Are you looking for a business? A partnership with a print distributor could be a good next step


As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and enter the endemic phase, many printers are taking stock of their business by asking, “What next? For some, working with a print distributor can be a great option.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and enter the endemic phase, many printers are taking stock of their business by asking, “What next? For some, the pandemic has been a time of great growth as they found niches with unmet needs and reinvented themselves in extremely profitable ways. For others, it was a time of great struggle. Either way, what they think of LunchNEarn “Expanding Opportunity Through Business Brokerage and Distribution” is dangling a carrot: maybe it’s time to engage with a distributor of printed.

The LunchNEarn was moderated by Richard Romano and featured presenters Matt Bruno, Executive Vice President of BrandChain, formerly Print Services and Distribution Association, and Greg Gill, new President of Brand Chain and current President and CEO of ThumbPrint, a distributor with major brand customers such as Hertz, Delta and GameStop.

The reason for renaming PSDA to BrandChain reflects a larger shift in the industry. Successful distributors who focused on selling print work became single-source suppliers of a wide variety of products, printed and non-printed, from promotional products to PPE. The most successful distributors have become problem solvers who engage with their customers at every level of the brand chain (you guessed it).

“Historically, we focused on the distributor (and we still do today), but the difference is that now we bring the whole supply chain together,” explains Bruno. “We’re not just looking to print or do promotions. We say it’s important to understand the full supply chain spectrum and offer the education, tools and community to help our members [be successful across all of it].”

Indeed, ThumbPrint, which is a member of BrandChain, defines itself not as a print distributor, but as a marketing, design, printing, promotion, clothing, technology, distribution, logistics company. and experience – something that Gill, who used to own a printing business, only became possible once he sold the business. “I took my knowledge of print production and became a distributor, where I could focus on strategy and problem solving,” he said. “When we talk to customers, their biggest issues come down to things like how to host an event or launch a brand nationally. It’s not, ‘I need a brochure.’ Or, “I want to order a branded mug or polo shirt.” It’s, ‘How do I get the metrics? How to launch this brand? I open all these offices – how can I put fences around expenses? »

It’s a lot like the printing industry was years ago when impression service providers (PSPs) were encouraged to be marketing service providers (MSPs). But the challenge for printers was, and remains, that it requires acquiring a whole new set of skills and expertise while maintaining the same production capabilities. It’s like training for two Olympic sports at the same time. Who has the bandwidth for that? Hence Gill’s decision to sell his printing business to focus on marketing and brand chain management.

W2P: the center of the Hub and Spoke model

To be fully at the center of true brand chain management, LunchNEarn presenters described, retailers rely on technology – web-to-print portals – in a hub-and-spoke model. This is a huge opportunity for printers to join forces with distributors as one of the spokes.

While distributors provide value to businesses of all sizes, many find that they have the best opportunities with large companies with multiple sites and high user numbers, which can lead to chaos in managing the Mark. To date, for example, ThumbPrint has built 127 individual web storefronts, has over 45,000 active users, and created efficiencies saving customers an average of $437,000 per year.

This model provides the depth distributors need to get into larger accounts whose needs extend far beyond any individual printer can offer. ThumbPrint incorporates web-to-print technology, including online auditing, reporting and inventory management, which allows its team to penetrate deeper into accounts with everything from commercial printing to branded promotional items. and augmented reality.

This pattern has largely emerged, Bruno noted, in the wake of the pandemic. “It started with companies calling a distributor and saying, ‘I have a problem. I need labels, but also masks and hand sanitizer. [When they needed to order something new or unusual], the distributor is the first person they called because they had been able to get them everything else. We have seen some companies become extremely successful this way.

Indeed, some companies (including ThumbPrint) saw their highest level of growth ever in 2020. “We probably moved about $9 million in PPE that year,” Gill recalls. “At the beginning of March 2020, we didn’t know anything about this market, but we had a lot of customers contacting us. It was a new market for everyone, and they didn’t know who to trust. We had to go through many relationships and we learned a lot. This resulted in great opportunities with national brands. We have helped them in areas related to the pandemic, so they have given us opportunities in others.

In fact, Gill continues, ThumbPrint now has three customers who were all previously PPE customers.

Changing the role of the distributor

As business needs have exploded, says Gill, the role of the distributor has deepened. Distributors are developing supply chains for customers who don’t have the time to do it themselves. “Unique sourcing is a big thing today,” notes Gill. “If you get a client, and because of your technology, they’re willing to say, okay, I have six vendors right now, but I’m going to hand it over to you. We bring together a multitude of businesses ranging from promotional, printing and apparel to signage and medical scrubs because they want to go through a single portal.

Gill also highlights the value of an organization like BrandChain, where networking and building partnerships are at the heart of membership value.

Commercial printers can win business from distributors, adds Bruno, by educating them on the value of their products and services to the distributor’s end user. “I love this pandemic story from one of our members, which was how one of his [distilled spirits] customers were looking to get out hand sanitizer. So the distributor came up with the idea of ​​putting hand sanitizer in the whiskey bottles. He was able to associate with a major record label [for this project], so while the distributor was getting the hand sanitizer, it was also building the customer’s label business. That’s a beautiful story.

The rest of the webinar focused on specific examples of the role of problem solving, particularly through the use of web-to-print dashboards to help customers monitor inventory and analyze data. . “The real-time electronic exchange of data is one of the main reasons retailers are looking to connect with their print partners electronically,” says Gill. “A lot of stores have 40-inch Heidelbergs. I am looking how can we connect [through technology]. What will our experience be? What information will we get back? How can we collaborate on a job? »

When Gill says “partner” that’s exactly what he means. He had print makers make calls with customers and make the real marketing pitch, depending on the situation.

“We are not looking for a partnership with every printer. We are looking for printers suitable for certain segments,” he says. “We want to set them up to be successful and give them business that will make them profitable. Data is an important part of [winning that business]. Can you collect data? Can you put it in a discernible order and dashboard type? Can you offer displays that help our customers manage their expenses? The clients we deal with spend millions of dollars, and they have to be accountable for it. They want to know how can we display this.

Gill ended the webinar by saying he sees more opportunities for distributors in the market today than he’s ever seen – “and I’ve been in this business since 1994,” he said. declared.

So if you’re looking for business, maybe partnering with a distributor is a good next step.


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