How suppliers are ready for a New World... and what printers can learn from them
Industry suppliers are bracing themselves for the future after COVID-19. Sonja Angerer shares 4 important key business strategies that printers can incorporate to their businesses which will allow them to thrive during and after COVID-19.
As COVID-19 remains prevalent, it is evident that there is now a different “new normal” which suppliers are already bracing themselves for. Here are 4 important key strategies that printers should look into now and after the virus.
Caption: The road to a post-pandemic era is still uncertain. Photo Credit: S. Angerer
People have not looked forward to spring and summer as much as they have in 2021, as all over the northern hemisphere people are eager for COVID cases to finally drop. While in summer 2020, almost everybody was certain that the worst was already behind them, society and the economy are now starting to accept the hard truth that the virus may still linger in some shape or form for years to come.
Suppliers, with their international distribution, bigger work force and long planning circles may be a little ahead of the game.
Four key steps should be taken into account for printers to protect the future of their businesses:
Don´t be afraid to adapt your management
Aim to sell direct, don´t rely on platforms and partners only
Create a steady source of income
Explore new lines of business
Strategy 1: New Times May Need New Leaders
Caption: The new Swissqrint Executive Board, from left: Kilian Hintermann. (new CEO), Hansjörg Untersander (R&D), Roland Fetting (Head R&D), Reto Eicher (new CTO). Photo Credit: Swissqprint.
On the 1st January 2021, Swissqprint founder, CEO Reto Eicher stepped down from his position to make way for long-term product manager and Print Solutions Centre manager Kilian Hintermann. Eicher will remain with the company as CTO, focussing on product development.
The reasons behind this decision remain unknown to the public. However, it illustrates beautifully one of the most important strategies to tackle a crisis: never be afraid to update the management team. Leadership is one of the key assets to ensure a company´s health.
This is not applicable to financial success, but it is more so for company spirit. The new, post-pandemic world will quite likely require a different management style, as workforces become more remote and diverse in general. Face-to-face contact may remain scarce for many more months and also supply chains may change.
This new management style not only needs to adapt to the new reality but embrace it. If a person in Senior Management feels stressed, overwhelmed, or cut off by a more fluent working environment, this is totally understandable. But it may also significantly reduce the company´s ability to adapt to the new, inevitable circumstances. The danger of continuing using outdated management structures is relevant for family-owned businesses, which many printers are. This is why future-minded leaders continuously adapt for their company´s best interest as well as their personal goals in life.
Strategy 2: Direct Sales is it
In the summer of 2017, IVM SignTex was announced as a partner for Kornit Digital in Germany for their DTG range. However in January 2021, IVM was made partner of Austrian Aeoon Technologies, as they claimed Kornit Digital decided to sell directly to their German customers, effectively cutting out the partner / distributor level.
The textile printer manufacturer joins a long list of manufacturers trying to get more direct access to their key customers in creating their own show rooms and regional sales departments, as well as certification systems for distributors and dealers.
While distribution partners help with local expertise and customer access, they also need to take their share of the revenue for their efforts. But many printers still sell their goods and services only or mainly through their business partners: advertising agencies, trade fair constructors, shop fitters and online platforms. While this may save them the trouble of dealing deal end customers, it also cuts them off from ever having access to them in the first place.
This not only means a significantly shorter value chain, but also a missed opportunity for printers to profit from the quite likely re-regionalisation of supply chains in the coming years. Setting up a direct (online) channel might therefore be helpful even for smaller printers.
Strategy 3: Keep the Revenue Flowing
Caption: Industry suppliers like EFI, Durst (in picture) and HP are building eco-systems around their products. Printers could adapt this strategy with their own customers. Photo credit: Screenshot Durst Video.
Investment goods manufacturers, regardless of their line of business, have always had the same problem: once the equipment has been sold, it’s very unlikely that customers will buy another piece anytime soon.
While service contracts have long established a limited, but steady revenue flow, today´s complex software requirements in the printing industry have helped manufacturers like EFI, Durst and HP establish ecosystems around their hardware. Many of them have a free tier, but still, they help to draw printers into their world. Changing suppliers is becoming more and more difficult, as the cost not only extends to machinery, but also the software and workflow. Therefore, repeat business is almost inevitable. Think the Android / iOS change-over problem, but in business scale.
In the near future, printers will most likely do most of their business online, it is therefore crucial to find ways to also build an eco-system for their customers to keep them coming back for more. There are quite a few players in the digital printing and sign-making industry that already offer their key account customers private portals where they can seamlessly order their standard items, ranging from business cards to POS materials.
With an online graphic portal (e.g. via Chili Publish) it is even possible to ingrain printing services directly into marketing or other departments. Users may design items they want conveniently in their browser, using templates to make sure that they always stay within the CI guidelines. Even internal approval circles can be applied. Sending the print-ready design to the partnering printer once everything is finished is only a click away. Bet on customers to think twice if they want to leave an eco-system as convenient (and timesaving) as this…
Strategy 4: Don´t Underestimate the Power of a New Product
Caption: As end consumers spent much more time in their own homes, the COVID-19 crisis might very well push the printed interior decorations trend far head. Photo Credit: S. Angerer
When Durst introduced their Habitat Air Disinfection System in autumn 2020, it came as a bit of a shock because by doing so, the company entered a whole new industry. While this step might be considered extraordinary, wide format industry suppliers are quite notorious when it comes to embracing other markets: Think of Mimaki´s and HP´s Line of 3D printers or the even the HP Stitch Dye Sublimation range.
Many printers have already adapted their product lines in the COVID-19 crisis by offering floor graphics, acrylic shields, masks and other gear to help tackle the pandemic. Still, it might be a good strategy to explore the longer-term effects of the Pandemic.
A renewed end consumer focus onto their own homes is an obvious consequence of all the months spent indoors. So, if there ever was a great time to introduce a new printed interior decoration line, it is now. Printers with an existing focus on textile may have an advantage here, but there is plenty of other ideas to choose from. They range from floor and window stickers to printed kitchen cabinet doors and tabletops. With online shopping becoming “the new normal”, additional target groups previously not very keen on using the internet might very well be even more susceptible to today´s digital printing possibilities for individual home decoration.
Crisis? What Crisis?
In the iconic 1975 Supertramp “Crisis? What Crisis” Album, a happy colourful guy enjoying himself despite an apocalyptic black-and-white industrial background. Is it mere escapism, or did he indeed find his happy place despite the grim situation around him? It seems, the possibility #1, escapism, has run out in the COVID-19 crisis for the whole European economy by now. Time for the wide format and sign-making industry to try and find option #2.
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