Digital Original: Production Efficiencies Provide Opportunity

Everyone is talking about the economy. Turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper and you find that the economic condition is the top topic. Businesses are closing. People are being laid off from their jobs. The stock market is crashing. With all the doom and gloom, will anyone survive in today's business climate?

Quick and small commercial printers have an advantage. Unlike larger printing companies, a smaller shop can quickly adapt to changing conditions. Studies show that most small print companies have 25 customers who provide the bulk of their business. While losing one can hurt, a printer has only to add one other top customer to replace the business. Printers can quickly change their focus and produce work that is more profitable or more in demand. Even in bad times, businesses need printing.

The challenge is that the new top customer you must get will already have a printer. You can take a competitor's customer a lot more easily if you have the technology and organization that will make the buying process easier. Finding new customers will also be a lot easier as the marginal printing competitors close their doors. Experts predict that the economic slowdown could last more than a year, and printing businesses with poor cash positions and falling sales won't last. Their customers will have to buy printing somewhere else once they go out of business.

Too often the only sales plan a printer has is to cut prices. Some printers believe if they have the lowest price in the market, buyers will flock to them to take advantage of the savings. Unless they can cut costs and still maintain profit margins, they are doomed.

Technology, backed by a stronger outbound sales effort, can help printers generate new sales and weather the economic storm. Today's technology makes it easier for customers to buy printing. They just have to be trained how to use it. Technology can also be used to cut costs. Using the right software and adopting the right workflow procedures can cut production time and speed deliveries.

A major trend over the last decade has been for customers to create their own files. For some printers, accepting customer files has been a nightmare. Those printers failed to use the technology available and held on to archaic procedures that added costs to the job. Some backed themselves into a corner because they refused to tell the customers exactly what was required when submitting files for print. Printers gave away prepress time because they could recoup the loss in other areas.

To succeed today, printers have to look for ways to save money at every step. Your very survival might depend on how much you can make or save in the prepress department. The days of paying a prepress person more than the department actually generates in revenue are over.

What are the practical steps to take to use technology to either cut costs or increase sales? The first is to develop a PDF workflow. This not only affects the customer created work coming into the shop, but it can improve the efficiencies of producing the work within the prepress department.

Customer Created Files

Trying to work with customers' native application files is very difficult. It is up to the printer to teach the customers how to prepare files for commercial printing. Printers have to teach their salespeople and CSRs what to tell customers about constructing a file. This includes how to include the fonts and handle bleeds, which color models to use, what graphic resolutions and formats to use, and how to use the file collection procedures for commercial printing in the page layout application programs.

A successful printer will take the instructions a step further. Once the customer understands fonts, color models, graphic formats and resolutions, and bleed requirements, the customer should be able to submit the finished file in a PDF format. If the customer has constructed the file properly, the PDF should be ready to print with little editing.

To make it easier for the customer to create a PDF file, successful printers are using automatic PDF creation tools such as Adobe Job Ready, Prismatek's PrintThat, PagePath's PDF2U in MyOrderDesk, Global Graphic's Jaws Creator, or Enfocus' Instant PDF. The automation tool not only forces the customer to create a PDF file based on the printer's specifications and needs, but it sends the PDF file directly to the printer. The customer can't decide to send the PDF file to another printer.

Before relying on customers to create their own PDF files, be aware that many of the free PDF creation programs found on the Web are not designed for output by commercial printers. You may also spend hours teaching the customer how to create a PDF file using the free tools only to see the customer send the file to a competitor. If the printer can assure that the PDF file he is receiving from the customer has been created within a range of standards, then any problems can easily be edited and the file can be entered into production.

Printers who still accept native application files must still use a PDF workflow to improve efficiencies. Tasks such as preflighting, pagination, step-and-repeat, and color correction can be automated. An example is pagination on digital presses. A PDF file can be dropped into a "hot" folder where it is set up based on the finished size to be produced. This means a CSR could take a PDF from a customer, drop it into a hot folder, and produce the job automatically; completely bypassing prepress. Many printers already have this technology built into their RIPs, but don't use it.

Software from companies such as Enfocus, Nitro PDF Software, Markzware, and Extensis offer specialized programs to handle a variety of tasks. A good source of information on who does what is

Printers will have to embrace using a PDF workflow if they want to cut production costs. The next generation PDF workflow will embrace the JDF workflow, which includes instructions for the press and postpress departments. Repetitive tasks will be automated and production costs lowered as printers take advantage of this technology.

Another practical step to cut costs in prepress is to outsource file creation. Using the Internet, it is easy to link designers and typesetters from around the world with your print shop. Companies such as Affinity Express, Quadrant, and UNIK Conversion give printers a source for 24 hour typesetting services. A prepress employee or designer could concentrate on more profitable work in-house, while mundane commodity work can be outsourced at low prices. The service requires better communication skills between the printer and outside service, but the prices for the service can be very low. These companies will create anything from business cards, to medical forms, to books and provide it in a file format that a printer can use and edit.

Make Printing Easy To Buy

The technology most overlooked by printers to make the buying process easier is the Internet. Websites can make purchasing printing very easy. While some printers complain about competition from low cost, Web-based print providers, others are using the same technology to have an impact on their local market. Today's typical print website provider offers special portals where printers can catalog a customer's printed products. The customer can then order reprints any time, from any computer through the website.

Printers can also add special custom sites where customers can add text and images to templates ranging from business cards to marketing materials. Customers who have buyers in multiple locations can centralize the buying process and lower their administrative costs. Companies such as PageDNA, Pageflex, GMC, EFI, XMPie, and Printable offer either hosted, or Software as a Service (SaaS), solutions or software applications printers can manage in-house.

More important than the technology is the printer's ability to get in front of a customer and sell. Buyers don't know the benefits of these types of services. Printers need to get out and sell the services to them. You will have to set up and demonstrate sample sites to potential customers. They won't be able to understand the concept from a postcard, nor will they walk up to your front counter and ask for the service.

Printers really have a lot to sell to customers. They just need to get out and sell the services and solutions they have. If printers expect to survive the economic hardships in the coming 18 months, they will have to get out of the shop and tell customers how they can help them weather the economic downturn. Just having a convenient location or an easy to find website isn't going to close the sale. Only an active sales effort touting how the printer's technology will help the customer will succeed.

Using technology to cut costs and make buying easier can have a dramatic impact on a printer's profits. I recently visited a shop that has eight employees and was doing almost $2 million in sales because they were able to efficiently pull work through the shop with a PDF workflow. I visited another printer who had increased his sales by providing Web-to-print services to the other divisions of his top account. He had had success with the local division and is now taking care of divisions around the country. Even in troubled times, there are success stories because people use what they have and they get out and sell it.

If a printer is effectively using his technology internally, he can turn those efficiencies into benefits for his customers. Make sure you have a workflow that eliminates internal prepress production problems, and those benefits can result in profits and more sales.

John Giles is the author of "12 Secrets for Digital Success" and "The DTP PriceList." He is also technology director for CPrint. Contact him at 954/224-1942 or