Case Study: Case of the Changing Print Shop

Printing is changing and so are print shops. That’s obvious. But how are we changing? Are we really becoming market service providers? Sign shops? Barber shops? Instead of conjecture, I got a quick response from 185 owners about what they actually invested in during the past two years. That’s where the truth lies, it appears to me.

Findings? A full 46 percent expanded into intangibles (website construction, QR codes, email marketing, and sales-based products and services), while the majority of diversification, 54 percent, remained with the tangibles (wide-format, mailing, more digital capacity, signs, and the like). Important here is that we were buying few intangibles only a short while ago.

Nevertheless, wide-format printing capacity was added more than any other type of new product/service over the past 24 months (16 percent), according to my sample group in January 2012. Not only that, but wide-format is what the majority of participants plan to add over the next 24 months (18 percent) as well.

If this holds, then 34 percent of small press and digital printers will have added wide-format capacity over a 48 month period, which signals one significant direction our industry is headed. Considering 58 percent of my sample already has some sort of wide-format, an addition of 18 percent would put the total up to 76 percent of shops within two years, which seems significant to me.


Enter Web, Exit Offset

The top addition in the intangibles category was website construction and search engine optimization (eight percent) along with social media and cross media services (four percent). When we look out over the next 24 months, we see an additional eight percent adding website construction, and seven percent adding social media and cross media services, bringing the total up to about 36 percent of shops having this capacity in two years.

We’ve been told small offset printing is going away. That’s true for this group. Our typical shop has seen an average 20 percent (median 22 percent) loss in offset sales in the last five years.

Of course, that’s the typical. The significant range was a loss of seven percent to 30 percent, although a few outliers reported a total loss of 100 percent. Only five percent reported offset sales were up in the same period, typically by five percent.

While only five percent of the shops in the survey are digital-only shops, they are obviously the future because there were only two mentions indicating offset printing capacity was or will be expanded (0.01 percent).


Digital on the Rise

On the other hand, 19 percent of respondents have added digital printing capacity in some form in the last 24 months (digital printing, digital envelope printing, digital bindery), with another 13 percent planning to add such capacity, for a total of 32 percent over 48 months.

That’s a lot of change coming at printers, although 21 percent within our survey said they were of an age where they are planning to ride it out without substantial changes to their businesses.

One owner seems to have summed up the attitude of many, “As the shift from commercial printing has shifted toward digital, our staff has necessarily decreased. Our gross sales have decreased, but the profit margin has increased to the point that paying the bills is easier now than before. The automated digital equipment runs with less supervision, and the quality levels tend to be more consistent and at a higher level than before. We are enjoying the change, even though we didn’t enjoy the trip here!”

If, on the other hand, you are like a minority of folks who haven’t considered doing anything different, then you might want to consider what your next career is going to be. Things are changing. Yes, indeed.

For a full copy of my report with specifics on what products/services have been added as well as what our printers are planning to add, click over to and buy the report. It’s $50. You, too, can participate in any or all of my surveys. Go to and sign up. Participants in a survey receive a full copy of the findings without cost.


Tom Crouser is principal of Crouser & Associates, Inc., 4710 Chimney Drive, Charleston, WV 25302; call 304-965-7100 or visit He works with businesses undergoing transition and welcomes your inquiries. Message him at and follow all of his posts at