What Print Buyers Want -- Printer, Now Buyer, Tells All
LORENZO COWGILL, production manager at Alexandria, VA-based Marketing General Inc. (MGI), has a different perspective than many print buyers, which he believes allows him to give an unbiased perspective on the subject of “What Print Buyers Want.” He has decades of printing experience, first serving as a press operator, then moving into estimating, purchasing and production management. As a printer turned print buyer, he offers unique insight. MGI is a large association marketing firm that provides a broad array of membership services, advertising and exhibit sales, list management and brokerage, e-marketing services and data analytics. Cowgill purchases several millions of dollars in printed products, direct marketing material and direct mail services each year.
“First, I cannot answer this question without including ‘excellent customer service.’ Having spent so many years on that side of the table, I know what kind of service that I gave to my clientele, and I expect the same type of professionalism from the people I am working with,” Cowgill explains.
“Excellent customer service begins with trust. I trust the person I’m working with to be honest and to trust me to be the same with them. I expect them to be knowledgeable, and be willing to find out what they don’t know. They have to be available, personable, truthful and capable. They will listen and be able to offer knowledgeable support to provide the best option for my situation.
Looking for Best Value
“I always look to provide my clients the best value for their money,” he notes. “So, I may push my smaller printers to try printing at a 200-line screen to provide my client with a better outcome. I will also not settle for PDF proofs for the first round. I insist on folded proofs—not necessarily for viewing color—but for showing that the piece is backing up properly.”
When Cowgill first meets with a prospective printer, he asks to see samples of what that shop can produce completely in-house. And, he wants to see their equipment list. If he’s shown a sample that has been diecut, and he doesn’t see diecutting equipment on the list, he poses questions. He also wants to be able to compare prices from shops that have similar capabilities.
“I don’t want to be put in the position of taking the lowest price, and then have them come back to me to tell me there was a problem with the estimate,” Cowgill says. “Also, when I get a series of really low quotes, I will check to see if these guys [printers] are paying their bills for paper or if their accounts are in trouble. I don’t want to find out that the printer I just sent work to is going out of business next week.”
Cowgill asks a printer to give him its best price. He doesn’t like to haggle over prices. “If they give me a price, I don’t want them to have to sell a kidney in order for us to do business,” he says. “But, in turn, I am going to take what is best for each of my clients. I prefer to award as much work to one printer as possible. I want to make it worth their while to do business with me; not $100 here and $100 there.”
When there is a problem with the printing process or printed product, Cowgill will bring in the sales rep to discuss his concerns. He claims he even offers the printer a forum to explain what happened, what went wrong and offers the company two more chances to resolve the problem(s).
“At that point, I may be looking for a replacement,” he admits. “Once I see that the issues are greater than we can work around, I will cut the ties. They say, ‘If you don’t hear anything from your client, they are probably looking for your replacement.’ The worst thing that a printer can do is ignore the ‘quiet’ customer.”
What is Cowgill’s biggest peeve with print providers?
“I will not tolerate a liar,” he stresses. “If the salesperson or CSR has a habit of lying, that is grounds for dismissal. And, I don’t like excuses—I want solutions. I am very patient...to a point.”
When choosing a print supplier, Cowgill says the ideal candidate needs to be continually expanding its technology capabilities and listening to the needs of its customers. “A printer should not be afraid to hear criticism, but have the courage and willingness to learn from it,” he contends.
In his mind, the printers that stand out the most “are consistent—day-in and day-out. I can rely on them. They might let me down once in a while, and I might let them down once in a while. I don’t expect printers to ‘jump through hoops.’ I want to have a relationship that is based on mutual trust and professionalism.”
In conclusion, Cowgill recalls the days when print buyers were “loyal” to their vendors. “I try to establish that loyalty, but it has to be deserved,” he says. “There are printers on every corner. Why should I do business with you?” PI