“The key to competing with the likes of Vistaprint is to offer more than what they can,” says Scott Cappel of Sorrento Mesa Printing in San Diego, CA. “Moving beyond ink on paper is a start to opening up a ‘blue ocean’ of opportunity in print. ‘Up Against the Wal-Marts: How Your Business Can Prosper in the Shadow of the Retail Giants’ is a book that can get the creative juices flowing on just how to go at this.”
“Our job is to add value and provide service the online printers cannot by assisting our clients in growing their business” says Ronnie Williams of DeFrance Printing in San Diego, CA. “When we do that, it is no longer about the price and more about the result.”
Tim Rolfson of Vista Graphic Communications in Indianapolis, IN, notes that online printers offer “cookie cutter models” and don’t offer on-site personal assistance.
“Sure, they will often provide lower price points, but some of our customers like to sit down and be served dinner versus standing in line for carry-out,” he observes.
Big Boxes and Chains
Staples, Office Depot, the UPS Store, and FedEx Office often come up when discussing competition in the small commercial printing segment. Here again, they do the simpler, low-margin jobs and, in reality, probably compete more with the Vistaprints of the world than with the printer down the street. Staples and Office Depot are primarily office supply operations with a print/copy department. UPS acquired MailBoxes Etc. and FedEx acquired Kinko’s to gain more outlets for their shipping business. As Rolfson noted, “If all you need are copies, this may be a good place. At best, these guys and the other big box stores are posers with equipment on their floor.”
One respondent took issue with characterizing operations such as the UPS Store as lacking in the expertise to handle sophisticated print jobs. Bill Thompson, president of BT & CT Enterprises, doing business as the UPS Store in the Greater St. Louis area, says “We’re pretty skilled at design and printing services here … furthermore, we have taken a collaborative approach with specialty printers and graphic design artists when the needs of our customers are more than we can freely handle in-house. Worst case scenario, we’ll outsource if we have to.”
The Tangled Web
The Internet has been a two-edged sword for the printers. It has opened up the market for online printers, provided existing customers with more options and avenues, and allowed alternatives to print to flourish. Most of the folks I talked with see the emerging digital alternatives to print as a definite threat, and the InfoTrends survey I mentioned earlier seems to bear this out. On the positive side, it also has allowed printers to broaden their marketing reach, get into the Web-to-print game, and offer multi-channel marketing support to their customers.
At one time, the storefront was the printer’s window on the world. Today, that window is the printer’s website, and many, if not most, are still glorified billboards, according to Kate Dunn of Digital Innovations Group in Richmond, VA, who surveyed some 50 printer websites recently.
“I was looking for tangible examples of real value for their clients—like improved response rates, or process savings from an improved supply chain, or traffic increases for signage,” she says. “I didn’t see any significant reasons to pick any of them. Look at your website and make sure the reasons to buy from you aren’t interchangeable with your competitors.”
Dunn sees the problem as going beyond the website itself. “Most companies just flat out don’t have a differentiation strategy of any kind,” she said.
“Small commercial and quick printers are at a disadvantage because the online, big box, and other competitors frequently do a much better job of marketing ink-on-paper products on the Internet and elsewhere,” adds Clif Hilderley, a marketing consultant who works in the New York City area.
Battle Lines Drawn
David Doost of Digital Traffic Builders in the Atlanta area may sum it up best. “There has always been competition and there will always be competition,” he says. “It is a brutal, competitive battle being waged right now with the convergence of lower demand for print, the move to shorter and shorter runs, the growing influence of new digital media, and the encroachment of other industries adding print to their services. The battle being waged is over your place in your prospect or customer’s mind. The only way to get there is by position against the online printers, big box and shipping stores, digital media, local competitors, etc.