Quality, Price, and Service–Pick Two

Yesterday’s blog Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming spawned a response from Mel Edwards http://www.votrevray.com. She observed that, “You make the same point several times, but with no solution. What should a buyer be asking or looking for instead of the big three that all printers claim to have?” Mel is right. I was making an assumption that the answer to the question would be obvious to the readers. Dumb assumption. Honestly I do know better and will strive to propose solutions whenever I pose problems.

To answer Mel’s question, I didn’t mean to imply that quality, price, and service were not the bedrocks of all printing.  The old printing adage is quality, price, and service, pick two. But, as a buyer of printing you should strive to get all three. The point I was trying to make was that all printers will claim to provide all three, but where does that leave you? It’s like insurance companies. They all say they are the best at one thing or another, and they back it up with volumes of statistics. If you get mired in the statistics you will never be able to choose one company over another. So, if you can’t rely on their advertisements or what their sales reps say, what can you do?

  1. Ask to see samples of work they’ve printed that is similar to your job. Keep in mind that you will only see samples of their very best. As it should be. I mean, who but a total idiot would give you a sample of a job that bombed? Look carefully at those samples to determine if there are flaws that were acceptable to the printer, but wouldn’t be acceptable to you.
  2. Ask other businesses who have used the services of that printer. If you ask, many printers are proud to give you some of their best customers to contact. They are often very excited about their customer list and want you to speak with their happiest customers. If they won’t tell you who to call, consider it a red flag.  Remember–your job will be to read between the lines. Since you’ll only be given the contacts that have an excellent relationship with the printer, it is imperative to listen to what they don’t say, more than what they do.
  3. Check with organizations like Better Business Bureau, or  Dunn and Bradstreet. This is just normal due diligence, but is it overkill? I don’t think so. Once you choose a printer you could be forming a relationship that could continue for years. How much do you think you could be spending with that printer, thousands, tens-of-thousands, hundreds-of-thousands or more?
  4. Continue shopping around or make sure your broker is getting multiple bids. Things change. Just because a printer has served you well in the past it doesn’t mean that they will always be the best choice. I like to tell a story about a local clothing chain that invited me in to work with them. The printer they had been using was a well-known, quality conscious firm, with a sterling reputation. The problem wasn’t with the printer it was with their equipment. Their presses were small and fit the needs of the clothing company when their customer base was smaller. Over twenty years the clothing company had grown, and grown. Print runs were now much larger. By switching them to a different printer, with larger presses, I was able to cut their printing expense by thousands on one job!
  5. Visit the printer’s plant. Take the time to go there and have them show you around and introduce you to people who will be involved in your work. A face they recognize is likely to get better service than someone unknown to them.
  6. Use your gut. What do your instincts tell you? If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
  7. Consider employing a print broker. Brokers are not directly connected to any printer and often work with many. A good broker knows the printers and who would be the best fit for you.

Please understand that the printing business is very competitive, and operates on pitifully small margins. I once heard that nationally, the average printer earns 6% to 9% profit. That’s not much. Of course they are eager to secure your business. They have to keep those presses running. An idle press is a huge money drain. Currently in this unfavorable economic climate, printers are hurting. It’s been reported that in the US, the printing industry is down by 40%. What all of this means is that you will probably be contacted by more printers and more often than you have in the past. Each one of them will be saying they have the best quality, the lowest prices, and the finest service–I guarantee it. Don’t make rash decisions. If your printer or broker has served you well in the past be sure to give them extra points for service. Loyalty pays off. Just make sure your loyalty isn’t misplaced.

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