I was inspired by a conversation I had at the NEMOA conference this past week. Not too long ago we posted a blog called How to Tell if Your Printer is a Cultural Fit for Your Catalog Program. In the blog we describe in detail what to look for in a printer culturally speaking, but we don’t really address what you can expect from a printer otherwise. The question is how much can you anticipate your printer will be involved in your brand? How do you know if they are putting in the valiant effort they should be in order to maintain a long term relationship with you?
It is important to find a printer that will work with you through all stages of your catalog. From the creation and the prepress stages, to the printing and color proofs, all the way to the stitching and co-mailing of your catalog. This might seem like a no brainer, but think about it. What is your printer really doing for you? You might be surprised at how many catalogers out there are being treated like they’re at the bottom of the barrel. But the truth is, in cataloging there is no bottom of the barrel. Every single catalog counts, especially when it comes to co-mailing. If you fall into this category then here are six questions that should be asked in order to determine if your printer is treating you the way you deserve to be treated. Let’s face it, not all relationships are as equal as they should be.
- Do they listen to you? You might be shocked at how many catalogers have needs that are overlooked simply because the printing company they are working with ignores or does not take the time to understand what they are asking for. One reason this happens is because catalogers are not always assigned a single customer service representative, but rather they have to speak to a different rep every time they call their printer. This makes it very difficult to feel like you are being heard or like you have an advocate that has your back and will fight for what you want.
- Do they make suggestions about what can be improved? Sometimes we don’t know what we want because we don’t know what our options are. We have a customer who was printing a saddle stitch book. In our opinion the book would have been much better quality as a perfect bound. When we first took them on as a potential customer, we gave them this option to improve on their current product and you know what? They changed their format and signed on with us. Why? Because this is an option to improve on their book that they never considered or had been given prior. If your printer doesn’t care enough about your company to make suggestions to help you improve on it, then they’re not the right printer for you.
- Are they willing to create an SOP just for you? Our prepress department is great at this. Often we will have a customer ship their products to us so we can make sure the colors match perfect. For each customer that comes through our door, we set up an SOP to make sure their catalogs are being printed exactly the way they want them to be printed, even when they cannot make it in for color corrections or spot checks. Do you have an SOP with your printer for certain routines? Your printer should be in your corner all the time and ready to step forth when necessary.
- Do they care about your brand? This question may seem a bit subjective. I mean, how can you really know if a printer cares about your brand or not? What are they doing to educate you? Are they offering you solutions to help you have a more successful direct mail marketing campaigns? Will they take the time to advise you or refer you to someone who can? Do they offer seminars, webinars, White Papers? How much time are they spending on YOU? How about the Postal promotions? Has your printer reached out to educate you about those? How about offer you solutions to help you qualify for these savings? If your answer is NO, then here again your printer is not showing you that they care about your brand.`
- Do they continuously offer you solutions to increase quality or savings? Here is a question that is similar to #2. If you are familiar with our company, then you are probably aware of the fact that we live in the lovely Pine Tree State of Maine. Almost 90% of our State is forested (see here for more facts about Maine’s forests). It’s no wonder we have so many paper mills around. As a result, we are able to maintain great relationships with our suppliers. We know what the next best deal is going to be. If we have a good paper pricing option in the pipeline that will improve on a customer’s quality, we always reach out to them because we care about helping them have a stronger direct mail program. It’s not just about giving you an initial offer. It’s about progression and continuously working together to strengthen your program because in the end it’s what’s best for both parties. How long has it been since your printer reached out with an idea to improve your program at little or no extra cost? If your printer does not do this for you, then likely your catalog program isn’t as strong as it could be. Also, you’re probably paying too much.
- Do they go out of their way for you? Now that’s the question of the day. Larger corporatized companies might have a difficult time doing this because they handle such a high volume or they tend to focus more on their larger customers. If you have contacted your printer and asked them if they can do something specialized and they answer “no” without even giving it a second thought or trying to make it work, then you’re in the wrong place. If you are getting an attitude from your printer that says they don’t need your business, please for the sake of your business consider switching to a company who will treat you like a big fish because that’s what you are.
There is no substitute for a valuable print relationship. Your printer is the key component to brining your vision to life. The print is the last step, the finishing touch, the means by which your catalogs are put into the hands of your buyers. Don’t settle for a one-sided relationship. They need you as much as you need them. Ask yourself these six questions to determine if your printer is the right printer for you. You might be surprised at how much better you could be doing as a result. It’s like J.C. Penney said: “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.”