August 2004
Specialists do it better
Use your past experience to target other print jobs in the same industry

Printing companies that specialize in particular products and services tend to make more money and be more successful. This is a well-known fact. Just consider the printing companies both here and in the United States that we hear about. In almost every case they tend to be specialists in specific areas in our industry. Some plants specialize in retail flyers, others produce tens of millions of labels, hard-cover coffee-table books, or soft-cover, single or two-colour novels. There is a huge amount of expertise in the printing industry, and yet many companies are missing out on opportunities by failing to create niche markets.

It’s probably tempting to think that there’s little room left for specialization because every possible niche is already being exploited. This is simply not true. Furthermore, if you’ve chosen to work in the printing industry and you want to be a successful sales rep, you really have only two choices. One is to go and work at a company that’s already committed to this mindset; the other is to convince your firm that it must adopt this approach to survive.

Some of you are probably thinking there’s no possible way this concept can be introduced, let alone succeed, in a small or mid-size organization like yours. Again, simply not true. Virtually every profitability study that’s been done confirms that specialists earn on average more than twice what commercial printers earn. If this is not incentive enough, then consider that as an employer you will probably lose your best sales reps to other organizations that have chosen to work for a more select customer base.

Those of you who have been reading this column during the past five years know that at Arthurs-Jones we worked very hard to create some identifiable expertise in several product areas, including annual reports, real estate brochures, pharmaceutical technical information, furniture promotional sales catalogues, foreign care folders, mutual fund materials and wallpaper books. Up until we decided that it made more sense to use the knowledge we had gained in an industry to sell to others in the same industry, we chased virtually any print order that required ink on paper.

Many companies are missing out on opportunities by failing to create niche markets

Creating an industry niche
The first question everyone asks is: “How do you convey to new customers that you have the expertise to be useful?” This is not a difficult task. Regardless of where you are, printing needs exist that are specific to each geographic and economic region of the country. For example, an Ottawa-based printer could specialize in printing materials for the many associations headquartered there.

Similarly, much of Canada has a thriving tourist industry and one might want to produce materials for sightseeing attractions, or possibly the motel and bed-and-breakfast industries. In southwestern Ontario, the high-tech industry needs information booklets and other printing to package with consumer and industrial products. Virtually every city has a university or a college, both of which require booklets, brochures and folders describing the courses, activities available at the school and opportunities for those who graduate.
There are many opportunities to sell printing to the entertainment industry throughout the country and that could be everything from advertising material for the local fall fairs to community organizations in theatre or music, to promoting different sporting events.

Whatever the industry, customers have many of the same challenges. When you can articulate some of the challenges you faced and the solutions you recommended, you get attention. Being able to discuss first-hand what happened during the production process, and being able to make the story interesting and credible for your customers definitely gets their attention. In fact, they will often know a counterpart at other companies where you’ve done work and can verify the details you’ve described. Expecting that a finished folder or brochure will be so unusual that it will capture the customer is highly unlikely. You must be able to describe how you were of benefit to other clients and why you will be valuable to them.

While I have used quite simplistic examples to make a point, every printing order is custom produced and that requires great care and attention if it’s going to exceed customers’ expectations. The contribution a sales rep can make to this process is almost immeasurable and it’s this effort that will clinch more work and more customers.

If you are wondering where to start, I suggest you go through your last three months’ docket bags and remove samples that were well-produced or had unusual features. Think of others in the same industry and tailor your pitch accordingly based on benefits you can offer. Each piece you pull out is an opportunity for pinning down other clients. After you’ve been successful with two or three accounts in the same industry, you can describe yourself as an industry specialist.
Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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