Profits are not necessarily won and lost on the back of a few large jobs, but frequently because of filling production schedules with short-run jobs. That makes the short runs the most valuable work to obtain in your shop. We shared questions with three seasoned graphic arts experts to elicit their thoughts on the past, present, and future of short-run printing, and provide some insight on how to position your firm to make money in selling and producing these jobs.
Our experts are:
Clint Bolte (www.clintbolte.com)—known nationwide for his innovative and creative application of existing printing technologies to new print markets, and one of the most successful print consultants over the past 20 years.
Mitch Evans (www.mitchevansconsulting.com)—president of the National Association of Quick Printers (NAQP, now PrintImage International) 1994-95 and owner of Print Tech, consistently one of the top ranked print firms in Quick Printing magazine.
Larry Hunt (www.larryhunt.com)—president of the NAQP 1983-84, the successful owner and operator of four quick print shops since 1973, and currently president of Larry Hunt Publications.
What types of short-run products can printers expect to best sell and make a profit?
Evans: Personalized color pieces are the most profitable. Large-format color is still a growing market and while pricing is coming down, it is still very profitable especially if you offer finishing services such as laminating and mounting. At the same time, it is important to understand that short-run static color is becoming more and more of a commodity, and unless you can produce large volumes or find a way to produce it less expensively, margins will decrease.
Hunt: According to the NAQP quick print poll, it is color digital sales and mailing services. Within that group, it’s not a single product type but selling to the right market. Keep an eye on real estate and finance. When they come back, it will be a big harbinger for growth and signify markets that you should latch on to.
Bolte: Let me suggest that you visit www.vistaprint.com to gauge short-run product popularity. At this site, you can see that it is easy to profitably produce dozens of similar short-run products, all digital and personalized, by gathering a name, title, firm, address and touch points.
What are some differences and similarities between today and the past that are important to being profitable in short-run printing?
Bolte: Short-run printing can be profitable so long as it is not a surprise. When printers and print salespersons have developed relationships with clients that accentuate pre-planning, proven digital workflows, and thorough communications—i.e., no misunderstanding in specifications and expectations—then short run work can flow like greased lightning. Such “automated” workflows suggest the importance of standardization in terms of options and client training on user-friendly software.
Hunt: Looking back into the 1970s, short run was work primarily for small business, but that eventually turned into copying work rather than run on offset presses. In other words, the way it was produced was changed. This has further morphed into the color copying business, which has proven to be very profitable. In fact, according to the recent NAQP operating ratio study, 12.7 percent of all sales in the industry are now color copying, compared to just 8.9 percent in 2005. It is the single biggest print market growth by far.
Evans: Short-run printing has always been more profitable than longer run printing—in other words the value added (selling price less the costs of paper/inks/toners and production labor) remains high, especially when compared to longer runs. The difference today is that the runs continue to be shorter, and variable data printing (runs of one each) are commonplace with the equipment to produce simple jobs less expensive. For the large jobs, equipment costs continue to be high, although equipment like iGens can be very profitable. The other difference today is that more work is in full color as the setup costs have come down considerably, and the production speed to produce full color is about the same as B&W was 20 years ago. Personalization will continue to drive the market as the cost to do 1,000 unique printed pieces is beginning to be the same as printing 1,000 static pieces.