Keeping up with e-bidding
Online estimating, by most accounts, will be a good thing for print shops
In previous columns I’ve looked at printing companies that have created Web sites and examined their efforts to set up an online process for requesting estimates. These are the first steps on the way to electronic commerce, a process that’s been getting quite a lot of attention lately. The next e-business step would be online bidding services that link printers and buyers. And there are companies out there, including a couple of Canadian enterprises, that bear looking at. E-commerce, or using the Internet to do business, is not an entirely new concept for printers. Many are familiar with Merx (www.merx.cebra.com), the procurement system for Canadian federal, provincial and some municipal governments. This service has been revamped during the past two years and now is used to announce government projects available for tender. All projects more than $25,000 must be posted on this site.
The cost of this fee-based service is $6.95 a month and about 1,500 projects are listed daily. Obviously, it’s not limited to printing jobs. You can subscribe and have your company listed in the database. The Merx service will search for job opportunities that match your defined specs, contact you by e-mail or fax and ask you to submit a quote. You can decide which projects you wish to tender on and then follow the instructions from the requesting department or agency. And since the projects originate with the government, you are entitled to find out the award price for the contracts you lost. More recent bidding services include PrintMarket (www.printmarket.com) and Printbid.com (www.printbid.com). These U.S.-based services typically are free for the print buyer and charge a small fee to the printer. The fee could be a small percentage for jobs awarded with the service, ranging from 0.5% to 2.5%, with a maximum service fee of $750.
You shouldn’t bet the bank that you will have a lot of business from these services. One online bid firm boasted it already had 2,500 customers using its system. But its database totalled 62,000 printers so it may take a long time for the right opportunity to come your way. Some of the newer services incorporate file transfer and soft proofing services, as well as print-bidding services, into their package. This creates an added value for the printer and buyer and makes it a little easier to do business long-distance. They include Noosh (www.noosh.com) and MyOrderDesk (www.myorderdesk.com). When you visit the sites, you will see that they have created a sophisticated electronic request-for-quote form. One estimating and management information system vendor says his company is building a link to accept the downloaded data directly into its estimating system. Estimators will be able to calculate the price more quickly and accurately, since the customer has keyed in the raw data.
So far the majority of these services operate largely in the U.S. Here at home, FileFlow announced a new service last November called PrintBroker.com (www.printbroker.com). At press time the service wasn’t up yet, but it will be worth checking out when it goes live.
MyOrderDesk from PagePath Technologies is also making inroads in Canada. PagePath is well known for its product LAUNCH!, a software used for transferring files.
Another Canadian debut is online estimating from Scantex (www.scantex.com). Scantex is a Mississauga-based, full-service commercial printer. Its approach is different from other online bid systems and varies from printing companies that display an RFQ on their Web sites. The Scantex site is loaded with an interactive estimating module. You can select from a list of pre-formatted products, choose from a number of options, such as colour or stock requirements, and get an instant price. This feature is convenient but, at this time, the options seem to be limited.
Let’s consider how this process will impact the traditional roles in your printing company. By most accounts, it will be positive. First, since the RFQs and relevant specs are channeled to your firm directly, it could eliminate the role of the sales person in the process. Next, with the data linking the RFQ directly into the estimating system, it can reduce the number of estimators needed on staff. With lower commissions and a lighter administration load, one Internet bid firm estimates that the online process could reduce printing costs by 15% to 25%. This would be great news for customers and, if the cost savings are real, a welcome development for printers too.
But we can go further. The online process also facilitates digital file transfer so visiting a customer’s office to pick up material is no longer necessary. This process has already been successful in the digital print service sector.
Let’s see, no sales people, fewer estimators, and now properly prepared files that can print directly on digital printers. This may sound far fetched, but it is how some businesses are already operating.
It appears progress is being made to bring printers into e-commerce, though this should not come as a surprise since they have been dealing with digital data for decades. Now the world is also going digital and printers must continue to evolve and keep up with the way clients prefer to do business.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.