“Entrepreneurs today are paranoid, afraid that even their friends will steal their business. Yet a creative collaboration with your biggest competitor in the same industry may be the best opportunity for revenue and survival,” says Martin Zwilling, CEO and founder of consultancy Startup Professionals, Inc. For industry cooperation and strategic alliances to work best, he says, printers need to clearly define when they are working together and where they are competing. “Your goal is to find a way to partner with your competitor in such a way that both parties can substantially benefit from the other’s resources—but without stealing customers or damaging anyone’s credibility.”
Trust is Key to Partnerships
Some printers have built their business models around the trade partnering concept. One of them is growll.com, an online wholesale printer that exclusively services and protects resellers. “Our accounts are rigorously screened to verify authentic wholesale status—we absolutely will not accept a job from an end user,” says Sam Vignjevic, the company’s director.
To partner with growll.com, printers complete an online application that is reviewed and verified by growll.com’s customer service department. Qualified printers receive a reseller kit, as well as a growll.com user ID and password that enable them to receive the online printer’s pricing for a wide variety of items. Vignjevic says the most common items ordered by print partners are business cards, postcards, brochures, catalogs, and posters. Most of those items are “gang run” with multiple orders on the company’s equipment in Greenville, SC.
Vignjevic says a growing number of orders from printers are custom jobs that often require personalization, and growll.com now employs a creative services team and mailing experts in addition to print production employees. “If you’re a printer, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel or to turn away business,” he says. “We take our customer relationships with printers seriously, and make sure we protect their accounts. They grow, we grow.”
Another print company that is succeeding because of its trade partners is WebbMason, Inc., a Hunt Valley, MD-based firm that grew sales 31 percent in 2010 to about $89 million. It operates a commercial print facility, WebbMason Commercial, as well as 20 US sales offices. “We want our customers to view us as single-source experts for on demand print and marketing technology, but we carefully pick and choose what to produce in house and what to outsource to trusted partners,” says Doug Traxler, the firm’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Believing in the importance of openness to its clients and the integrity of the print supply chain, WebbMason created a National Preferred Partner program that now includes 150 trade printers, representing about $1.5 billion in manufacturing capacity. Traxler says the companies are prequalified to meet WebbMason’s quality, turnaround, and pricing requirements. These firms include book printers, promotional products suppliers, commercial printers, and others.
“At the end of the day, it’s our reputation on the line, and it’s our responsibility to deliver value to customers,” Traxler says. “They look to us to get the job done, but generally aren’t concerned with where it’s done. Our trade partners represent our goals. We believe we can keep moving forward and grow sales, and we can accomplish that together.”
Expert: View an Industry Partnership Like a Marriage
If you’re considering forming a strategic partnership with a fellow printer, the key is to find a company with unique capabilities and insight — but with the same core values as your firm, says Ed Rigsbee, author of “PartnerShift: Developing Strategic Alliances”. “The best advice is to treat the relationship like a marriage. You must successfully deal with the same kinds of fears, hopes, and issues.”
Keep these points in mind, he says:
* Who will do the chores? Partner responsibilities and activities make the relationship a success or failure. Too often this is the area where unrealistic expectations of one another present themselves. Be clear when you commit to which company will be doing what.
* Make it official. The palest ink is better than the most powerful memory. When possible, articulate your partnership in writing, including detailed explanations of activities, expectations, and responsibilities of each company. This document can be your guiding light or road map for your successful alliance.