Working with Outsourced Printing Partners

It happens all the time in printing and promotions: You have a client who gets all excited about a new project. But there is some twist to it. Maybe there is a scratch-off, or a special sticker, or a flag label. Or maybe a piece needs a special varnish on top of four-color. Or maybe there is a new package design coming, but it has to play well with the adhesive used on the package handle.

You want the work, and to maintain your relationship with the client. But this added little “twist” is something outside of the usual for your shop. Do you spend time trying to figure it out? (Will you need to invest in new machinery for what is essentially a once-in-a-while request?) Or do you try to discourage your client’s creativity so that their project can fit your capabilities? Or maybe send them to another shop entirely? (Wait, who wants to do that?)

Those “twists” are exactly the reason why just about every printer or promotions shop outsources at least some aspects of production. The real questions you should be asking are: 

  • Will I be able to keep the project profitable?
  • What should I look for in a printing partner?
  • How do I find a printing partner for my project?

You Can Make Projects More Profitable by Outsourcing

We once had a print broker tell us this story: She landed a large catalog job from a long-time client. The catalog had a few different parts: A color cover and inside pages, a perforated reply card that needed to be inserted, a sticker, and mailing services.

She shopped the project around to several shops in her area but was limited to those that had all of these capabilities. There were a range of bids, but all of them seemed a little high.

So this broker had a clever idea: Break the project up into smaller projects. She had one shop run and cut the color covers and insides, another do the black & white response cards, and a third do the final bookletizing and mailing. Because each piece went to a specialty shop, they not only got done more quickly, they were done within a much more sensible budget, too. Even with the costs of couriering the pieces between shops, the overall cost of the project was significantly lower than the large shops that tried to do everything in-house.

What was true for this one broker is true for other brokers and print shops as well. When you don’t have a certain specialization in-house, it is often faster and cheaper to use an outside partner, rather than trying to figure out things yourself in-house.

What to Look for in a Printing Partner

Bidding out those one-off projects is one thing. Your business will be in a better position, however, if it can find a reliable partner who can take on many of those off-capability projects. Building such a relationship helps to make for a more seamless workflow and more predictable, reliable production.

So what should you expect from such a partner? And what do you look for?

1) The right range of capabilities. This might seem obvious. But it is often hard to predict precisely what capabilities are needed before a project hits your radar. Look for partners with flexible capabilities—for example, here at PrintFlex, we can offer printers and print brokers a lot of options with our 16-color press and flexographic printing.

2) Good turnaround times. Vendors that try to do too much often have a lot of overhead, not to mention complicated internal processes. Vendors with less overhead (and that follow lean manufacturing principles) not only tend to be more cost effective, but they can handle any size job while still providing quicker-than-average turnaround.

3) Marketing know-how. Printing and packaging are more than just producing a product. They require knowing how that product is going to be seen, delivered, handled, and used. This is why knowing marketing principles, and how they affect design, is so important. 

4) Materials know-how. Abstract marketing principles are one thing; materials knowledge is another. Is the vendor you are considering familiar with the various types of labels, stickers, and coupons used today? Are they up on the various on-pack and in-pack solutions? Do they have experience with objects of different shapes and sizes? After all, placing a sticker on a jar or bottle is very different from placing one on an ice cream carton—or a produce bag.

5) Problem-solving. Those projects “with a twist” are difficult for a reason: They fall outside of what is normal or typical for a shop. And so some amount of problem-solving is needed. A good print partner should know how to ask all the right questions, get to the heart of the project, and find a solution that works for everyone.

Finding Your Next Print Partner

The internet is flooded with printers advertising their services. A good way to narrow your search is to look for specific capabilities and industries.

Capabilities will tell you the kinds of projects that are possible. This should go beyond just listing machines and processes; it should give you a sense of what is possible. 

For example, when we talk about the capabilities here at PrintFlex, we list things like:

  • Packaging and packaging products: Labels, stickers, folded booklets, extended text booklets, thermal labels.
  • Promotional packaging: On-pack and in-pack promotion, games codes, sweepstakes, instant redemption coupons.
  • Displays and marketing: Direct marketing pieces, cross-selling pieces, point-of-sale (POS) graphics and displays.

Industries, on the other hand, will give you an idea of the kinds of experience a vendor has. Even if a vendor has broad capabilities, you will want to know if they have specific experience with the kinds of challenges that come with the products in a certain industry.

To give an example: Many of the customers we serve are in the food and beverage industry, or in the nutraceuticals industry. Both of these industries have unique challenges:

  • Specific needs when it comes to labeling, required by law
  • The desire to convey a lot of information in a small space
  • The need for safe, but effective, adhesives and materials
  • Frequent changes in requirements as recipes, variations, and go-to-market tactics change
  • Stiff competition (which means that individual products must stand out)

How do we know all this? PrintFlex has over 25 years of experience within these industries. And so we’ve learned, over time, what the challenges are and how to overcome them. This is also true of the other industries we serve.

So look into what’s possible (capabilities) and what the vendor has experience with (industries). And hey, if we look like we are a good fit for you…give us a call first. We’d be happy to start the conversation on becoming your outsourced print partner.