Where do E-services “Fit” in Printing?
How important are process automation and e-commerce capabilities to a printer’s success in working with today’s emerging “demand specifiers?” Doug Traxler is executive vice president of Webb/Mason, based in Hunt Valley, MD.
Webb/ Mason is an $85 million company specializing in online brand management, creative and print services. The company works with nearly 200 “preferred partners” nationwide, matching their services to the needs of more than 400 active customers.
Traxler was part of a “Demand Specifiers Panel” at the recent NPES Industry Summit in Chicago. We followed up with him afterward.
At first glance, the Webb/Mason model is reminiscent of the e-commerce “bid and buy” services that sprung up in the industry in the years around 2000. What’s different today?
Those services mostly flopped because they didn’t solve a problem at the time. When we were going to technology for print procurement, that wasn’t the problem the clients were asking us to solve. They wanted an incredibly high number of low-dollar transactions automated, so that our relationships became more efficient. These people needed access to corporate collateral, access to promotional materials, and corporate wanted to control all of that. (The e-commerce services) were all focused on the print buying process, and none of our customers were saying that was broken at the time. They were saying, “How do you help us fix 80 percent of the problem, which is control and use of our printed materials?”
We actually built a capture-spec system so somebody could go in and just request a price, and that system was used three times in five years. If I were a buyer of print, I thought, this would slow me down and not add any value to what I’m doing, and if I get it wrong, I take full responsibility. It’s no longer a collaborative process. Once a job has been auctioned, 20 to 30 percent of the time the specs change, and then the price changes. And you’ve created an adversarial relationship between you and me where every time you can get me, you’re going to get me.
We have clients who buy lots and lots of printing. They may say, “I buy this brochure once every six months and then my people in the field requisition it 2,000 times. We expect you to drive costs out of the print production side. Let’s work on the part that’s broken. It’s really about organization, control and efficiency.
We’d go in and ask a client, how much printing did you do last year, and they’d say, “We don’t know.” How much did you spend on print last year? We don’t know. Our model is, after six months, you’ll know everything about your print spend.
How valuable is it for printers to have fully automated processes?
To be part of our Preferred Partner network, you do have to go through a qualification process. You must meet minimum quality standards, plus have the ability to communicate with us electronically.
But the job is usually only on the shop floor for four or five days, and customers are not checking in every day to see where it is. When we look at the ability of our vendors to interface with us, it’s really on the job initiation and collaborative phase, and then on the back end, in invoicing the job and providing data about the job. We want the client to be able to initiate jobs, do collaborative proofing, and so on, on the creative side, and then to know when the job is shipped. And clients don’t have to pay 70 invoices from 12 different vendors. They pay one invoice, to one vendor.
There are two kinds of transactions in complex organizations, the one-offs and then the repetitive consumption, the literature that’s in the warehouse, the counter cards, stationery and so on. Clients don’t want to issue purchase orders for all that repetitive stuff, they want to pay it like a phone bill. That leaves them free to focus on the more complex print jobs, which may not go through an online system. You don’t build an online system to handle one-offs.
Do you guide your print vendors in their new equipment investments?
We had a vendor who was strictly an envelope printer, and we said to him, “It doesn’t help us to be sending envelopes to you and business cards somewhere else and letterheads somewhere else again. We need one source.”
So he bit the bullet, developed a business card and letterhead capability after about 20 years of being an envelope company, and he’s tripled his business.
We’re asking our partners to do nothing more than we do, which is to listen to the customer and listen to the market. The biggest mistake people make is to think they are smarter than their client. Digital presses, when they first came out, were an excellent example. After doing two or three test runs digitally and having postcards come back smudged beyond recognition, people were saying, this isn’t what I need.
You can’t have arrogance about the market. You have to move from the market backwards. That may not sound like anticipating needs and looking to the future, but the client leads you where you have to go.