The industry’s high-end segments team with specialization, making them ideal for opportunities across vertical markets.
As more print shops look to diversify their offerings, more dealers are working and partnering with production printers. The production print market tends to be segmented according to industry, rather than print type, which poses a challenge for dealers who want to better serve these types of shops.
We spoke with three industry leaders to get their take on vertical markets along with their advice on what printers—and dealers—need to be thinking about if they want to maximize their success.
First and foremost, don’t underestimate just how lucrative these vertical markets can be.
“Traditional toner based production shops are rarely toner only anymore,” said Erik Holdo, vice president, Production Print Line of Business, BIS, Konica Minolta Business Solutions. “Most provide services that may be as simple as wide format or as complex as 3D and label/package printing.”
“There are many vertical markets that provide production print providers with very real and valuable opportunities to leverage their capabilities and expand their business,” agreed Robert Barbera, senior manager, Production Solutions Marketing, Production Solutions Division, Business Imaging Solutions Group (BISG), Canon USA.
“It’s important to remember that production end customers don’t necessarily want only hardware; they want solutions to their problems,” stressed John Fulena, vice president, Production Printing Business Group, Ricoh USA, Inc. “That makes it a dealer’s job to learn about customers’ business needs and adapt to address them.”
That being said, what are some of the vertical markets production print shops are—or should be—targeting?
“Under the traditional banner, I would say that financial services, health care/pharma, higher education, engineering (AEC, etc), retail, government, trade unions/associations, direct marketers and B2C businesses,” recommended Holdo. “Of course, graphic communications printers and service bureaus are always a major opportunity. One should also look at the market through horizontal applications. Remember that not all applications are done exclusively by an in-plant or commercial printer. Many span across so I think the focus should be on vertical apps that work across environments.”
Higher education, in particular, was on the radar of all three experts.
“Higher education has shown itself to be a strong adopter of digital printing applications,” explained Barbera. “These institutions are driving targeted communications to potential students, current students and alumni, both digitally and in print. Due to the large amount of marketing that these colleges and universities do, specifically for educational and sporting events, a diverse set of printing needs are required.”
Barbera noted that another major opportunity for production printers is in franchise operations.
“Franchise operations lend themselves well to production printers, as company headquarters are typically responsible for handling marketing support for their franchisers,” he noted. “A good example of this could be a restaurant chain that needs to customize each local restaurant for its slight differences in menu items, or has to frequently update marketing materials to reflect new offerings and specials.”
The key, however, said Fulena, is not to approach all of these different opportunities in the same manner.
“What’s important for any production printer to know when working with market verticals such as Education, Financial Services, Insurance and others is that each is different.”
The Dealer’s Role
For dealers looking to target these printers, while it might not be necessary to know the vertical markets specifically, it is necessary to use more of a consultative approach, an approach that should not be unfamiliar to dealers these days.
“The first step is to make sure that when you walk into a production print operation, you go in their with open ears, not a brochure,” said Fulena. “Listen carefully to their pain points and concerns. The back half of that, of course, is addressing those newly uncovered pain points. To be able to accomplish that, dealers can expand their portfolio of offerings to include production hardware, software, solutions and services.”
According to Holdo, the starting point should come even before setting foot in the printer’s operations.
“Hire analysts first,” he stressed. “You need to have the technical staff not solely for installation and training, but those that understand complex workflow or specific verticals. Understand that they will be a cost center initially, but their impact is widely felt and allows you to compete at a higher level.”
Beyond that, noted Barbera, dealers can form more enhanced and enduring partnerships by offering more than just basic installation and service. Education and resources are going to set savvy dealers apart from their competition.
“One example of how dealers can help these print providers position themselves is by providing business development educational events such as webinars, ‘lunch and learns,’ and other educational initiatives to share best practices with them.”
Once a dealer has the personnel and training in place, it’s time to think about the solutions. While every printer is different, Holdo pointed out that the foundation will always be the same, and that is one area where dealers can focus on becoming experts.
“At the base of any home which is built is a solid foundation. The underlying production management workflow (not necessarily MIS although that can be a part of it) is the most critical aspect. Having a solid workflow from job intake (whether web storefront, email, CSR) all the way through delivery of the printed product. Remember that production printing should be thought of as a manufacturing process. You wouldn’t start producing widgets until the line was completely built and tested. You can make tweaks as you go, but the base workflow has to be there. After that, the choices are broad based on what applications they will run.”
With a wide range of production print solutions and services that range in speed, quality and productivity, Fulena maintained that it’s important to understand the unique needs of a dealer’s customers to best recommend a key for success.
“With some businesses wanting to use new technologies to bring production in-house, they may need seasoned experts either to provide guidance or to full-on run the production operation,” he said. “That’s where consulting services and managed services offerings can really benefit dealers and customers. There are also software options, like digital store fronts, web-to-print and so on that make production more efficient and therefore can be big value-adds.”
Fulena further stressed that for dealers, it’s also about having the right staff in place to service this market appropriately.
“A common challenge for dealers just getting into the production space is to continue using their existing sales, support, and service team for production, too. Production print customers run their equipment long and hard, and their expectations for support are higher as a result. Downtime for a copier is inconvenient. Downtime for a production engine is lost revenue, higher costs, maybe even damaged business relationships.”
Adding those responsibilities to an existing team’s plate not only stretches your personnel thin, but it also significantly restricts the dealer’s ability to meet customers’ expectations.
“If you’re going to go into production, you have to commit to it, and you have to commit to having production personnel with the right expertise to help your customers,” added Fulena.
Finally, Fulena concluded, it’s about guiding shops to the right path, helping them make smart investments in the right equipment and solutions to fit the type of work they want to be doing, rather than just the newest machine on the market.