Today’s guest post is from Brian Seipel, a marking project expert at Source One focussed on helping corporations achieve both marketing and procurement objectives in their strategic sourcing projects.
In Part I, we noted that the printed materials that accompany products are an important part of any business. Yet, despite the slipping quality or rising prices, it is all too easy to stick with the same print shops year after year to fulfill this need, never pushing back, even when the cost savings can be substantial. In our last post, we addressed some ways to control costs without changing suppliers. Sometimes they are enough, but if they are not, then you go back to market.
Taking a Look at New Suppliers
For every good relationship between a printer and customer, there are plenty of bad ones as well. With a long-term relationship, it is easy to hold a supplier less and less accountable — Quality issues may arise more often, SLAs may be ignored more frequently, and pricing could easily become less competitive if you aren’t challenging your incumbent. For any of these reasons, it may be time to start looking for a new supplier.
So, what are the most important factors when searching for viable alternates? See the list below for just a few key criteria:
- Start your search with shops that specialize in your specific type of job.
Would a digital print shop be more viable than an offset printer? Are you looking for single pages of print or full color, bound product manuals? Do you have a need for variable-data printing for labels?
- Evaluate shops in terms of their capacity.
Is there facility and staff large enough to complete your jobs? Is there enough storage space to handle the capacity you are bringing to them?
- Keep an eye on deadlines.
Make sure all shops can describe their turnaround time and on-time delivery rate guarantees.
- Quality control is key.
You’ll want to be sure to learn not just about QC programs in place, but how the shop responds to drops in quality and the escalation procedures they follow to get things back on track.
- Identify distribution centers and map them against your final destination points.
Other logistics concerns, like multi-point shipping, inventory management, warehousing, and kitting services may also be key to your relationship.
These are all excellent points to cover when vetting potential partnerships, but it isn’t enough to take their word for it. The proof is in the pudding, and you’ll want any shops on your list to back up their claims:
- Bake key promises into SLAs.
When shops make promises around any of the points above, be sure to get them in writing. Codify not just the promises made, but also any related KPIs, penalties for not living up to expectations, and a clear plan for escalating and rectifying problems should they arise.
- Schedule facility tours.
Take a look around the shops, themselves, and consider whether the capabilities and capacity visible match the company’s claims.
- Ask for references, and follow up.
Tours provide a snapshot of what a shop can do for you, but you will need some history to understand if a prospective alternate is a viable long-term partner. Ask about consistency in quality and ability to hit deadlines. Find out how shops perform when something goes awry, and how they managed to fix the issue.
Push Your Suppliers to Do Better
Some printers, recognizing their role as a partner and not just a supplier, will approach clients with ideas for process or product improvements, and recommend cost savings strategies that alleviate budget pressure without reducing quality. Many other printers — don’t.
When was the last time your printer came to you with a great idea to achieve any of these goals? If it’s been too long, or never happened in the first place, now is the time to push them to prove why they’re the best shop for the job. If they can’t, it may be time to see what else the market has to offer.