Taking Advantage Of The Printer-Paper Merchant Relationship

by Joanne Whitcher, MyPrintResource.com


Contrary to the goings on at the The Office’s Dunder Mifflin, where staff spent more time planning how to sabotage co-workers than ever helping customers, paper merchants play a critical role in the distribution of paper throughout the graphic communications industry.

While many of the largest printers enjoy a direct line to mills, for medium and small-sized firms paper merchants are often the lifeline to ensuring that paper is on the shop floor when needed.

In today’s graphic communications environment, where print runs can stretch the gamut from one on up, output on a wide variety of devices and presses, both digital and analog, having that partner relationship with a paper merchant can make all difference when ensuring your print job is ready for your customer.

More than just a middleman, paper merchants recommend brands based on performance, availability, and cost. They are, at the core, consultants, ready to offer both recommendations and technical information to help their printer partner get the best paper for the job.

Fully stocked sample departments, says Jason Levy, general manager, Paper Mart Inc., allow us “to help a printer match the correct paper with the printing application to satisfy the customer’s specific needs.”

With diverse choices from both substrates and equipment available from one single source, there are fewer steps involved for printers to develop new offerings and expand their business models, explains Dennis Killiion, xpedx’s director of marketing, graphics.

With merchants suffering from many of the same market forces as their customers—volatile economy, encroachment of alternative media, stiff competition, demands for quick response to customers’ needs, and consolidation—many are bringing in additional services, branching out into offering ink and toner, packaging, and janitorial services to remain profitable, secure new customers, and maintain their loyalty base, reports InfoTrends in its Paper Merchant Survey 2011. The NPTA Alliance partnered with InfoTrends to produce the report.

For example, xpedx looks to use its “extensive industry knowledge to help printers develop strategies to grow sales and enter new markets, as we have with our Wide Format Solutions Summits this year,” says Killion. “Because xpedx provides expertise on the entire workflow, from start to finish, printers can expect one-stop-shop service from us when they are focused on more than just a single aspect of their business.”

Paper Mart offers qualified customers the services of its on-site envelope printing department, which produces in excess of 3 million impressions per day. Additional services include folding, scoring, perforating, drilling, cutting and customized packaging.

Advancing technology has given printers greater access to information and products available from distributors. All xpedx customers have access to its ecommerce platform, which offers real-time inventory availability and pricing, reorder templates, robust catalogs, and environmental purchase reports. Print providers who use EFI PrintSmith, Pace or Monarch are able to directly integrate with xpedx through its Website, streamlining estimating and purchasing.


Focus on Paper

However, not all paper merchants have gone that route. Case Paper continues to focus on prime paper, shoring up its relationships with printers with a range of converting equipment in-house that allows it to custom convert paper in different sizes for its customers.

Its newest sheeter, the Maxson MDH, is designed to sheet up to four webs of lightweight grades of paper or heavier board grades. Its compact design lets Case run both short and long production orders, while accommodating the needs of digital, folio, and large format sheet markets and delivering press ready skids to customers.

A new custom-built Catbridge two-drum surface slitter winder –the company’s third slitter–is precision engineered at 86 inches wide and able to perform up to twenty cuts, going as narrow as two inches.

Forming partnerships with its customers is key to the service we provide, says Simon Schaffer, CMO & Director Specialty Papers and Board and the grandson of Irv Schaffer, one of the founders of the 70-year-old company.

“Our business model is centered around responding quickly to customers, whether it’s giving them an answer or product,” says Schaffer. “We’ve had salespeople wake up at 3:00 a.m. to check on a truck because they know the delivery is important to a customer.”

That model not only includes 24/7 service, a sales force that is completely focused on providing hands-on service, but also an inventory management program.

“Printers today are keeping less inventory; one of our strengths is that we maintain and keep a large inventory,” says Schaffer.

“Reinvesting in new, top of the line equipment, increases our ability to respond to what the market needs,” says Schaffer. “If you need something custom-converted in 48 hours, we can do that.”

A new specialty division incorporates the same type of work ethic of delivering high-level customer service, and applying it to delivering specialty papers, says Schaffer.

“If a printer has a problem, we present a solution, no matter what they are printing,” he says. “There are a lot of different papers suited to what they are printing, so we take on the role of consultant and find the best fit. Because we deal on a global scale, and have access to a huge variety of paper/paperboard grades, we can offer our knowledge to our customers the right paper.”

A part of its partnership service is that customers always speak with a “live” person when ordering; despite the ubiquity of e-commerce Case doesn’t do online ordering.

Speaking to a live person allows Case salespeople to ensure their customers are making the right choice. “We had one customer that prints little cards that are shipped all around the company,” says Schaffer. “We were able to suggest paperboard that was 15 percent lighter, so even if the price of the paper was the same, the weight advantage was a no-brainer.”


A Strategic Partner

At Paper Mart, the mission is to become an extension of its customers’ business, functioning like a strategic partner.

“We work towards understanding our client’s objectives so that in turn our clients do not need to worry about their paper selection,” says Levy. “Once a client places an order with us, the last thing the he or she should be worried about is their paper or envelope order. This in turn provides the customer with the ability to focus on other aspects of their business.

To become a printer’s partner in achieving success, salespeople are trained to listen, to understand what they really need. “The ability to understand the different attributes of the products in addition to understanding how they run on the different pieces of equipment is standard practice here,” says Levy.

Paper Mart also gives its customer personalized service from a live expert Monday through Friday.  Each customer request is handled with the same high level of urgency, care and precision, says Levy.

A recent addition to its service program is a Website that offers industry specific tools for the printer, including an envelope glossary, an envelope directory and size guide, a digital stocking guide, a paper glossary, a paper estimator, and a basis weight/GSM equivalent chart.