Lessons from the Gold Rush


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Lessons from the Gold Rush
Adding value to what you print

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Back in the heady days of the San Francisco and Klondike gold rushes, the guys who made the real money were running saloons, selling shovels, picks, and maybe jeans, if the legend of Levi Strauss is to be believed. The gold may have been in the ground but the real profits came from selling the stuff that made getting gold possible. These items all added value to the backs and arms and temperaments of the guys panning and mining for gold.

So, you may ask, what is the 21st century equivalent for print providers? Good question, with answers that vary somewhat by market, but one sure money maker is adding value to what you print.

Just one word: Booklets.
There are several ways to do this, some requiring massive capital investments—like new presses with 7-figure price tags—while more modest cash infusions can deliver real value and give you an ROI in a matter of months. These days I’m not on the road the way I used to be so I made some calls. One thing really stood out was something that’s easy to produce while adding value for the customer and being useful for the recipient. Booklets.

I’m not talking about those cookie-cutter 6 x 9-inch, saddle-stitched self-cover things you crank out for a buck or so each in a race to the bottom. These days the value is in booklets driven by customer data, using different sheet sizes, two or more substrates, and maybe some additional touches like embossing or die cutting, all on a mission to represent a customer’s brand and be something a consumer hangs on to and uses when placing an order. A well-done booklet can be a powerful brand building tool.

Booklet in hand, recipients will probably place orders online or over the phone, partly because of Covid but also because it’s easy. And people love easy. In fact, for the past several years high-end to mid-range retailers have reported sales surges from customers using printed catalogs when placing online or phone orders. Many of the booklets they use are customized or at least regionalized. Print and electronic media, it turns out, work really well together.

Moreover, the items offered up in a data-driven catalog can be tailored to customer habits and preferences. Have you noticed, for instance, how Amazon, or Home Depot or Lowe’s sends you emails about products you’ve looked at but not purchased, as well as listings for competing products? Depending on where your spending places you on a company’s food chain, you may also get a 16- to 24-page personalized booklet loaded replete with items you have considered along with pictures and info on competing products. I don’t spend enough to get a lot of the booklets, but I spend enough to get way too many direct mail offers about all kinds of stuff I’ve perused online. Maybe this is why the items in the booklet I get from Bass Pro Shops are different than those in the version my son-in-law gets. I fish. He hunts. And somebody (or something) notices. Filling in the blanks, a big-data maven I know explained how our shopping habits are being leveraged. It’s all data-driven, based on your purchases and things you look at online, with booklet-style catalogs being the easiest way to reach into the wallets of consumers. A lot of these showed up in homes across America before Christmas. Allergic as I am to most forms of shopping, it almost made me afraid to turn on my computer again.

Where the value begins
It used to be that making booklets that were more than basic involved the pricey finishing systems I saw in many big commercial print operations. All required skilled operators, which added to the price of the machine. Now, having visited shops where smaller finishing machines are the norm I kept hearing how these devices can be the heroes of increasing value and putting bigger numbers on the bottom line. To find out more I called Rick Salinas, vice president of marketing at Duplo. We talked about what makes these smaller machines stand out and who is buying them.

“It is the ability to combine raised UV printing with soft touch covers, unique page sizes, waterfall pages, variable page sizes and messaging geared to the individual does what the online experience can’t,” says Salinas. “It delivers a one-of-a-kind customer experience that creates a real perceived value.”

Ten years ago these types of booklets were very expensive to produce and sometimes required specialized finishing houses, adding time, cost and complexity to the process. “Today, Duplo booklet makers can produce these solutions easily, and in many cases set-up is a matter of minutes,” says Salinas. All the company’s machines use a PC-based controller that simplifies set up and aids coordination with digital presses.

Digital printing has been instrumental in how the finishing game has changed. Add in some data-mining and unique documents are ready to be produced. Duplo, for instance, partners with Ricoh to combine the functionality of a Ricoh C9100 series digital presses with the finishing options of a Duplo 600 PRO inline booklet maker that can combine different sheet sizes from the Ricoh press to create one-of-a-kind booklets that attract recipients’ eyeballs and can help generate orders.

“Such booklets—they’re really customized catalogs—are money-generators for print providers,” says Salinas. If the booklets are helping a company sell more of whatever it is they are selling, and a printer can put those targeted and memorable offers in people’s hands, the value is there, and a company will pay more for those booklets.”

One of the advantages is that machines like the 600 PRO enable a quick printer or small commercial shop to take on jobs it would have sent out or even turned down due to the apparent complexity of the job. I’ve spent a lot of time in smaller shops, especially franchises. Now, in talking with Salinas two things stood out as I learned more about these small machines. First is that not so many years ago some of these print shops were eking out maybe $750,000 in annual sales. Now, with a digital press or two and a couple of Duplo finishing devices they are knocking on the door of $2–3 million or more. Digital presses are certainly part of the story, but increased finishing options are letting small shops add capabilities that were once out of reach. Salinas mentioned this and added a second: flexibility. Franchises or multiple-location shops that have the same Duplo equipment can easily share jobs to help balance workloads. For instance, a shop with a packed schedule can send the finishing specs for a job to another shop with the same Duplo equipment and have the job finished there, because the PC controller software works the same way in both locations.

"You already have a press, so when you have to do the hard part you need the right finishing equipment,” says Salinas. “Unlike business cards, brochures and stationery, booklet makers can help generate profits that make your business worth more because you add value to more jobs.”


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