With more than 30,000 commercial printing companies in the US today, how can procurement managers decide which printing company to partner with?
Here’s some solid advice for evaluating potential partners – and it can all be done by visiting web sites, discussing prospective printers with colleagues, and making a call to your short list of contenders.
These are the top 6 areas you should focus on:
- Capabilities. Printers differ widely in their capabilities, and it’s not easy to tell companies apart just from their web sites. Some are small shops that cater to walk-in traffic. Some are trade printers. Some are print brokers or managers who don’t have their own manufacturing facilities.
Most commercial printers do both offset (conventional) and digital printing. But every company’s unique. Spend time on a printer’s web site and speak with an account representative to appreciate a company’s capabilities.
Start with the obvious: your needs. The types and quantities of materials, typical frequency and schedule, level of complexity and sophistication, and range of services you need all come into play here. A company who only needs stationery once a year would look for a very different printer than a company who needs 500,000 personalized and integrated direct mail campaigns every month.
Look for “Capabilities,” “Solutions,” or “What We Do” when you visit a printer’s web site. These sections should describe in plain English the full breadth of services available. If you have experience working with printers, check out the “Equipment List,” which will tell you if that printer has the hardware and software that can accommodate your projects.
Some printers cater to certain industries (pharmaceuticals, higher education, healthcare, financial services, nonprofit, etc.) and list them on their site. If your industry isn’t listed, however, don’t presume a printer would be a ‘bad fit.’
- Best-in-Class Quality Printing. Having certain equipment – or an impressive web site – is no guarantee of a printer’s quality. You need to judge for yourself.
Ask to see samples. Although you can start by searching on a web site (look for “Gallery,” “Our Work,” or “Case Studies”), there’s nothing better than actual work. When you meet with a printer, ask him or her to bring samples that represent their capabilities.
If your industry has specific or stringent print requirements, ask to see samples of work a printer’s done for someone in your field. And find out if the company’s won any awards for their printing lately.
- Tenure. The print industry’s changed significantly in recent years. Many companies have been acquired by others or closed their doors. It’s important to find a printer who has been in business for a good amount of time. This speaks to their experience and financial stability.
Determine from their web site and through conversations how a printer’s evolving and keeping current with new technologies. A printer who invests in new equipment and technology is the type of partner you want: one who’s moving forward.
- Customer Service. Look for a print company that has a record of putting customers first – and ask how they do this. Verbiage on a web site may express a customer-centric philosophy, but you need to discuss this with prospective printers and other customers.
If you don’t know other customers, get a few references from the printer and ask them the following:
– How responsive is a printer’s service and sales reps?
– How quickly are your emails or voice messages returned?
– Is this company consultative in their approach?
– How does this printer resolve issues?
– How are you treated at press OKs?
– Does this printer provide customer education?
– Do you have any hesitation whatsoever in recommending this printer?
Find out if you’ll be assigned a customer service rep (CSR) and how long that person’s been in the industry and at the company. Ask what resources a printer has available for customers.
- Collaboration. Look for a print company that has a history of collaborating with customers, not one who’ll make all the decisions without regard to your needs. Every customer is unique. Regardless of your level of print sophistication, you want to work with a printer who’s sensitive to your needs and can work with your company’s workflow and procedures. Find a printer who listens more than lectures.
- Competitive Pricing. After you’ve done your due diligence in evaluating a print company and you’re satisfied that a printer could accommodate your requirements, ask the printer and a few others to show you pricing based on jobs you will be doing. If you vetted your potential printers properly, the prices you receive should be in the same ballpark. (If they’re not, it’s a red flag. It could mean that a printer doesn’t have the right equipment for your projects.) Make sure that you know what’s included in an estimate. Such bid packages should be very detailed.
Use these 6 guidelines when evaluating a potential print company. Don’t be afraid to ask printers a lot of questions and describe the range of products and services your company needs. Choose correctly, and you’ll have a creative partner who’ll work hard to make you successful.
It’s not like us to brag, but we have broad range of capabilities and many years of experience producing top-quality print. You can read more about that here.