Globalization has played a role in this demand shift as well. In the past couple of decades, many large US-based print concerns—RR Donnelley, Sir Speedy, and others—have opened international locations, including in China and India. These established companies usually invest in quality production.
Finally, rising labor costs in these countries have made automated finishing equipment a more attractive option. As the costs of living in these countries continue to rise and the workers continue to demand (and deserve) higher wages, graphic arts businesses looking for a way to reduce total labor costs will consider buying automated equipment.
An Example from India
Our experience selling into India’s machinery markets perfectly illustrates how a growing global economy can affect domestic graphic arts businesses and their customers. Until recently, we hadn’t gained much traction in Indian markets because the demand for well-made finishing equipment was weak. At times, we wondered if this market simply was not a fit for what we offer.
Then, at 2012’s drupa show, we forged a new partnership with an Indian dealer, Paper Bind. Anuj Mehta, Paper Bind’s CEO, understands the value of well-made machinery. He soon identified a small but growing group of customers looking to invest in equipment that promised a lot more reliability and quality for a little extra price.
As the Indian economy continues to grow, so will its demand for top-shelf machinery. Through Paper Bind, we have already sold equipment to several Indian businesses, and we see a bright future in this market.
What This Means for You
I know what you may be thinking at this point: what does this shift in Asia’s buying power mean for me? As I mentioned earlier, many foreign-based businesses that we’ve sold high-quality equipment to are quick printers. In general, our on-demand book trimmers have experienced a greater rate of adoption in other parts of the world—most notably Europe, the Middle East, and South America—than in the US, relative to the sizes of these markets.
So, as a US-based quick printer, why should you be concerned about the quality improvements your foreign counterparts are making? As mentioned above, most of these businesses already offer more affordable printing than you do; now, many can match—if not exceed—the production quality you offer. Perhaps some of these businesses intend to eventually compete in the US on-demand market. If so, will you be ready when they make their first moves?
I know this may sound alarmist, but I’m saying this to make a point to my American quick printing partners: You must continue to improve the quality and efficiency you offer if you want to stay a step ahead of your counterparts in developing countries. Now is the time to invest aggressively (and intelligently) in new equipment that offers automated production, consistently excellent quality, and other features that help you exceed customer expectations. Otherwise, one day you may find these customers are being serviced by foreign competitors.
Realistically, it may be years before quick printers overseas pose a legitimate threat to your business. For the foreseeable future, the inconveniences of international shipping will continue to hamper foreign graphic arts businesses looking to sell into the US. But what will international shipping look like in 10 or even 25 years?
Someday, shipping printed materials from China to Michigan may take only a little longer than shipping across the state. This would be good news for your foreign competitors—and, possibly, for you. American quick printers who have kept up with the pace of technological change may find they’re able to secure new customers in China, Brazil, and elsewhere.
Admittedly, we’re decades away from a situation like this. Right now the idea might sound impossible or absurd to you. Of course, 25 years ago many people probably thought the same thing about selling top-line equipment in a country like India.
Globalization and technology’s breakneck pace have a way of transforming today’s “impossible” into tomorrow’s reality.