The End User – Fair Game or Game Over?

by John Mascari and Kelly Mallozzi, Specialty Finishing Group, Inc.
Alliance Publishing looked for a bindery to work with directly on its student agenda project.

There seems to be a serious debate going on in our industry. The question is this: “Should a postpress company sell to end-users (or, as we have always known them, the printer’s customers)?

Historically, most postpress companies have taken a hands-off approach when it comes to dealing with those industry service providers that have commonly been known as the printers’ customers. Here at Specialty Finishing Group (SFG), however, we think end users want and need to have the opportunity to work with us directly.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Printers give their customers great guidance on what is happening in the print world. Without print sales people, end users wouldn’t know about things like augmented reality, digital services or new security printing options, just to name a few. Because our relationships with printers are so mutually dependant, we need to return the favor.

It takes a community to keep print viable. There are many unbelievable finishing techniques available that make mail pieces stand out, help books jump off a retail shelf and give presentation folders that extra edge, but end users won’t hear about them unless someone specifically shows them what is possible. Our ability to share this specific knowledge with printers and their customers is vital to ensure the best decisions are made when deciding how to get a project done. Remember that the needs of the end users drive technological advancement for us and for the printers as well.

Postpress drives the bus

There are times when postpress operations are the driving force in the “end user game”. Specialty Finishing Group has established customer relationships in which SFG was chosen as the finishing partner as part of a separate process, rather than in tandem with a printer. One of these relationships is with WebbMason, one the country’s largest marketing services organizations. While WebbMason is not the end user for the Catholic Church Extension calendar project, the marketing services firm works directly with SFG, as well as working with the printer. The complexity of the project required that WebbMason choose a bindery that could adapt quickly to an ordering process that changes at a moment’s notice.

The Catholic Church Extension calendar project encompasses nearly three million calendars for more than 5,000 churches located across the US. According to Paul Kill, WebbMason account executive, the complexity of managing more than 5,000 unique orders required a bindery partner whose production system could link directly with the ordering system, which has the ability to take orders for the calendars 24/7. SFG developed a custom solution to process data on a daily basis, updating the system to track a project’s progress through production.

“The ability to check on the status of an individual order at any moment and see where we are in the manufacturing process allows us to be proactive in our communication with our customers, which is critical in a high-transaction environment,” said Kill. “Having that information in real-time provides us flexibility in terms of what we are able to do for a customer at the last minute, while at the same time minimizing the financial impact that traditionally is associated with last-minute requests. At the end of the day, it is really about our ability to better serve our customers,” said Kill.

For WebbMason, the advantage is that modifications can be made on the fly while SFG is binding 60,000 calendars a day. These calendars can have last minute changes – date changes, changes in shipping information or even changes in the data contained within the calendar itself. It was important that the bindery’s production system be able to handle the customization and modifications, while also reporting the changes back to the data management company. SFG regularly works with the printer to make sure everything runs smoothly, working out issues behind the scenes, which frees WebbMason to stay focused on the big picture.

At Alliance Publishing, the company publishes customized student agendas. Greg Pappas, principal, said, “In the beginning, this project was produced by a printer who dealt with the binding for us as well. But, as we grew, we moved the printing to a web printer and made the decision to work with a bindery directly. As we made our decision, we chose not the cheapest, or the closest, but a partner we could trust to bring us new ideas and keep up with us technologically.”

Alliance approached SFG based on information found on the bindery’s website and toured five bindery facilities before choosing to place the project with SFG. For SFG, this project involved five body types, 22 different covers, pouches and sticker sheets – any number of different items that can be bound into the book. A school can order personalized sheets under the front cover, which could range from one page of contact information to a fully customized school handbook. The orders range from 25 books to 5,000 and are completely customized.

Again, the complexity of the project requires that the bindery be an integral part of the complete production process, rather than a sub-agent of the printer. SFG has successfully managed its relationships with the printers and the end users by following a few guidelines.

Tips for stepping outside of the sales comfort zone

Based on the points of view of both of these end users, here are some DOs and DON’Ts to consider when dealing with an end user directly.

Do: Be sure your print customers know the capabilities of your business. Feature new technologies, new processes and ways to do things more productively. The very act of introducing new ideas may convince the printer to showcase your work to more end users.

Do: Call on end users, marketing agencies, publishers and print management companies that are not in your print client’s circles. Stop operating within a specific geography – today’s global marketplace ensures that we can work productively with companies far beyond our geographic scope.

Do: Ask if you can go with the print salesperson as a team to show your service offerings to the end user. In a true partnership, a focus on results will win more business for both of you.

Don’t: Sell directly to your print client’s customers. This is bad business, unless…

Do: Ask a print sales manager, salesperson or owner if you can sell directly to one of their clients if there’s a compelling reason. There may be situations where the complex nature of the work makes more sense for the customer to work directly with the binder or finisher. Not every situation has a one-size-fits-all solution.

Do: When you get an estimate request from an end user and then receive a request for the same project from a printer, suggest that you see the client together. A team approach might serve the client better and helps to solidify your relationship with the printer at the same time. Dream Team!

Don’t: Give pricing to end users if your print client takes you with them. The printer is allowing you to show your inventive services, so support your client and let the print salesperson guide your next steps.

Do: Share information with a printer who introduced you to an end user. Information that helps them sell more to their clients will make you indispensable to the printer. Bringing this type of added value to the relationship helps you stay relevant and ensures the customer is consistently thrilled.

Don’t: Be secretive or do anything that could be perceived by your print client as shady. Err on the side of over-communication and be VERY transparent.

We would love to hear more from you about this, especially from printers. Can you give us more Dos and Don’ts? Let us know. Good luck, and happy selling. Game on!

John Mascari is the executive vice president of Specialty Finishing Group, Inc. For more information, visit