s a better way to do it and better processes in place. The old saying ‘If we only led our business in good times the way we run them in bad, just think how much better off we’d be,’ I think, probably holds true here. You find new and different and better ways to do things and workflow processes in your business.”
Allen echoed Saunders’ assessment of how essential businesses and industries have created demand for continuous forms.
“We have definitely seen some reduction in our incoming orders due to the closure of businesses in the wake of COVID-19,” Allen conceded. “However, continuous forms demand has remained remarkably strong through this slowdown, primarily due to the types of companies that use them. For example, freight companies are as busy as ever right now and are a major sector that utilizes continuous products. We are seeing the same number of orders, but with larger quantities as companies try to ensure they have ample product on hand for periods of increased activity.”
Health care and financial are other verticals where activity remains. No matter what happens, the economy keeps moving. And health care workers are more important than they have been in recent memory, at least in such a publicly appreciated way.
“Some of the most reliable vertical markets for continuous forms are health care and financial institutions,” he added. “Products, such as medical forms, invoices, statements, claim forms and continuous checks, continue to be used by many businesses every single day. With fewer reliable manufacturers than there were 10 or 20 years ago, the value we can provide to these critical industries has only grown.”
In these times, we’re constantly learning—whether that be a new skill, technology or product. One thing you can still educate yourself on is your sales approach and, specifically, how continuous forms fit into it. Because, as Allen and Saunders pointed out, they’re not going anywhere, and others might be looking to slip into what precious business you do have if they are a bit more savvy and opportunistic.
“I would also tell you that there’s still plenty of those applications that exist out there,” Saunders said. “And if you’re not asking those questions, your competitors are. And you’re leaving the door open for your competitor to get into the account and penetrate the account further, potentially putting some of your business at risk, as we see more and more distributors being the sole supplier within accounts.”
With less competition, if you lose a client who then becomes loyal to your competitor, that’s extremely detrimental and creates long-lasting damage. In this industry, customer loyalty is no anomaly. Allen sees it at Ennis frequently.
“Continuous forms are a printing mainstay and a large part of why we’ve become the go-to traditional forms supplier for our customers,” he said. “It is common for customers to send us multiple orders of different types of traditional products all at once, because they know we understand the value of these forms and have the experience to do them right. They can order cut sheets, snap outs, envelopes and continuous forms all at the same time and from a single source. We love the efficiency of the ‘send it all to Ennis’ approach, and so do our customers. There are many benefits to continuous forms versus cut sheet. These benefits are what will drive opportunities if you promote them to your customers.”
“Those verticals I mentioned previously, there tends to definitely be these jobs out there, these applications that still use continuous forms,” Saunders advised. “For example, if you’re a print distributor and you’re selling into a transportation company or you’re selling into a distribution company. Health care still has some, although they’ve had continuous forms reduced quite a bit. But if you’re selling into those markets, ask those questions. Don’t just immediately go into the marketing departments there and look to sell promotional products or marketing collateral. Make sure you’re penetrating the entire account, because they’re still being sold.”
So, like we said—this wasn’t going to be all doom and gloom. And it wasn’t, was it? If you’ve been thinking of taking continuous forms out of your distributional repertoire, you might want to reconsider. Someone else might not have, and when they land a client they might just take away the rest of your business, too. And when the time comes that you can ask existing clients about further needs, continuous forms might be just the ticket.