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Color sells!

Oct 1, 1996 12:00 AM


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Quick printers are accustomed to adjusting and reinventing the way they run their businesses. Indeed, these smaller firms actually are better positioned to forge company-wide change than their larger graphic arts counterparts.

That's why quick printers making the move into color work have few excuses for not refining the way they market and sell. Although old methods may have sufficed in the good ol' black-and-white/occasional spot color days, selling higher end, higher quality process color is a whole new ballgame.

"You have to want to sell color; you can't just give it lip service," asserts Terry Doland, owner of Express Printing (Mountain View, CA). "Everything you show clients should be in color; it must be emphasized everywhere--in advertising, brochures and direct mail pieces. Color work won't just show up on your doorstep.

"Today, there is more crossover between quick printers and commercial printers," he adds. "Both segments are going after many of the same color jobs, so we have to be more aggressive than ever."

The key in this competitive color market is to make customers recognize that quick printers are capable of handling and understanding more complex color work. Mal Brown, owner of The Kelshawn Group (Philadelphia), points out that his firm does not employ untrained copy machine operators to run its color copiers. Rather, employees trained in the intricacies of color operate the units, a fact that is stressed in all the firm's marketing materials and sales contacts.

"These are not mindless pieces of equipment, and it's important for operators to know about the four-color process," Brown points out. "They need to know, for example, what a piece will look like if a little magenta, yellow, etc. is taken out or added. Our copy technicians do, and we make sure that our customers know that experts are running our machinery.

"We trust our technicians so much that, when clients come in with vital color work, the technicians work with them directly to get jobs perfect. We demonstrate firsthand that everyone here is concerned with and able to envision the end product."

Brown adds that competition from giant office superstore chains adds more urgency to quick printers' color marketing effort. These big business' pricing structures have severely damaged many smaller quick printers' profitability in the color arena. However, these giants can be battled through a concerted and thoughtful sales effort.

"Most superstores mindlessly give walk-in customers 15 color copies, and that's it," he continues. "A quick printer, however, can capture much of this business without having to match these too-low prices. More than ever, quick printers must advise clients on the best use of certain colors to allow them to sell their products better. We must ask more questions and offer more advice, using our expertise to help clients effectively utilize their marketing materials. This is the way to hold on to and garner new accounts despite the competition." (For more on competing with office superstores, see the article in the July American Printer, p. 58.)

Without question, quick printers must forge closer connections with their customer bases. That means more than waiting for color orders to pour in the front door. Although resources and employees are relatively limited as compared to commercial printers, quick printers nevertheless must determine customers' marketing goals.

"Knowing what our clients are going to use color for is one of the strategies we use to get their work," points out Debra Loeser, president of Classic & Associates (Rochester, MI). "We really have to research, learning everything we can about accounts to compile ammunition for sales calls. With color, we must appeal to their business side more than their shopping side."

To that end, Classic strives to become an integral part of its clients' marketing teams, helping determine strategies through the use of color. "We examine the types of vehicles they should use, i.e., postcards, brochures, newsletters, etc., and show them how to utilize color to its best advantage.

"However, we are not trying to obtain only one color job at a time from clients," she continues. "We try to lock them into a year-long marketing strategy using our color work to support their goals. We stress that producing a one-time color marketing piece isn't a good strategy, urging clients to continuously develop projects throughout the year. We then help them track the results, and they determine if they want to sing up for another year. Small businesses appreciate the advice, and it keeps business coming in on a steady basis."

Loeser also notes that this approach injects an element of discipline into a client's color marketing attach. While some small businesses sour on a color strategy simply because they produce only one brochure and fail to distribute it properly, Classic's approach forces clients to move forward with a thoughtful plan. The happy domino effect: clients' marketing efforts yield solid results, clients are sold on the power of color, and Classic has loyal customers for its color work for years to come.

"Quick printers must be aware of their customers' business needs more than ever today, especially when selling color," agrees Ron Dobransky, vice president, general manager of gel-Jean Printing (Beltsville, MD). "Unlike black-and-white work, you can't just throw color up against the customer's wall and hope it ticks. You can't install color capabilities and wait for customers to come to you; you have to let them know what you're doing."

Dobransky recommends identifying a specific niche market for color work. For example, the firm has actively pursued the real estate market, becoming intimately familiar with the unique needs of this business segment and producing color promotional pieces accordingly.

"In sample packets we send to potential real estate customers, we include a photo of a property in black-and-white next to the same shot in color," he points out. "It's a night-and-day comparison, and these customers become wild about color. Yes, color speaks for itself. However, it's up to the quick printer to determine a client's need and demonstrate how effective color can be."

So, does this mean that quick printers must be akin to "mini-ad agencies" for customers? What about the day-to-day business of running the copiers/presses, staffing the front counter, paying bills, etc.? How can a firm with a limited staff manage all of these consultive activities?

Francis McMahon, product marketing manager for color, Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY), stresses that a little basic research combined with common sense may yield fantastic results for quick printers.

"Quick printers sometimes spin their wheels worrying about what their customers are doing with their business strategies, rather than taking a more simplistic approach," the exec relates. "All a quick printer needs to find out is if the business in the building across the street has computers. If so, it's a good bet that you'll find Microsoft products on those computers, usually running a Windows operating system. The people working on these computers are producing color charts, transparencies and handouts for presentations and business proposals. You'll also likely find that there are 50 to 100 people networked with one slow desktop color printer."

These "cubicle accounts" represent an enormous opportunity for quick printers, he continues. The problem is, these people have no idea quick printers are capable of handling their color work. The solution, McMahon adds, is distributing flyers touting your firm's color ability. These flyers should be placed on every front counter of every office building in the area. Simply igniting the spark of awareness in the right heads could be all it takes to get their business.

However, McMahon advises targeting marketing or general administrative employees rather than graphics departments. "These people are not color sensitive. Thus, if they want a red, green or blue chart printed, any variation of those colors will be acceptable," he stresses. "On the other hand, the graphics department looks at these shades very critically. It may take five to seven runs to get the color they want, and quick printers may not want that type of business."

Pam Hutchins, co-owner of Reds Printing Co. (LeMars, IA), agrees that targeting a certain segment within a corporation can do wonders. However, the firm does aggressively pursue graphics departments. To get this work, the company realizes that its marketing effort not only must demonstrate color expertise, it also should be accomplished in a creative, memorable way.

The proof is in Reds' attempts to build sales for work produced on its nine-month-old color copier. The firm, located in a relatively remote rural area, had few quick print competitors for color work. The bad news is that there also was little market demand.

To attract customers, Reds Printing utilized the typical direct mail pieces, brochures and statement stuffers to get the word out, However, Hutchins realized a more creative approach would be necessary to impress graphic designers.

"We decided that printing color mouse pads would be a terrific way to get our name and logo in front of the very people we were targeting," Hutchins points out.

Reds also produces similar pads personalized to specific customers, offering helpful tips such as how to save to a PostScript file, etc. "Customer response has been incredible," Hutchins says. "Most of our clients probably don't understand what we can do for them. It's up to us to demonstrate our expertise and creativity before they will use our services."

Although most potential and current customers likely [understand on a basic level that color simply looks better than black-and-white, it's up to the quick printer to take that recognition to the next level. That is, demonstrate to clients exactly how color can impact their business materials.

Perfect Image Printing (Charlotte, NC) not only attacks new accounts with color work, it also strives to persuade current black-and-white or single- and two-color customers to upgrade.

"For example, a client that sells closet space-saver devices wanted to print a brochure," recalls Gordon Knowles, president of Perfect Image. "They had color photos of their products, but wanted them printed in a single color. However, we made a color copy of the photos and pasted them on the brochure proof. We figured out that the cost wouldn't be too much more per copy, and that the resulting effect would be well worth it. We've done this with a number of customers, upgrading many in the process."

Classic's Loeser also has had significant success persuading customers to upgrade to color. "For example, when a customer has a one-color brochure project, we routinely create a color prototype as well," she points out. "When we approach the customer about a renewal order, we show the color brochure next to the original. Nine out of 10 times, the client will opt to go with color in the future. Once you show them the difference, it's hard for customers to resist."

Making money by building the color portion of a quick print business truly is a "black-and-white" choice: either recognize that color must be sold differently, or maintain a business-as-usual approach.

The former stance may yield success and profits in the color world for years to come. The latter definitely will color your profits red.