Your partners are critical to your success in today’s ‘free-agent’ nation

It’s a simple concept, really: We are stronger together than we are apart. A team effort usually sidesteps an individual attempt toward most endeavors. Given the “free agent” nation where we now live, how have your company’s marketing strategies changed? Over and again, printers find they can no longer accomplish their goals without finding good partners.

While engaging with and trusting partners is more critical than ever, it also is more challenging in today’s business landscape. One reoccurring theme is that of long-term relationships. A true partnership has to last and be built upon trust. Commitment and quality remain the biggest challenges, so any partner you plan to truly bring into the fold of your company’s vendor portfolio has to consistently deliver on those characteristics.

Another important quality is an ability to bring new and edgy ideas to your company. “The print industry is consolidating and, at the same time, printers are expanding their capabilities and entering into new markets,” says Paul Lynaugh, VP, North America sales, FUJIFILM North America Corporation, Graphic Systems Division. “Integrating new print technologies and venturing into new markets carries risk. Having a supplier partner that can bring new products, sometimes without additional capital or human resources, helps mitigate some of those risks. Without a trusted partner, these risks may be viewed as too great and could result in inaction and loss of competitiveness.”

Partnerships and an ability to collaborate are vital to your business. As margins decrease and the competitive landscape has become increasingly difficult to navigate, partnering is a means to survival. It’s a slippery slope, however, as you must assure that your partner values your customers as much as you do and will be able to deliver at your quality level.

“Partnerships are more challenging today,” says Thayer Long, president, Association for Print Technologies. “We are all being challenged with how to drive business in the evolving business environs. It requires making more disciplined decisions, faster. What ends up happening is that we are having more conversations with potential partners to see where the direction may take us.”

Partner selection

Indeed, selecting a partner requires scrutiny and serious consideration. Whether you’re looking to fill a particular niche, or want a full-service vendor, assuring the company’s core values align with yours is important.

“A lot of our partner suggestions come through word of mouth,” says Brad Scull, president of Yorke Printe Shoppe in Lombard, Illinois. “Chicago is a big market, but the industry is somewhat small. On occasion, someone will call on you who is new and might do something really special, like side sewing or a certain handwork. We will check them out and maybe try them once, but more so than not, we know about our partners through someone else.”

Dave Leavey, VP and owner of Creative Printing Co., says he chooses partners based on how they perform and whether they can meet a true commitment date and deliver a quality product. “If they prove they can do those two things, then we allow them to do work for us.”

Fujifilm’s Lynaugh determines whether the potential partner fills a niche or need that helps his company achieve its objectives, and then assesses if that partner is competent in what they do. “I would look for a partner that is aligned with where I’m headed, committed to the long term and financially stable,” he says. “A partner would need to earn my trust.”

And trust is a non-negotiable quality. Long reiterates the need for a partner to do the right thing, even when no one is looking, following a belief in a higher purpose other than self-gratification and self-aggrandizement.

“Profit is a good motivation, but not a goal unto itself,” Long says. “Once I see that those qualities are inherent in the other party and are built into their fabric, so to speak, then, and only then, do I want to sit with them to determine how we might proceed.”

Partner success

When asked to share a partnership success story, Leavey recalls a 40-year partnership with a local printer to print all of his litho work over 40 inches. “They are aware of our high standards and our critical deadlines, and they always come through when needed. It’s a true partnership.”

Lynaugh says that many years ago, Fujifilm established a partnership with CGS. “At the time, CGS added capabilities to strengthen our ability to serve our customers. The relationship continues to be ‘win-win.’ We work together in bringing new products to market, and our sales people work with their sales people to implement solutions to help our customers. We trust each other and we’ve grown together.”

Long recounts a situation when his organization dealt with a partner’s new product launch that proved difficult. “They were unsure how to create partnerships around it. During a frank conversation, I advised them that they should not seek out partnerships if they felt it would compromise their integrity. In the end it worked out, but I was up front and honest with this partner, even to the extent that we might not have been able to work with them on this cool idea.”

3 ways to build a partnership

Build trust—Visit and tour the potential partner’s business to see what they do, and look at samples of their work. Look at the type of work as well, and determine if they can provide what you need regularly. Look at the longevity of the staff. High turnover is a sign that the company isn’t a good place to work.

Communicate—Your partner should give a quick response to quotes and questions, and be able to give you a schedule that can be met. Your representative—whether internal or in outside sales—needs to build a rapport with your people. You work with people you like, and you avoid people you don’t. Price cannot be the only driver of a partner relationship.

Be honest—If your partner says they will deliver, they should. If there’s a snag, you should hear about it immediately. This keeps a vendor from impeding your customers and your schedule. Another part of honesty is integrity. Your vendor should always pay on time.

This article is featured in the fall issue 2018 of Fujifilm’s award-winning print illustrated magazine.