How can printers best insulate themselves from today’s market disruptions?
Why partnership is the name of the game when it comes to printers looking after business in turbulent times.
No one who works in print today needs to be reminded of current volatilities. A multitude of factors – transportation challenges affecting the global supply chain, reduced workforces, a long strike at UPM in Europe and rising energy costs, to name but a few – have created mounting problems for printers and their customers. So, what can printers do to mitigate difficulties?
1. Think of your customers
Now’s the time to be open and communicative with customers. That means both explaining the reasons why they may not be able to have the stock they want when they want it, as well as helping to find solutions. At the same time, manage expectations – relaying to end users that the most effective way forward is for them to be flexible.
Paul Palmer, sales manager at Sappi Europe, advises printers to “be more collaborative and start adopting a consultative approach with their customers”.
If a customer always uses the same paper and you know it won’t be available for their job, offer a different grade or size that might work just as well. “Try to educate your customers and give them advice,” says Palmer. For example, if they usually order a silk finish, would a gloss work instead? A 95 brightness instead of a 98? Would a postcard work just as well or better than a letter? Christina Esparza, VP of operations for US printer InfoIMAGE, also urges her customers to think about duplexing and reducing font sizes.
2. (Re)plan your finances
With price rises affecting all aspects of business, from raw materials to energy, it’s important to reassess your budget – or, as the Harvard Business Review puts it, get ‘spending visibility’. The key here is to “fully understand where money is spent and who spends it”.
You want to establish a clear picture of spending by cost category and business function. Then ascertain whether the spending is aligned with your business strategy – including, most importantly, will it improve your return on investment?
Armed with this data, look for places where costs can be rationalised. The aim is to improve your competitive advantage, while always keeping in mind factors such as end-product quality and customer service.
3. Develop your supplier relationships
This is something not to overlook. Again, communication is key – meaning that printers can be prepared for any upcoming changes to deliveries or prices (information that can then be passed on to customers).
At Sappi, Palmer is able to better serve the clients he works most closely with as he already knows their business – especially those who are members of the Sappi Value Development Process. These are printers who work with Sappi to help simplify and improve time and material efficiencies. Once signed up, Sappi experts examine the printer’s purchasing data, business model, types of clients and so on. This data is then used to put together a proposal designed to save the printer money, streamline their purchasing operations and even expand the client base.
“We’re working with some printers on actually creating new customers for them, as we understand so much of what they do and what they need.”
With logistical problems likely to continue until at least the end of the year, printers need good relationships with both clients and suppliers to navigate their way forward. Partnership is the name of the game from here.