The term brokering covers a lot of territory in the printing industry. For printers, it refers to jobs sent out for production or services outsourced. For industry vendors, it means providing “to the trade” products or services. And then there is the large and often overlooked group of pure brokers who sell print products and services to the end user and source those products and services to the “to the trade” suppliers.
The next thing to consider is just what products and services lend themselves to being outsourced or brokered. The short answer is “anything”. If you need agency-quality color printing, embossed pencils, promotional mailing lists, wooden business cards, bindery services, mailing and fulfillment services, metallic labels, or imprinted tortillas, you can find a source somewhere.
To the Trade
Buyers Guide listings at MyPrintResource.com show some 1,200 companies in the trade services category. Of those, nearly 500 are listed as trade printers, 200 as trade binders and finishers, 160 as prepress design service providers, and 19 as mailing and fulfillment service providers.
Thumb through any copy of QP and you will find trade vendors for color printing, labels, tickets/tags, presentation folders, business forms, wholesale copies, envelopes, magnets, Post-It notes, rubber stamps, and a plethora of other things.
Companies that provide printing, promotional, or other services are roughly divided into those which cater to the end user or consumer and those which cater to the trade. Some do both and make no secret of it. Some do both, but downplay the consumer angle. Some do cater only to the trade, but define “trade” somewhat broadly. These latter companies might seek business from commercial printers as well as in-plants, big box stores, office supply stores, FedEx Office, the UPS Store, etc. They also service the many pure print service brokers.
Quick and small commercial printers often see some of these trade printers as competition due to their courting of end users. Others shrug off the consumer emphasis of such companies as VistaPrint and take advantage of the lower prices to broker out certain gang-run and color jobs.
The Print Brokers/Buyers Association International is a “worldwide membership trade organization of printing intermediaries: group buying/outsourcing services, independent manufacturers’ representatives, and value-added resellers.” It boasts a source listing of some 26,000 print brokers, buyers, and suppliers. However, print is not the only thing brokers handle. In fact, many brokers do more in the area of promotional products than in printing.
There are two main organizations involved in the promotional product and ad specialty arena, PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) and ASI (Ad Specialty Institute). ASI membership consists of 22,000 distributors and 3,500 suppliers of promotional products and ad specialties. These two organizations do cater mainly to brokers, but some commercial printers also become members in order to take advantage of the pricing and other benefits membership provides.
For quick and small commercial printers, probably the most familiar name in the pure brokering arena is Proforma, which boasts some 650 “marketing consultant” franchisee offices, 50,000 clients worldwide, and system-wide sales of $359 million. These Proforma print brokering franchisees provide “promotional products, printing services, business documents, and eCommerce solutions” which they source through an approved vendor list of some 15,000 suppliers—many of which also serve the quick and small commercial printing industry.
The Rest of the Story
I said earlier that almost anything can be outsourced and noted how many different product and service providers can be found. The question now is how much of what should be outsourced to whom. Changing technology or emerging new profit centers can have an influence.