Loose Leaf Stays Relevant

As Loose Leaf Suppliers Consolidate or Close, Leaders Rely on Speed and Service

by Melissa Larson, contributing writer, PostPress
Custom-shaped telescoping box designed for a unique promotional job. Created by Trends Presentation Products.
As recently as the ’90s, most of the collective knowledge of American companies – not to mention procedures, records, presentations and the like – were kept in stacks of three-ring binders. Today, with so much of that content residing on PCs, in data centers and cloud storage, there is a steadily shrinking market for printed binders.

Still, today’s custom binders are able to create an effective tool for business-to-business or business-to-consumer marketing. Digital printing and finishing techniques, low minimum orders, fast turnaround and a custom look with unique decoration mean that marketers can get exactly what they want, and get it fast. That goes for not only binders, but sales kits, tote boxes, packaging, etc.

Savvy corporations also know there are instances – for example, when handling legal and financial documents – where storing information electronically can introduce the possibility of the sensitive information being compromised.

Also, a printed document can sometimes be more easily shared if marketers wish to disseminate information to a large group of people at the same time. And custom binders and other information kits are the perfect takeaway from a meeting or presentation.

So how can custom loose leaf manufacturers fight off obsolescence and make the most of their capabilities and the advantages of a printed binder?

Consolidation: a fact of life

Cadillac Presentation Solutions created this e-flute box, which holds badges and lanyards framed by water-jet foam with a pocket for cards and a hub to hold a DVD.As the commodity loose leaf houses consolidate or close, the leaders seem to be those companies that embraced new technology early and quickly expanded their product offerings.

“The best outcome of change is that slowly the generic commodity and stagnant manufacturers have stepped aside, allowing the vibrant and viable producers to spread their wings,” said Kurt Streng, president, Cadillac Looseleaf Products, Troy, Michigan.

Cadillac is an established supplier of digital and wide format printing, as well as CAD cutting for prototype and short-run production. Cadillac also offers custom fabric and textile swatching, which utilizes the company’s bindery resources, as most swatch boards are packaged in a binder or box.

“There has been a lot of consolidation in the industry over the last few years and it’s still happening now,” commented David Inman, sales and marketing manager, Trends Presentation Products, Washington, Missouri. “Through all the changes going on out there, we have remained a strong supplier of turned-edge products.”

“Turned-edge” is the term used to describe premium or high-quality book binding. It also can be used to describe products on which cover materials are wrapped and turned around the board edge, producing a smooth, finished look.

Trends Presentation Products was also one of the first to enter the digital market. According to Inman, the company purchased its first Xeikon digital press in 1999. The company has since upgraded and replaced its digital press three separate times. This not only has provided the wide format printing needed for the larger capacity ring binders and packaging items, but it also made them competitive for smaller custom orders.

“Of course, we also have had to adapt over the years,” Inman continued. “We are running leaner than ever before, but we have been very fortunate to sustain good business through it all. We may be a little more selective on what types of projects we take on, but for the most part we haven’t had to change much.”

Custom finishing techniques

A seminar in a box was produced by Cadillac Presentation Solutions incorporating a magnetic closure, a bolted-in handle and custom-cut, high-density foam to secure the contents.

As the photos throughout this piece make clear, the custom binders available today bear little resemblance to the primary color, vinyl-over-chipboard binders common in the past. Instead, they sport custom materials, full-bleed photography, foil highlights, custom hinging and other postpress techniques.

For those customers who may not know exactly what they want, competent binder/loose leaf manufacturers can offer design help and recommendations to make the piece truly unique – whether that includes graphics recommendations, a variety of paper types and weights, complementary hardware options, or whether to include pockets.

While suppliers acknowledge the overall binder pie is shrinking, they emphasize they are surviving by delivering a high-quality product, in smaller quantities, to meet tight deadlines. To do that, they’re using digital printing, turned-edge construction and up-to-date finishing techniques.

“Our ability to diecut, screen print, foil stamp and deboss items in-house also provides our customers a convenient opportunity to create that unique item they are looking for,” said Inman. “We also can print and laminate wide format digitally. This becomes important when producing the larger digital turned-edge tote boxes, ring binders, sales kits and promotional boxes. All these items have become a big part of our business. It’s all about customization and unique decoration now.”

“Digital printing and finishing has complemented our growth and helped us run traditional finishing at the speed of digital,” said Streng. “As quantities are getting lower, and budgets bigger, we can deliver precisely the product the customer wants to represent their brand.”

Speed of turnaround

Loose leaf manufacturers that have invested in digital printing and new finishing technologies can offer customers a big advantage: speed. For instance, the Trends website offers digitally printed Fast Impression binders with 4-color process on the company’s Xeikon printer for a price the company says is half the cost of offset printing – and shipping – in three days.

“Speed on job turnarounds is also becoming the priority when awarding jobs – above price, quality and service. Today’s access to information is almost instantly available, and the speed of doing business is becoming just as fast. Customers want their products fast. Those that can meet those demands often have an edge.”

In the long run, Inman expressed hope that the turnaround speed aspect of his company’s offerings serves as an incentive for marketers to buy from American companies, closer to home. He also hopes that turnaround speed will balance the tendency for customers to go to overseas suppliers to save a few cents on each binder.


Custom turned-edge slipcase and ring binder set from Trends Presentation Products.

When asked their assessment of the market 3 to 5 years in the future, Streng and Inman made it clear they feel their companies are responsible for their own destinies.

“We see a continued growth in the custom market,” said Streng.  “Quantities are getting lower and budgets bigger to deliver precisely the product the customer wants to represent their brand. For us, market share and diversity has grown. There are days in the shop you wouldn’t believe there was a decline in the binder business.”

Trends, one of the few binder manufacturers that does not sell direct or use an online website to sell directly, makes use of resellers and must take those relationships into account.

Said Inman, “We need to decide how we can continue to grow in a shrinking market. We have positioned ourselves well by choosing to enter the digital market early on, but now our outreach is becoming limited. As the digital age of sharing information increases, and more and more use the cloud for data storage, fewer resellers are wanting to sell our items. We’ll need to continue to find creative ways to promote and push out our products.”

Cross-Training Benefits Next Generation of Employees

For many commercial printers and finishers, a looming concern is finding qualified employees. As David Inman of Trends Presentation Products commented, “We have been very fortunate to retain many of our employees over the years. We are now entering a point where many are beginning retirement. Most of our employees have been here for 20-plus years. This has always been a huge advantage for us. Our internal systems and checkpoints on quality control and accuracy have correlated directly to the quality of staff we’ve been lucky to have. Hiring and replacing these employees will be our next big challenge.”

It’s not as though interested prospects can’t find a place to take a course on, for instance, digital or 4-color printing. Whether through community college courses, online courses or in-person industrial training, such opportunities exist. But does that give prospective printers the kind of training that allows them to step into a real-world manufacturing environment? Not necessarily.

Trends has elected not to leave that to chance. “We are trying to cross-train our new employees in different areas of the plant as we begin replacing some of our retirees,” he said. Cross-training not only will allow the company to retain these valuable employees, but also contribute to productivity.

“It not only allows us, as a company, to run and operate a little leaner (being able to shift staff around to different areas as needed), but it also allows the employee to learn multiple functions of the plant, keeping them motivated as well,” Inman concluded. It’s hard to find young, motivated workers that want to do manufacturing work these days. They want to learn and try new things. Allowing and providing some flexibility in the workplace has helped us, and them.”