"There are a Number of Reasons Printers Hate Trade Binderies"

[Column #26, 2/97]

As much as I'd like to believe that all printers love trade binderies, I know that is just a pipe dream. As one of my customers so eloquently put it, "You either do a job in-house or outhouse."

But seriously, I would like to discuss just what it is that printers don't like about dealing with trade binderies. Recently I had an anonymous survey done and talked to a variety of printers about this subject. The sample was a cross-section of printers based on size, capability, and types of jobs they handle. Although the survey was not completely scientific, their answers were strikingly similar. These printers feelings can be summed up into five key issues. This article addresses each of those issues and my opinion on how trade binderies should be handling those concerns.

The key reason that printers dislike trade binderies is simply a matter of control. Printers are craftsmen. They view their work as an art form. Watching their work go out the door and into the hands of first, second, and third shift bindery workers who will be making quality decisions for them is very difficult. Printers also question the ability of bindery workers to catch problems that occurred during the printing process. Printers express these concerns in many different ways. While one respondent said, "We can't stand on the bindery line all day and watch and say, that isn't right."-another said "Our camera and prepress people put so much into a job. Sometimes it's tough because the bindery doesn't know the extra work that went into it." However the customer interprets this issue, it is a universal problem in the art world. We deal with issues of the heart every day.

Secondly, sending work to binderies means losing value-added services in-house. In other words, money that could have potentially stayed at the printer ends up at the bindery. To add to that problem, often print sales people are only commissioned on the value-added portion of the work they bring in, therefore, using outside bindery and finishing services seemingly provides them with no immediate benefit.

Thirdly, printers consistently express concern over failed communication on the part of the bindery. In particular, they want to know that anytime there is a problem-scheduling, deadlines, quality, or other-they are alerted immediately. Printers want to know what is happening with a job throughout the process and that the bindery is being open and honest. This issue also includes quick and accurate work during the quotation process. One respondent said, "Tell me everything I need to know upfront. I need to know that my CSR is knowledgeable and I expect him or her to tell me if there is a problem with my specs. Don't call me up after the fact and tell me that something is going to cost more than originally quoted. Don't take me prisoner after the fact."

Not surprisingly, issues concerning poor service, or a lack of service altogether, came up over and over in our survey results. Printers want accurate and speedy quotations, on-time deliveries (never mind the fact that 80% of jobs come in late), a well-staffed and knowledgeable sales and customer service force, speedy turnaround times, competitive pricing, and consistent handling of customer jobs according to their wants and needs.

Perhaps the biggest issue of all and the underlying force behind all of these printers' concerns is that of feeling that the bindery is not a partner-that there is a lack of honesty and, therefore, a lack of loyalty and trust on the customer's part. One respondent said, "I want my bindery to make me feel like my company is a part of theirs."

Although all of these concerns seem individual on the surface, they can be summarized into three solutions--quality products, quality service, and quality relationships. If you can accomplish those things, everything else happens by default.

Quality products do not come cheap. At Bindagraphics, our philosophy is that we are never doing everything to the best of our ability (just ask our customers) and that we must continually invest in cutting edge technology and implement the most stringent quality standards. With the onslaught of computer technology, this has become critical to our business. We have been working for more than a year to achieve ISO 9000 certification. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the term ISO, it stands for International Standards Organization and, unlike most quality management systems, provides internationally accepted and measurable standards of quality. The proactive nature of this system helps catch mistakes before they happen. Not only do we catch our own mistakes, our preflight monitor, who has extensive printing experience, catches problems in our customers' jobs almost immediately upon arrival. This saves time and money for the printer and the bindery. Printers should also keep in mind that we cannot charge time for this service although it is a necessity for on-time deliveries. (I know this is a mute point since printers don't make mistakes.) Our spoilages have been cut in half since we began our work to gain ISO certification. I never thought I would see the day that would happen! I will expand on the topic of ISO in a future issue.

So, here's all you need to do to offer consistently quality products. Implement systems like ISO, demand the best from everyone within the company, continually invest in the appropriate and newest technology, adopt a quality standards policy that assures continuous improvement, and keep your staff educated. No wonder I always have a headache.

The concern over the loss of value-added services is evidenced by the fact that many printers have acquired limited bindery equipment. Printers should remember that the extensive depth of service a good trade bindery can provide has several benefits. First, it allows print salespeople to expand their service offerings and land jobs they might not have otherwise won. It can provide printers the opportunity to take on work that is not typical for their business during slow periods to keep their presses running. And, it provides continuous cutting edge services that allow printers to stay competitive in the industry.

There is no denying that everyone wants to be nurtured in today's market place. Take it from me, an entrepreneur who sweats it out seven days a week, it is not a question of whether to jump on the bandwagon, it is a matter of survival. No matter how automated our society becomes, the key to survival has little to do with that technology. In the end, people are what matter. Any marketing expert will tell you that the nineties are back-to-basics, apple pie and baseball games, family and values. I can't tell you how often my customers have expressed the need to be nurtured (both overtly and covertly) and the effect that has had on my business. A true partnership means commitment from both parties. Vendors should be allowed to make an honest buck and customers should be able to rely on that supplier night and day through thick and thin. Developing partnerships does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process that requires constant communication, support, and a truly caring attitude.

There are many ways to foster those relationships and a slew of experts in the marketing field to assist in the process. Most of it is quite simple--listen carefully to your customers and respond to their needs, maintain constant communication by mail or phone, teach your customers about your business, provide them with updates about what is happening in the industry, help them plan their jobs effectively by maintaining a knowledgeable and helpful sales and customer service staff, and, most importantly, treat them with kindness and respect. I know I wish I was batting .500 in all those areas! (Taking them fishing and offering them box seats to see the Baltimore Orioles doesn't hurt either.) Developing partnerships requires huge investments of time, but, nothing else can buy the feeling of importance customers realize as a result of this process. The key is to force them to see that they simply cannot survive without you.

If you can accomplish these things, most of the issues these printers brought up are no longer of concern. Partnering results in honesty, trust, and loyalty. The issue of letting go of control becomes increasingly easier for customers to accept, communication happens almost automatically, and service becomes the driving force behind maintaining that partnership.

Remember that developing meaningful partnerships is crucial both internally and externally. Employee relationships are critical to the success of this philosophy. It makes sense that the partnerships with external customers wonât happen unless everyone on the inside is part of the process.

Sound tough? It is. Worth it? Definitely.

Next month, I will share with you the other side of this argument, "Why Do Printers Love Binderies?" I know many of you have comments relating to this article. I'd like to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me via fax, mail, phone, or E-mail anytime. I love a good argument.

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