As you can imagine, revenues are down and continue to decline in the quick print environment. This decline started in 2008 and continued through 2009. Everyone is hopeful that 2010 will be a growth year, but hardly anyone expects revenues to return to the 2007 levels anytime soon. Print industry experts are predicting a continuing overall decline in the traditional revenue streams that have been the stalwart of the quick printing industry for years, namely: offset printing, high-speed duplicating, digital printing, bindery and graphic design. Products such as letterhead, envelopes, business cards, fliers, newsletters, brochures, manuals, postcards, forms and direct mail have all seen declines due to the conversion to Internet marketing, the rise of Internet printing companies, or from companies purchasing equipment at the user level sufficient to produce these items in-house. Because of the overall decline of traditional printed items, there also is significant price pressure on those print shops that have survived this economic decline.
So, what is the future of your neighborhood print shop? Dr. Joseph Webb, a contributor to one of the industry’s think tanks, What They Think, has written a book entitled “Renewing the Printing Industry“. In addition, Barb Pellow, a contributor to InfoTrends, has also written many articles about the condition of print overall. Both of these individuals have analyzed the printing industry and have concluded that changes need to be made in order for all printing entities to survive.
There are several avenues that a quick print owner can consider. I will discuss two of them. The first is to fight the trend by being the best marketer of their service, to become more efficient than their competitors so they can compete on price, to implement on-line ordering to the general public, to acquire the business of closing print shops, and to, in fact, significantly reduce their pricing. I refer to this business plan as the commodity approach. Be the best in the traditional printing environment. There is still money to be made in the traditional printing environment for those who continue down this path. The biggest downside is that this market will continue to decline. The last maker of buggy whips was the most efficient of the bunch.
The second avenue of approach, and the one that most quick print franchisors are pushing is the conversion to becoming marketing and communications experts while milking the traditional printing area as much as possible. This approach also has significant risk for many reasons. At this point, there are few profit models to duplicate, there is little, to no recognition from outside the industry that a former quick printer can provide this expertise, there is a diverse expertise of franchise owners that does not include marketing training, and people that are already providing this service to businesses are also struggling to survive.
A couple of years ago, many in the quick printing industry developed personalized communications expertise. This allowed them to sell a 1-to-1 marketing piece for their customers, many of which were connected to personalized url’s (purl’s). This technique, combined with a targeted, well defined list allowed response rates to balloon from 1-3% to as much as 35%. What many in the industry found out is that the lead time to sell these projects were significantly extended over the time it took to sell traditional printed items and that not all customers could make the cost/benefit leap of faith. However, the ability to sell and produce these types of items led people to believe that they were now marketing and communications experts.
I personally believe that the second approach is the way to go for our industry. It will be a difficult road to travel and will probably see a lot of failed attempts along the way. Owners of these operations will need to commit to learning the marketing and communication business, will need to circulate within the marketing, advertising and public relations communities and will need to promote themselves as marketing experts within the business environment. It will be a long and slow path to profitability so the quick printer will need to rely on its traditional printing revenue to survive before the marketing area takes off.
So what is the future of your neighborhood print shop? It will depend on the path they take. If you are a customer, you should have a conversation with them to find out what road they are taking. A commodity printer or a marketing and communication expert. The downhill road or the uphill road.
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