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Michael Casey

Pressing Ahead

By Michael Casey

About Michael

Michael Casey is the founder of Survey Advantage and strategic partner with several printer associations and franchises. By leveraging information from a printer’s estimation and production software, Mike’s business has helped hundreds of printers automate their customer feedback and lead generation process. He may be reached via e-mail or (401) 560-0311 ext. 103. Read printer case studies on the Survey Advantage Website.

Printer or Broker? The Lines are Blurring

The build vs. buy dilemma is alive and well as printers wade into new waters and print margins erode. Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few days with several printer owners successfully diversifying beyond print. The interesting thing was, these were small companies lacking the resources to build marketing teams in-house.

The whole idea of becoming a marketing service provider with in-house talent is daunting for an eight to 10 person operation. The challenge such companies face is becoming experts in the ever-growing list of emerging technologies and marketing services without taking their eye off their current print revenue stream. For years, we’ve been hearing about the marketing services provider model, but the group I met with is doing it.

Here is just a short list of some competencies necessary to broaden your marketing services offering:
  • Knowing how and when to use QR codes
  • Building and managing mobile websites
  • Designing and managing corporate websites
  • Using pURLs the right way
  • Managing social media marketing
  • Designing and managing e-mail strategies
  • Marketing promotional products
  • Creating show exhibits
  • Managing digital content

Can make your head spin, huh. The printers in this group know their core is printing and accept the fact that they lack the resources of larger printers when it comes to building a broad, cross-media team. They’ve come at the opportunity by leveraging a whole new breed of what I call “Behind the Scenes” suppliers, or BTS suppliers, that are filling the void.

OK, maybe we don’t need a fancy name for these guys, but they are different. These suppliers understand their role in life and have built services to remain hidden from the end-user, going so far as to even answering e-mail and phone calls as if they were part of a printer’s staff. The printer closes the deal and collects the money, then the vendor does the rest. And, the margins beat that earned on print.

These printer owners are aggressively reinventing their companies into brokers. For three days, the group watched sales pitches and educational presentations to figure out how to sell these services without getting their hands dirty, yet while still protecting the relationship with each customer.

These owners were focusing on understanding how to sell beyond print and position themselves as the go-to person to manage complete campaigns and cross-media efforts. They lean on their partners to deliver the final service or product, many times without their customers even knowing. These printers have been thrilled with the profitability of this approach. Here are a few examples of the services, vendors and results that were shared:

Net Solutions offers a seamless solution for printers interested in offering Web design services. It trains the printer on how to sell the service, but then does most of the work, right down to answering the phone as if they’re on the printer’s staff. Pretty cool.

Over dinner, one printer shared how he sold a $70,000 website and his expense was about $10,000. He said he felt guilty, but quickly laughed, adding he will lose it somewhere on a print job. The printer did confess this was an anomaly for him and he doesn’t expect to see a ton of other deals like this, but it helped him sell other stuff and truly be a one-stop solution.

• What about translation services? Inline Inc. helps printers with language translation. One printer sold $16,000 in translation services to a customer, without doing any of the work in-house. Think about how many customers you have who need solid, certified translation services when printing such things as manuals. You may not sell a ton of translation services, but the jobs are out there. Why not have that service available? Again, the printer is just a dealer of the service and not actually doing the work.

All Viso has set up a process for printers to sell mobile websites to their customers by leveraging QR codes. The tools are very intuitive, the entry fee is $500 for the first mobile site and the printer receives 100 percent margin on anything it sells to customers.

ASI is familiar to many for its promotional products. One printer explained how easy it was to have the website setup so customers could just buy pens, mugs, whatever. He explained that some customers thought he was doing the printing. The printer sold tens of thousands of pens a year. One customer, a medical services organization, gives pens out to visitors buying online. He said it was easy money; customers order online, and after three years he knows which products to guide customers to with very little effort. The margins, he said, were incredible. The printer sold $90,000 last year, which was very profitable business.

4Over is another name that just continues to come up when speaking with printers open to outsourcing to ride the tide. Less smaller printers are printing business cards in house. They take the order, have 4Over produce for some crazy low price like $20, and mark it up from there. Margins are insane.

I’ll never forget visiting MCI, the large telecommunications giant in the 1990s before it was bought out. The company did not build a thing. It became the expert in outsourcing and picking the right partners to put the right pieces together for the end customer.

Is that a model we may see more printers evolve into as they expand beyond print and certain printed products becomes a commodity? The choices are to build a team and infrastructure. or just buy it. My vote would be the latter.

Will more printers become brokers for services beyond print? Will there be more brokering in the future for commodities such as business cards and promotional products? The group of printers I met with definitely sees an opportunity to grasp this new, exciting opportunity to grow revenues, get closer to their customers, and have fun learning new ways to add value.

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