Marketing Opportunity: Your Community Needs a Local Printer

Caveat Emptor: Two Tales of Woe

I remember the day that the print world changed. My printing company purchased a small format 4 color offset press in 2005. At the time, we were doing a lot of business with freelance designers and all of the projects were rush. Our digital capabilities were OK, but there were some projects that just didn’t fit. We purchased a quarter-sized Hamada Press with all the whistles and bells, and I was excited at the opportunity to provide a set of capabilities that weren’t readily available in the Middle Georgia marketplace. I did the homework – calculated the ROI based on a worst-case scenario – and took the plunge.

The new press ran steadily and made money for the company for about two years. Then the world changed. One of my favorite customers pulled the plug on a job with a comment that I was soon to dread, “I can buy these postcards for half the price online.” This talented designer had discovered a gang run operation in South Florida that provided a (much) lower price that I wasn’t able to match. The market changed, the recession came, and I ultimately sold the shiny new press for a song.

Mis-trimmed Rack Cards

The Rack Cards in Question

Fast forward to 2014. A few weeks ago, I created a set of lovely rack cards for one of my clients. I recommended my favorite local printer, but the customer was adamant that he could do better online. Many of my readers would recognize the name of the company involved, but we’ll just call them Print’em Cheap to be polite. The art was prepared and I included a 1/16″ bleed. Strange, yes, but correct according to information taken from Print’em Cheap’s website. The cards came back finished at 4.25 x 9 with a 1/8″ trim on one side and a white strip on the other. My local printer trimmed them down the best way possible, but margins were tight and the cards really didn’t look right.

It was difficult to figure out what went wrong. After a couple of tries, my client couldn’t find an interpreter at Print’em Cheap who could translate printereze. I got involved. Turns out that the correct bleed was a standard 1/8″ and the client had inadvertently ordered a custom size of 4.25 x 9. Print’em Cheap produced exactly what was ordered, despite the obvious fact that the art didn’t fit. After considerable wrangling, they consented to a reprint, provided we adjusted the art to fit the size originally ordered. The whole process took a couple of weeks, and my client says that he’ll listen to my advice next time.

Early in 2007, as the online printing problem was developing at my small town shop, I wrote a post on the PoorRichard blog entitled Caveat Emptor. In that article, I took a look at some of the “gotcha’s” that customers could experience with online printers. My client’s misadventure with Print’em Cheap indicates that the axiom of “let the buyer beware”  still applies, especially for inexperienced print buyers. Of course, the fine print is on the website, and there’s not much wiggle room. If you are curious, here are the specifics absolving Print’em Cheap from the exercise of common sense on behalf of their customers:

printemcheap pseudo-logoPrint’em Cheap has and assumes no obligation to proof or otherwise review the content or layout of your order. Even if a Print’em Cheap customer service representative has inquired as to the attributes of one of your prior orders, you are not entitled nor should you assume that Print’em Cheap will review any other order you place. Orders are printed in their “as submitted” form and the customer is fully responsible for final proof and layout verification and approval prior to submission to the print process. Print’em Cheap DOES NOT make any changes on customer files. Once you submit an order to the print process you are agreeing that you are fully satisfied with the document layout and content and you accept responsibility for any errors therein. Print’em Cheap will assume that you have verified the spelling, grammar, content and layout, etc. are all correct and it will not accept any liability for errors such as misspelling, graphics, grammar, damaged fonts, punctuation, transparency, overprint, improper layout, bleeding, erroneous cut or fold lines, die lines or crop marks, sizing, etc.

Note: I have changed the company name in the legal verbiage above to avoid any obvious correlation with notorious online printing companies. The rest of the text is exact. Any similarities between the hastily contrived logo that appears above and the brand or logo of any actual enterprise (that may or may not completely fit the description of the fictitious aforementioned company) are assuredly unintentional.

The Other Side of the Coin

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a marketing opportunity. To put the matter bluntly, your customers and potential customers need help. The day of the professional print buyer is all but gone. Most of your local customers haven’t the faintest notion of how to design for print or how to order print.  I’ve recently met designers fresh from the university who don’t really understand the difference between RGB and CMYK color spaces. These folks need help, and your capability and willingness to guide them through a project and to check the details can overcome the allure of low priced internet providers.

Let’s look at a few specific ideas:

  1. Tell the story, then tell it again – I’m sure that every one of you has a customer who has had an online adventure similar to the story related above. This is the stuff that makes for a good blog post. Emphasize your process and assure them that you will be in touch if you notice anything amiss. Tell your prospective customers that you enjoy holding hands – it can be the start of a beautiful relationship.
  2. Enable your team – Sure, some amount of policy is necessary, but other “rules” are made to be broken. Encourage your team to stretch the rules on behalf of a customer. Set an expectation of customer advocacy, then exceed it.
  3. Find a better way – The Print’em Cheaps of the world have contributed much to the perception that print is a commodity and that there really is no difference in product from one provider to another. My client’s story proves that there is ample room for a differentiation in the level of service provided. If you can find a way to make your customer’s life easier, you win. It’s that simple.

Will it work every time?

No. Purely price driven buyers are the natural prey of the low-price printers. Some will learn from experience, some won’t. I would submit that this category of customer is unlikely to appreciate the other value attributes that you might provide, nor are they likely to assign much worth to a new idea or concept that you might bring to the table. Ultimately, they are their own worst enemies. Give them up to the wolves.

Carpe Diem! Some customers realize that they need a local printer

Shortly after the debacle with Print’em Cheap, I received a message from a business acquaintance. It read like this, “Richard, I’m working on a brochure for one of the associations we’re involved with and I need a local printer. Who could you recommend that would be willing to help me with this project?”

Pendulums swing in two directions. For those of you who have successfully brought your small or medium-sized local printing company through the fire of the recession, it’s time that the pendulum turns your way once again. I’m not talking about nuts and bolts – the days of small format offset are probably gone. The headlines and levels of business indicate that people are rediscovering the value of print. There is a tremendous opportunity for printers who care to establish new customer relationships. The novel idea that they “need a local printer” is dawning on a few potential customers right now, and there are plenty of others who will discover that a relationship with an innovative printing company can be very valuable.

Forget Caveat Emptor. There’s another Latin phrase that I like much better. Carpe Diem. Seize the day!


21_20logoAnother Take on Content Marketing for Printers

21/20 Marketing Hangout with Richard Dannenberg and Spencer Powell

The next 21/20 marketing webcast is scheduled for Thursday, March 27, at 4pm Eastern. Each month, Spencer Powell and I talk about marketing topics of interest to printers and direct mail companies, and you’re invited to join and participate. This month we’ll be talking more about website traffic, and looking specifically at the complexities of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Join us if you’re interested in print marketing or if you’re considering content marketing for your printing business. Learn more about 21/20 on the Registration Page for the chat.