Are You a Print Shop, or a Business?

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Cannibal Hero

“If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” Steve Jobs

There has been a lot of discussion about a printer adding services that stretch beyond printing. Should I add design services? Should we offer data management? Will my client feel I am eating into the work they offer? All good questions, but the answers I have heard from many print shop owners is one of fear. Fear of being considered a competitor; fear of hiring staff and not having enough work; fear of creative responsibility. You get the point, a lot of fear. Printers need to take care of their customers by offering services that address marketing and informational needs. Cannibalizing is at its core a means of survival, and in business, success. It should not matter if you call yourself a printer, it should only matter that you take care of the customer. If you do not, someone else will.
Bon appétit!

At some stage in growing a business—or perhaps more relevant, staying in business—an owner has to consider expanding services to more comprehensively take care of a customer’s needs. With print being so near the tail end of the marketing process, it is difficult to control if a job comes to you. By the time it gets to the press room, many other influencers and decision makers have thought about, decided upon, created and finally sent the project to the printer. The only stage left is the last mile shipping, and there is little margin there to increase revenue.

Print providers can see possibilities in adding:

  • creative services (original content in the form of ideation)
  • production design (working with existing content and building variations for multiple channels)
  • data management for demographic targeting (drives direct mail and digital ads)

So, who’s cannibalizing who in these scenarios? You may lose a client, but you can gain a whole new market to serve.

Creative Services — Your primary client base is comprised of creative agencies, perhaps as much as 60 percent or more. An agency conducts market analysis, brand evaluation, focus groups to validate messaging and manage the brand through packaging and ad buys, both digital and print. Will they consider you a competitor? Can you afford the talent they employ to do those specialized services? If yes, then you are likely not planning on being a printer. Analytical services and programmatic execution are high margin, and you would be competing with the best. If you are US based, you are competing with the home base of advertising acumen. Wise choice? Yes, but only if you want to be an agency and not a printer. And know this, no agency wants to be a printer.


Production Design — Your primary client base is small to medium sized businesses. They employ an agency that created a brand for them. But the companies are looking for ways to squeeze as much brand-compliant work out of a tight budget; they cannot afford to pay the creative agency prices and ad placement markup. Production design services meet that need perfectly because a printer has guidelines as to what the finished products need to look like in regard to brand color palette, font rules, placement specific usages, per the corporate style guide. Do you have a staff member skilled in Adobe Creative Suite to execute the production files to print or web standards? Since these services drive print and are high margin, you are addressing a customer’s needs. They don’t care if you are a printer. They care very much that you are a service provider, and will pay to take advantage of what you can offer.

Brand Management — If your customer has marketing collateral that needs to be brand compliant, provide a website where properly designed materials can be ordered. These private e-commerce sites are the best control a company can have over the consistency of their public image. To be current, you manage the brand, control costs and maintain materials. These types of services are sticky and cannot easily be displaced, assuming you do a good job. Quality and cost control are the benchmarks of a stable vendor-partner relationship.

Data Management — Your primary client base relies on both print (direct mail) and digital ad services. Maintaining a mailing list from a CRM or tradeshow to make it hygienic or managing a digital ad release schedule with the required artwork are higher margin adjunct services. For direct mail, the service drives print. For digital ads, the service contributes to the skilled labor pool in the data services department. Again, it is a value expressly aimed at your customers.

Going Global — If your client base includes customers with e-commerce sites or is a multi-national corporation, is there an opportunity to offer international services? Many print franchises have affiliates throughout the world, and you can tap into their networks to access a variety of creative and print services. Can you provide marketing services in multiple languages? Several global networks exist that can be joined to expand your service area beyond your physical location. All these are opportunities for business growth with higher margin service sets. is designed to be a global resource for ordering print. Products are manufactured in country rather being shipped internationally, subject to customs delays and tariff charges.

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