February 2004
Paper management for printers
Developing relationships with your merchant rep can make your life easier
Recently, I discussed some of the benefits that paper converters offer to printers, so it’s appropriate that we review the benefits paper merchants offer. I recently visited and talked to several merchants to see what programs they have to help printers reduce cost, save time, and support their customers.

Paper merchants have found market conditions extremely competitive, just as printers have. As printers face extreme business and pricing pressures, they turn around and put pressure on their suppliers, and paper is the prime target. So here are some areas of paper management that should make a printer’s life a little easier.

Floor-to-floor inventory
One key area for cost saving opportunities is inventory management. Several years ago, printers recognized that maintaining a stock inventory was expensive due to space requirements, spoilage, shrinkage, obsolescence and tied up capital. Now some merchants offer inventory programs that address several of these issues. You can select a stock that you wish to maintain as a house brand, commit to, and purchase a specific volume, and the merchant will store it, track the inventory, and fulfill your orders as required. You have the benefits of the lower price from volume purchase and you know that the price is fixed, which offers some comfort during periods of fluctuating prices.

How a stock is packaged can often contribute to hidden expenses for the printer
Converters offer printers the benefits of custom sizes, but the merchants argue that they also offer timely programs. Domtar and Sappi mills, and possibly others, have recognized that timely supply of custom sizes is critical. These are two of several mills that offer custom size stock from mill to printer within seven to ten working days. Some merchants offer converting services and many offer faster service in some circumstances. This may be a significant opportunity to reduce the cost of paper in your quote or even better, reduce your cost after you have been awarded the order, without compromising quality.

Buntin Reid demonstrated the Custom Size Savings Calculator that it has developed to help printers evaluate the benefits of custom sizes for specific examples. This is a spreadsheet format that evaluates basic size and weight options and compares standard sizes with custom sizes and weights. The information can be beneficial when comparing options for customers in competitive situations, or for sharing and retaining the saving when possible.

Estimating Interface
To make things easier for estimators, some merchant pricelists are available in an electronic file format for loading into your MIS system. There are several challenges for this, as there are no standards for file format between the merchant lists and the estimating software vendors. To overcome that, the files are available in a standard, comma-delimited format. One paper merchant indicated that its lists are compatible with the estimating software from Franklin, Print Café, and Heidelberg’s Prinect.

Mills are now offering an extended range of special stocks with reduced weight for postal costs, and reduced total weight—cost savings in two ways. This is nothing new for producers of postal reply cards and similar pieces. Hi-bulk postal reply has been an industry standard but now a wider range of stocks is available, including coated stocks. This is a great advantage for producing direct mail pieces, magazine inserts and other products that benefit from higher-calipered, lighter-weight stock.

How a stock is packaged can often contribute to hidden expenses for the printer. We often forget that stock that’s supplied in cartons must be removed from the cartons and re-piled by hand. This is a time-consuming process that can increase waste. Estimators rarely add a specific additional fee for this because it’s usually recovered as indirect labour in the Budgeted Hourly Rates (BHR), or from adding a small percentage to the stock price to cover handling and other functions.

Buntin Reid is one merchant, for example, that offers a select number of paper grades in press-ready skids. The physical skid size is reduced, subject to the paper size, and the amount of paper on the skid has also been reduced. Normal skids come in at around 2,000 lbs., and these stocks are offered on skids of 1,400 lbs. This press-ready skid saves the production staff a lot of time, allows presses to set-up faster, and reduces spoilage.

Warehousing R Us
Some argue that most printers do not need much warehousing space, since the merchants are very responsive, making two deliveries daily in many regions of Canada. Stock ordered in the afternoon, will be delivered the next morning. Afternoon deliveries are also available, thereby reducing the need to maintain your own inventory of stock. The premium you pay for ordering in smaller quantities can often be offset by the fact that you don’t need to maintain any inventory.

Merchants have been broadening their product offerings, or partnering with vendors to offer consumables as well. Now that printers can order paper and other consumables like plates, film, chemicals or toners, it can be a benefit for the printer, reducing administrative time dealing with multiple vendors. Plus one truck can now deliver many different products, easing shipping and receiving time.

Paper merchants have offered a consultative approach for many years. Their representatives are expert on stock options and are trained to help you resolve paper-related production problems that come up. They can also help by advising on stock selection to achieve a specific objective on behalf of your customer, and prepare dummy samples to include with that important presentation to your client. Merchants will also host education sessions for your staff and your clients if appropriate. These sessions can focus on changing requirements, special purpose stock, environmental issues and new programs such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), paper calculators, or other topics that may be of mutual interest and benefit.
Close partnerships between printers and merchants are important to everyone
A number of paper merchants have developed Web sites that can be used to provide information on current product offerings for paper and consumables and other products. In addition, the Web sites have e-commerce capabilities so, with prior authorization, you can review stock selections and pricing, and place an order 24/7. They will also accept your credit card or purchase orders and process payment.

Close partnerships between printers and paper merchants are important for everyone. Merchants work hard to ensure that they keep on top of the issues facing printers, as it directly affects them too. Next time you get a visit from your local merchant rep, spend more time figuring out how you can work together, and save the jokes for later.
Bob Dale is the president of Pilot Graphic Management Services Inc., a company providing management consulting and custom training for organizations. He is also on the executive of the Toronto Club of Printing House Craftsmen. Bob can be reached at (416) 410-4096, or via e-mail at
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