Continuous Forms: A Hidden Pocket of Profitable Business
Ask most distributors where they are focusing their print selling efforts and you’ll discover that business forms aren’t on their radar. Continuous forms, in particular, are not just low on the list — for most, they aren’t on the list at all. Distributors are building their print product and service portfolios around everything from commercial printing to packaging to augmented reality. But by ignoring continuous forms, they are missing an opportunity.
This might sound counterintuitive, and to some extent, it is. With the rise in e-forms, e-bill presentment and customer portals, continuous forms are on the decline. As a distributor, why would you pursue a declining market? Shouldn’t you be moving toward growing markets, such as marketing services, labels, packaging and promotional items?
The answer is “yes” to both. Yes, you should be broadening your portfolio to include new services, including commercial and digital print, and yes, you should keep an eye out for opportunities to sell continuous forms. The two are not mutually exclusive. There are still pockets of businesses that use continuous forms, and these pockets remain highly profitable and offer the type of recurring revenue stream with repeatable orders that are highly coveted. Let’s explore some of these opportunities.
What Are Continuous Forms?
To maximize value, distributors must know what they’re selling. For younger sales reps, continuous forms may be an unfamiliar product. They’re not sexy! We can describe continuous forms as those long sheets of paper with perforations that run through dot matrix printers and hi-speed impact printers. Because of the perforations, these forms can be easily torn off into individual pages. They can be both bond and carbon forms or carbonless forms, and are often used for multi-part documents that are output at high volumes, such as invoices, statements and purchase orders.
Continuous forms can be “all-in” less costly than cut-sheet forms, and come in two-, three- or multi-ply stock. They are pre-printed with company-specific information such as company logo, address, and form-specific static information, required by that job or account. The forms arrive in a folded stack and are run through the printer, in-house, at the customer site as needed.
This offers a fast, convenient workflow, especially when distributing multi-part forms. For example, a driver drops off a shipment of spirits at a liquor distributor and takes with him a three-ply form.
He drops off the pallets at ABC Liquor Distributors and leaves them with one copy at the dock. He then brings back the other two parts — one for his front office and one for sales. It is fast, easy and accessible to all employees — no IT required.
What Makes Continuous Forms Profitable?
In a word, repeatability. Once you sell the account, these orders continue to generate revenue for you month after month, year after year. This results in high-margin business that requires little maintenance and monitoring.
Just look at the types of products for which these forms are used:
- Contractor Invoices
- Carbonless Receipts
- Bill of Lading Forms
- Freight Bills
- Purchase Orders
- Work Orders
- Quality Assurance Reports
- Pre-Shipment Inspections
- Maintenance Reports
- Driver Logs
These are high-volume products that repeat over and over — think razor and blade. In most cases, those forms don’t change, so especially if your customer is doing their own ordering through a self-service portal, profit increases dramatically.
Despite the opportunity, however, there are fewer and fewer distributors selling continuous forms. There are even fewer vendors selling continuous forms direct to the end-user. With plenty of companies still using these forms, this creates new and additional opportunities for account penetration.
Who Is Still Buying Them?
How long will this business hold out? There is no way to know. But as long as businesses’ dot matrix printers remain in operation, the need will remain. Here’s a look at six primary markets for these products:
- Manufacturing and distribution (all market verticals)
- Highly traditional retail environments, such as auto parts and tire stores
- Textile mills
- Direct distributors
- Small and mid-sized businesses who cannot yet afford to transition to e-forms or a cut-sheet workflow.
There are more of these customers out there than you might think because the investment necessary to transition to e-forms is significant. It requires new software, new hardware, and the time and resources to train employees. As long as their dot matrix printer is working, many businesses put off the transition as long as possible. To borrow a phrase, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”
Look for companies with mobile workforces, as well. In a fully digital workflow, these companies are facing the expense of outfitting each driver in the fleet with an iPad, phone or similar e-device — and hoping for cellphone signal everywhere that is needed. Many of these companies also have high percentages of older employees who may be resistant to such a change.
How to Sell Continuous Forms
You aren’t likely to lead with continuous forms, but if you are already in an account, simply show up. Ask them what kind of forms they’re still buying. If you’re already getting business from the marketing area, ask for a referral into other departments — accounting/finance and operations.
Here at Wise, one of our distributors picked up a $50,000 account this way. They were in a large national account and simply asked if they needed continuous forms. As it turns out, the client had been looking for a resource and was overjoyed to find that its distributor could be a resource for them.
Of course, if you have time available, you can lead with continuous forms, as well. Pick the right prospect accounts and make some calls. Sometimes businesses don’t know where to go. This could open doors to new accounts.
While you are talking to customers and prospects about marketing services, promotional products and other services, bring it up. Although you might be there to talk about their next marketing campaign or their swag, like branded T-shirts, hats and mugs, don’t forget that in the back, where they are loading the trucks, they are likely still using continuous forms for their packing list and inventory list to sign off. So, ask the question. You might be surprised at what happens.
For additional information, including access to Wise’s YouTube channel and business forms white paper, visit www.wbf.com. Jeff Prettyman is executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Wise, which manufactures traditional forms, labels and digital print for resale. You can reach Prettyman at firstname.lastname@example.org.