Tools of the Trade
Take advantage of resources that can boost business.
What exactly it take to succeed as a print distributor? While there may not be one answer to fit all, one of the main components is the utilization of the right tools—especially in today's business environment, according to Tony Kegowicz, owner of AJOK Business Solutions, Scottsdale, Ariz.
"It's harder to gain new customers in the current economy," said Kegowicz. "Therefore, distributors need to stay ahead of the game by continuing to build their customer base rather than relying on the one they've got."
To do so, Kegowicz suggested making full use of basic bro-chures and literature detailing a distributorship's information, including product categories and services. These tools keep current and prospective clients up to date with a distributorship's position within the marketplace and tend to be very effective when used as personalized direct mail, he added.
"However, getting this information out serves as only a preliminary tool," noted Kegowicz. "The mailing should be followed up by a personal phone call."
It is also key to recognize that clients are trying to keep inventories down and cash flow up. In order to manage this effectively, Kegowicz suggested implementing suitable and affordable document management software. In addition, distributors can simply e-mail customers on a periodic basis to make them aware of where they may stand in terms of stock on various products.
E-mail can also be used to evaluate clients' usage rates and overall ordering history to determine when they are ready for their next orders. Taking advantage of an automatic e-mail notifier, which reminds clients to place new orders with a certain amount of lead time, is also very helpful. "E-mail seems like such a simple tool, yet it is something that may evade even some of the most savvy distributors," said Kegowicz.
Making use of a basic Excel spreadsheet is yet another means by which distributors can get ahead. According to Kegowicz, distributors can keep track of which markets tend to be most profitable by recording and evaluating low-margin and low-volume customers.
"I'm always in favor of trying to increase the percent return on sales as opposed to strictly going after volume," said Kegowicz. "Just take the customer list and look at selling price, cost, margin and overhead to calculate the return on sales."
By using this process, Kegowicz said that distributors can determine where to spend time and with which customers to exert more effort.
Enhancing one's business knowledge is another of Kegowicz's recommendations. This can be done through educational tools, such as courses offered through DMIA and the American Management Association. For small- to mid-size distributors, Kegowicz suggested attending laymen's financial courses. "One of the weaknesses of many small- and medium-size distributors is their lack of thorough understanding of a business operations' financial implications," he said. Courses like these, which are specifically offered for non-accounting professionals, are typically held at local colleges and universities.
In addition, reading books such as The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, are helpful in advising how to build and maintain a lasting organization.
Being aware of what is occurring within the industry is also of utmost importance. "Know who the best printers are and what type of technology they are using," said Kegowicz. While referring to an industry periodical is one of the best bets for doing this, so is maintaining strong contact with large paper suppliers to the print industry, such as International Paper, Stamford, Conn. "International Paper usually knows who is operating the best, most sophisticated types of equipment," said Kegowicz.
Tools for Ad Specialties
For forms distributors involved in ad specialties, using time-saving resources can make a significant difference when closing deals. As such, Mike Fey, national sales manager of Fey Line, Edgerton, Minn., suggested distributors utilize two tools—a searchable product catalog and an idea center—both of which are designed to reduce research time.
These tools are offered free through www.fey-line.com. There distributors from forms and ad specialty businesses can research specific industries to learn about new ideas on what is being bought. In addition, distributors can search by product and price point.
By Sharon R. Cole