Commentary & Analysis
What Are Customers Really Buying?
By Ed Marino,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 6, 2003
By Ed Marino, CEO of Presstek October 6, 2003 -- As I visit with a variety of printers, I frequently hear discussions about how tough and how competitive the market is. Many printers are still focused on selling print, and too many sales reps open a sales call with a discussion of their equipment list. While I certainly believe that Presstek-branded and Presstek-enabled products provide capabilities a printer can be proud of, this sales approach places printers squarely in the commodity space, with their only clear differentiation being price. And this is a battle that most will not win over time. This is why Presstek—as well as with many other vendors—has worked hard to educate the printing community about the customer values each shop can address. Believe it or not, most customers are not buying printing. They are buying the ability to communicate with their customers and prospects about their products and services. They are buying effective tools that will reduce their customer support costs. They are buying ads and promotional materials that will help them break through the clutter. They are trying to better educate their employees and shareholders. And some of these things just happen to be in printed form. It is for this reason that I get very excited when I learn about a printer who has cracked the code, and who has implemented an innovative market approach that has allowed them to grow revenue—and profits—even in difficult economic times. I found just such a printer recently in PrintingForLess. They seem to have been getting a lot of press lately, even outside of our typical trade publications, and you may have heard about them. As a small regional printer in Livingston, Montana, PrintingForLess felt it had reached the geographically-imposed limits of expansion. While Montana is known as Big Sky country, it is decidedly not known as one of the bigger regions for print consumption. The company took dramatic steps to overcome this barrier, and did so in a big way. In fact, the company was recognized by INC Magazine with its “Best of the Web” award for “Killer App.” In discussing the PrintingForLess award, INC states, “ Killer Apps applauds particularly innovative and muscular Web-based applications, the kind that remind us how much the technology makes possible,”. Founded in 1996 as Express Color Printing, the company set out to deliver high quality color printed products to its regional market. The online initiative, PrintingForLess.com , was launched in 1999. In addition to conventional offset printing, the company acquired a Presstek-enabled Heidelberg Quickmaster DI to address shorter-run, faster-turn work. But the real key to its success is its Web interface, which allows the company to transcend geographic barriers and to garner work from around the world. Through a network of partners, PrintingForLess is able to handle an almost unlimited volume of work and to produce print either in its own facility, or in a partner facility. Partners undergo a rigorous certification process to ensure that all work produced under the auspices of the PrintingForLess name meets the company's high standards. An additional, and somewhat unique, expertise the company offers is the ability to print reliably from Microsoft Publisher files—a file type that many printers find difficult to work with. And the development of a simple, but effective Web storefront has made it easy for customers to do business with the firm. A user simply selects the item to be printed, for example, an 8.5”x11” brochure, and is presented with the following screen: A limited range of selections are available to describe the job, yet the limited selections meet the needs of the vast majority of jobs. Once job specifications are entered, the file can be uploaded; real-time pricing is calculated as the specifications are entered for the majority of products. PrintingForLess delivers an electronic proof in one to two days, with a near-term plan to shorten that timeframe to two to four business hours . Upon proof approval, final product is shipped within five business days—or sooner if a faster turnaround time is specified. So, you might ask, aren't they selling printing, and aren't they competing on price? The answer to both questions is “No.” PrintingForLess does print,and they do offer very competitive prices, but more importantly, they are selling customer convenience, ease-of-use, and a quality product delivered in a timely fashion. The competitive prices certainly don't hurt, and they are made possible by an equipment mix that allows both short-run quick-turn work and long-run conventional work, as well as a streamlined, Web-enabled order entry and production process that offers significant cost efficiencies. The equipment mix is important to their success, but they don't spend a lot of time discussing that with customers. They have understood what customers are really buying, and they have responded with an appropriate offer. I like to share these success stories because they prove that even a small printer in a sparsely populated region can experience substantial growth. The key to success is understanding—and meeting—a unique set of customer needs. By blending the right equipment mix with efficient production processes and an easy-to-use Web interface, PrintingForLess demonstrates that revenue and profit growth is within the reach of any printing establishment willing to change its business practices to address the changing needs of an increasingly dynamic market.