August 2002
A Once in a Life time chance
How to capitalize on a good thing
What a difference 10 years make. In the early ’90s, Canada ran a printing deficit with the U.S.—America sold Canada $360 million more printing than Canada sold to the U.S.
Now Canada runs a $655 million printing surplus with the States. The main reason most people give for this turn of events is the low Canadian dollar. While important—a competitive price always helps—several other factors have helped, too. The NAFTA deal, for example, eliminated the requirement for “Printed in Canada” to appear on all printed material exported to the U.S.—American print buyers were overly sensitive to that in the past. The Canadian industry also has a reputation for excellent quality among American buyers.
But probably the most important reason for Canada’s export power is that a number of printers here have woken up to the size of the printing market south of the border. And it hasn’t been just the really big guys like Quebecor World, Transcontinental and Moore. Some not-so-enormous printers, such as Hemlock, Friesens, Davis + Henderson and PLM, have done very well in the American market. Even smaller sheetfed printers, such as Cober Printing of Kitchener, Ont., and C.J. Graphics of Toronto, have used the American marketplace to grow their sales.
In reality, the growth of the printing industry in Canada will be heavily based on our ability to sell into the American market. If printers in Canada were able to get as little as 2% or more of the American market it would be equivalent to a 20% growth. (The U.S. market is 10 times the size of Canada’s.)
American print buyers are more willing to deal with printers further away than Canadian buyers are. For a New York buyer to deal with a printer in Los Angeles or Chicago is common practice. Why not Montreal, Toronto or Winnipeg? Most printers in Canada are within a couple hundred miles of the U.S. border. Is it possible for a printer doing a couple million a year to sell into the American market? Yes, some are already doing it.
Luc Desjardins of Transcontinental recently stated at a magazine conference in Toronto that “Canadian printers have an advantage over American printers in that we are used to the short runs and that is where the market is going.”
Is the American market the same as Canada’s? Definitely not. Americans are used to more specialization in printing companies and will buy from farther away. Also, they seem to make decisions faster. These are only a few of the differences.
This is one of the few cases where what your Canadian competitor knows could help you. This is a unique opportunity for printers of all sizes to work together on sharing information on selling into the U.S. market. It’s an opportunity for one of the industry associations to possibly set up a special “export users group.” Even those who are actively selling south of the border could still learn a lot from others.
In order to avoid the same fate that has befallen the States with a stagnant market and shrinking number of printers—PIA stats report that 1,704 U.S. printing plants shut down in 2001—we are going to have to grow the market in Canada. Now is the time for the Canadian industry to capitalize on our advantages. We have service (short runs, fast turnaround), quality (great reputation among U.S. print buyers) and price (lower Canadian dollar) as advantages. With the likely rise of the Canadian dollar down the road, now is the time to take advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity for our industry.
Alexander Donald is the publisher of Graphic Monthly Canada.
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