No matter what story you are telling, print is always in the mix. In a time when visual marketing is key to engaging with people and brands everywhere, the companies winning at the game know how to make print a tangible part of the experience. We sat down with a handful of industry printers to get their thoughts on the market, what is hot and where things are heading. Our roundtable discussion included Deidre Acord, owner, Capital Printing; Mark Wright, owner, Wright Printing; and Chip Smith, president, Marshall & Bruce Printing Co.
Q: GIVE US A SNAPSHOT OF THE COMMERCIAL PRINT MARKET.
DEIDRE ACORD, CAPITAL PRINTING: It is not linear. We are now having to encompass all print formats in order to be viable. If you don’t have the solution on your floor, creating good vendor rela- tionships is very key. We have a vertical lineup of what we sell. I also see that with our competitors (in offset, digital, large format, mailing, envelopes, fulfillment and storefronts).
MARK WRIGHT, WRIGHT PRINTING: In this day of constant visual marketing, printers best serve their clients by providing tangible effects that interact with end users and leave a lasting impression.
CHIP SMITH, MARSHALL & BRUCE PRINTING CO.: On any given month, about 75 percent to 80 percent of our sales are printed packaging. We have a heavy focus on blister cards, folding cartons, inserts, litho and top sheets, and POP marketing materials. The balance of our business falls into the general commercial print market. Here is what I see: The general commercial market is an extremely competitive space for those who choose to go after brochures, catalogs, direct mail, etc. There is an abundance of capacity and extreme pricing pressure in spite of ever-increasing material and labor costs.
Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST TRENDS HAPPENING TODAY?
CAPITAL PRINTING’S ACORD: Selling to millennials and seniors. Selling is not prospecting—it is conversations. It is a story. It is branding. The portion of buyers are in these two age groups. Tactile (touch) and visual components are going to get their attention. Large-format signage is still strong. Video branding stories. All kids on their phones are watching some short video clip. Mailing (USPS) is doing a better job of marketing.
WRIGHT PRINTING’S WRIGHT: Marketers must appeal to multiple senses to make an impact, therefore the hottest trends in print right now are the finishing touches. We see this most in the use of soft touch and other laminations, dimensional UV, and heavier, sturdier stocks.
MARSHALL & BRUCE PRINTING’S SMITH: From a business owner’s perspective, one of the biggest trends is the competition for skilled employees. For various reasons, and for quite some time, our industry has struggled to attract young people. You may have the latest and most technically advanced equipment, but without skilled employees, you’re just dead in the water. This has been a real challenge for us in the press room, finishing departments and prepress. Our industry associations realize this and are beginning to make a concerted effort to promote printing as a viable and technologically exciting place to be. I am excited about the renewed interest in trade schools as well.
Q: WHAT CAN PRINTERS DO TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEM?
CAPITAL PRINTING’S ACORD: Not every company has the resources to have in-house marketing and research. Everyone wears multiple hats, especially in small- and medium-sized companies. Small companies should make an effort to have roundtable discussions with the sales and customer service departments. When you get to 100-plus employees, your culture has to be branded and built as if you are one team. When I hear Geico, I know that every time I call, I am going to get the same level of service—excellent service. Basically, take the time to read or research as to what is going on in our industry.
WRIGHT PRINTING’S WRIGHT: We provide our customers, who are the printers and brokers serving corporate brands across the country, a wide variety of options to ensure a consistent brand message across platforms and reinforce their unique brand identity.
MARSHALL & BRUCE PRINTING’S SMITH: We must take advantage of the new technologies and drive efficiencies in our plants to do more with less, not necessarily with less people, but with less physical effort, allowing for more high-quality production on any given day. Also, taking advantage of the technology throughout our plants to reduce waste and spoilage along with improving our throughput—the continued growth and increasing viability of various digital print technologies, both toner and inkjet.
Also, for us as a packaging printer, the associated finishing options for those machines. These would include die cutters and boxes that offer digital raised UV and foil embellishment. In both the commercial print and packaging markets, there is the age-old battle for our customers to get their products and services noticed in a crowded and noisy marketplace. The demand for personalization on the commercial side and enhancements to the product packaging and point-of-sale displays on the packaging side continue.
Q: WHAT ARE TODAY’S CONSUMERS LOOKING FOR?
CAPITAL PRINTING’S ACORD: Consumers don’t want to be sold something, they want you to solve something. Save them time by asking all the questions up front, which is tricky. You have to appeal to their pain points and you have to tell them the truth. If you can’t do it, say so, but offer or find the solution. And most important, follow up.
WRIGHT PRINTING’S WRIGHT: Our customers expect cost-effective short runs and quick production times, which we are happy to provide. Also, today’s consumer expects individual attention in all correspondence, not only by name but preferences and demographic ideologies. “Generic” market- ing is no longer effective or even accepted among the consuming public.
MARSHALL & BRUCE PRINTING’S SMITH: As I said, our customers are looking for the best way to separate themselves in their particular market space and drive business. While the push for quality has always been strong on the commercial side, our packaging customers have taken it to the next level. Their demand for consistent color and their engagement of third party companies to manage the color quality and consistency of their packaging across all their print providers has required us to elevate our game. These color management requirements, while challenging, have made us a better company.
In order to be successful, we must put processes in place from prepress through the press room, follow them to the letter, maintain all equipment at the highest level, and educate and train all involved on color theory. In addition to the high quality, our customers demand fast concept-to-market times and on-time deliveries coupled with clear communication throughout the production process.
Q: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST ITEM ON YOUR COMPANY’S TO-DO LIST?
CAPITAL PRINTING’S ACORD: How to sell effectively, better marketing (at least it is for me) in general. If we don’t have the sale, we aren’t producing. How to process work efficiently and smarter. We now have a QC team in place to help with the growth of our company.
WRIGHT PRINTING’S WRIGHT: It is continued growth.
MARSHALL & BRUCE PRINTING’S SMITH: Continuous improvement. We have spent a tremendous amount of money in the last two years investing in new technologies, from our prepress to our recent installations. Now that we have retooled our plant, our job is to take advantage of the benefits of those technologies and improve the efficiencies and quality from order entry through jobs out the door.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE REST OF 2019?
CAPITAL PRINTING’S ACORD: I see it as an upswing. Data is so important. How we reach our clients continues to change. We don’t get as many face-to-face meetings. It is video conferencing, Skype, etc. This has been going for a few years. I think as traditionalists in our industry, we think ink on paper. We now have to pull people in by creating the story and continue to show them why print, which is the million dollar question.
MARSHALL & BRUCE PRINTING’S SMITH: I believe customers will be seeking printers who can be a true resource, offer something special from print techniques to web stores, to help communicate and deliver their offerings in a noisy marketplace and run their businesses more efficiently. If we can help them with those things, there will always be opportunities to grow our business.
On the packaging and POP side of our business, the rest of 2019 looks strong. Our customers are doing well and there are opportunities for growth all around. The commercial side of our business is steady. There are opportunities to grow, but for us, the pricing pressure is a limiting factor.