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Printers to the trade

June 30, 2011

Wholesale printing is a sensitive business. One trade shop will serve numerous commercial printers, some of which are sure to be competitors.

“Integrity is everything in this segment of the market,” says Raymond J. Prince, vice president of NAPL's Technical Consulting Group. “In my opinion, 95% of [printers to the trade] are great, but a few have salespeople who do not recognize the special relationship between a trade printer and its customers.”

Two wholesale printers have shared with us the keys to their success, from their business philosophies in general to best practices that build strong relationships.

A smart approach

Dennis McNaney, owner of Florida Trade Graphics (Pompano Beach, FL), founded his company 25 years ago as a wholesale printer to the trade. The business has grown ever since, even through recessions.

McNaney was working in retail service when he decided that he'd rather work wholesale, but his printing focus was not born of experience in the industry. “I'd always found print intriguing, so I researched it and decided to initiate the business on my own with one press,” he says.

Without existing contacts to draw on, among commercial printers, McNaney's approach to the business — strictly wholesale, service-driven and confidential — was crucial to building trust with customers. “We were 100% for the trade from day one,” he emphasizes. “We sell to other printers and bona fide print brokers. That makes up our entire business.”

Florida Trade Graphics printed mostly high-volume runs at the beginning and quickly expanded into 4-color printing with a new press and a larger facility. McNaney added finishing equipment and employees as the business grew. “In those days, everybody wanted to make sure we were doing it correctly,” he says. His customers, being fellow printers, would come out for press checks knowing exactly what to look for. “Our shop is nice and clean, so it gives people a good impression when they come through here,” he says. He also has a highly skilled staff, many of whom have stayed with the company since its inception. “Gene, one of the 6-color press operators, has been here for 25 years,” he notes.

Press checks are a rarity in these days of electronic proofing, but the company's approach to customer service extends beyond jobs in, jobs out. “We build up a lot of confidence with our customers that we'll do it right for them, or we'll let them know if there's a problem before we go any further,” says McNaney. He still has customers from the early years and builds relationships by doing the best he can for existing accounts, depending on them to spread the word among their peers. “We stand behind what we say. If we say we're going to have it done, we'll have it done, and that's what brings us all the repeat business from our existing printers and bona fide print brokers,” he says. “Service is the key.”

Unstoppable growth

Today, Florida Trade Graphics has 38 employees and runs a fleet of offset and digital equipment as well as a full complement of finishing machinery.

“We do anything and everything that is printed on 28-pt. stock or lighter,” says McNaney. Most offset jobs are run on a selection of house sheets. “We print anything from single-color business cards to point-of-purchase displays, up to 28 × 40-inch, 6-color plus aqueous posters on our Heidelberg CD press.” Commercial printers generally use the company's services for jobs that are beyond their scope. “If they cannot attain the quality they need on their equipment, if the run is too long, or if the project is too big in size for their equipment, they come to us,” says McNaney. The shop also runs two Heidelberg QuickMaster 46 presses and added a Kodak NexPress digital press three years ago.

“Now it's trending toward shorter runs, quicker turnarounds and more variable jobs,” says McNaney. “We were never in digital, [but] it's more cost effective on short runs.” His jobs range from a 200,000-sheet run down to 500. Smaller jobs are run on the digital or small-format presses. “We joke among ourselves that it's leading to the point when we'll be a drive-in service, where you drop off your file at the front window and pick up your job at the back window,” he says.

Digital printing is a smaller part of the business in terms of volume, but McNaney notes that it's definitely a growth area. “And we've been fortunate in that we've been growing every year, even through the recession,” he adds.

While there was price pressure during the recession, the company's upward trajectory in volume made up for its reduction in prices. “Some of our customers gained business from other printers that went out of business, which was a benefit to us,” McNaney notes.

The company also has diversified its offerings, over time. “We've gotten into a lot of things that we really didn't do before, such as plastic-coil and double-wire binding,” McNaney says. Lately, he is doing a lot of fugitive gluing on mail pieces. “It's much easier for the end users to open it, as opposed to wafer seals, and fugitive glue has become a big thing,” he says, “especially every time the post office changes its wafer seal requirements.” Most work is finished in some way before shipping back to the customer, but he notes Florida Trade Graphics doesn't mail individual pieces or deal with the end users at all.

Peers as customers

Wholesale printers face a unique challenge when it comes to promoting their services. With potentially competing customers, confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of the business. “I can't show Joe the job we just got done doing for Pete's customer,” McNaney explains. “You just can't do that.” He also doesn't disclose pricing from one customer to the next. The company's website is strictly a portal for existing accounts to log in and upload files.

Unlike virtually every commercial printing company, Florida Trade Graphics has no salespeople. McNaney relies on word of mouth.

“We understand that our customers don't make money when they have to be following a job from step to step — they can't waste their time doing that when they need to be going out and selling more orders,” McNaney says. “We give them the opportunity to do that.” Once a customer drops off a disk or uploads a file via FTP, Florida Trade Graphics' staff takes the job to completion.

Trade printers do have an advantage in working with customers who are highly knowledgeable about printing. “In general, being that the people we're dealing with are on the professional print level, we really don't have any problems,” McNaney says. He finds commercial printers are looking for “cheap prices, top quality and fast turnaround,” an extension of what the end users demand from themselves, so his company's role is to provide that service reliably.

McNaney's favorite clients are the more knowledgeable ones, but he says, “We still find printers and brokers that aren't familiar with how to operate under new changes in the industry and technology.” When he has a customer whose files are not prepared well, his staff provides file correction but also takes the opportunity to educate the customer individually.

“The biggest thing that we realize here is how valuable our clients' time is,” says McNaney. Helping ensure the customer can give Florida Trade Graphics a file, doublecheck an electronic proof and know the job will be done well is his ultimate goal. “The formula has worked, so I'm pretty happy with it, because I've seen a lot of people fall by the wayside,” he says.

Changing with the times

Ross Avedissian, CEO of Color FX Inc. (Sun Valley, CA), founded the family-operated company 16 years ago to cater strictly to the wholesale trade printing market. “We have a strong commitment to providing excellent customer service, and treat all of our customers like they are a priority.” Color FX focuses on providing quick turnarounds and competitive prices for commercial printers. The 25,000-sq.-ft. facility recently added a Xerox iGen4 digital press to complement its Komori LS 40 offset press.

“Due to changes within the industry, we no longer focus primarily on large-volume orders, but rather accommodate our client's needs by fulfilling both large and small orders,” says Avedissian. “[Installing the iGen4] has allowed us to meet this change in the industry head on, because it redefines the standards of printing,” he says. “Color consistency and predictability is critical to my customers, and it allows us to stand out because repeat jobs will always look the same.”

The company offers a range of print services from general commercial work to custom printing, including the design of custom dielines and folding cartons.

“What surprises our trade partners about our business is that we truly care about quality,” says Avedissian. “This is the culture of excellence that causes each member of our staff to be proud of identifying themselves as a printer.”

The company's sales support team is led by a general manager who has been with the company for more than 15 years. “We have worked extremely hard over the years to develop a great relationship with our clients,” says Avedissian, “and we continue to expand our client base.”

Avedissian's son, Arby, is head of production. He trains his staff to have a strong work ethic, treat one another like family and work as an efficient and functional team. “They are proud of what they do every day, and no job is too small for them,” he boasts. “As a company, we are proud to be the latest generation of a centuries-old craft, but we are now catering to a new business model of printing, which is Internet based.”

In recent years, Color FX has leveraged its website (www.colorfxweb.com) as a sales tool. “We have created a user-friendly website where customers can log in to get free product and shipping prices, submit orders, upload files, pay online and track their order status,” he says. The site contains a template library and helpful links.

Developing relationships

Color FX treats each commercial print client individually. “Every client has different priorities, such as time, price and quality,” says Avedissian. “It is our job to cater to each client's individual needs and make their priority our priority.”

By partnering with customers, Color FX aims to be personally involved in helping them serve the end user. Recently, the company conducted a survey of all its customers, which garnered a 25% response. According to Avedissian, the shop earned a 100% rating for production quality.

When new technologies or methods present opportunities for Color FX, Avedissian embraces a strategy to put his customers first. At first glance, anything that reduces print costs can seem like a windfall. He offers this example: “For good reason, buyers of trade printing became excited about dramatic and sweeping decreases in prices as a result of ganging print jobs together.” It brought prices down and allowed his customers to increase their profits.

“Unfortunately, in the process, the end user became neglected regarding unusual sizes or quantity requirements that didn't align with established gang-run choices,” Avedissian explains. “If the client needs 3,000, they obviously can't buy 2,500. And 5,000 leaves them with 2,000 unwanted, unneeded pieces. This is not particularly ecological, either.”

Forcing customers to choose from a limited range of gang-run options just didn't make good business sense. “They often hear, ‘It's really going to cost you if you don't choose from the available options,’” he says. “Like most other printers, we got caught up in that rat race, and we quickly saw the customer's real needs being ignored. If the customer wants 6,250 printed at a non-standard size to make their piece unusual, interesting or more effective, they shouldn't be price penalized.” He decided that they wouldn't be, on jobs produced at Color FX.

“It wasn't easy,” Avedissian explains, “but our online system allows instant quotations on any quantity, size or shape imaginable and will lead the way to true satisfaction for end users.” Without size or quantity restrictions, the company is able to both cut waste and allow for creativity, proving the customer comes first.

True partnership

For commercial printers facing ever more competitive markets, a dependable partner is a big benefit.

“As in any business relationship, a good written contract/quote is vital, especially one that spells out all the small terms and practices,” Prince cautions. “It is a good idea for both parties to agree to the ‘Best Industry Practices’” (see www.napl.org or www.printing.org). “The time to eliminate problems is before the job begins.”

“It is imperative that we understand the needs of our clients,” Avedissian says. By helping them save time on day-to-day business, they are free to do more selling. “We work hard to ensure that they don't have to worry about production.”

McNaney adds, “The trust that people have built with us throughout the years [gives me] a secure feeling. It's simple enough, that when you deal strictly with the trade, you deal only with printers.”

Denise Kapel is managing editor, AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at denise.kapel@penton.com.

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