Early birds can catch the slug-a-beds napping

Barney Cox
Monday, April 15, 2019

Simon Biltcliffe’s beard is not (quite) in the same league as Kim Kardashian’s derrière as a personal physical attribute with the ability to break the internet but it may be as close as the UK print industry is going to get.

When PrintWeek reported the story about Webmart’s launch of its Trade Print Management (TPM) service last month the level of interest in the Barnsley boy’s latest endeavours put a strain on the printweek.com servers and led to one of the longest and liveliest comment threads in a long time.

Although a lot of comments boiled down to a discussion on whether TPM was as ground-breaking as Biltcliffe claimed, the number of times the story was read suggests that the subjects of live pricing and trade printing are hot button topics. And, despite what others would argue about there already being products available – such as Haybrooke Consulting’s PDQ and the eponymous Speedquote – the level of interest suggests that either they are not widely known or don’t quite deliver what the market wants.

For the purposes of this feature we’re going to concentrate on live pricing/quick quoting and park the subject of trade printing. As such the core issue is how customers want to research, specify and buy print. And how can printers meet those needs in the most user-friendly, timely and cost effective way.

Today specialist print buyers are a rarity. Most print is bought by a marketer or an office manager who won’t have the time to become an expert in specifying and buying print, nor to get too involved in the minutiae of each and every job. Talking about time, not only are they unlikely to have much time to devote to finding the best supplier they’re also, like many of us, on the back foot and need the job, and therefore the quote or price, in a hurry. 

Most of us have got used to instant pricing in other facets of life, waiting for a quote can seem like an age, especially if the job could have been printed, despatched and delivered in that time by one of the online specialists. With e-commerce and mobile-commerce making next day delivery normal and even same day delivery possible at a price, any sort of wait is untenable. Particularly if the purchaser is a millennial 20-something who isn’t used to waiting and has no truck with the saying ‘the best things come to those who wait’. 

So waiting hours, or even days just for a price is a problem.

Somerset-based Carly Press is a typical printer with a mix of digital and wide-format kit serving a mix of local and national clients and was recently featured in PrintWeek’s Me & My... slot talking about its Vpress Coreprint web-to-print system. A comment by managing director Mark Gladstone-Smith was the genus of this article. Prior to investing in W2P Gladstone-Smith was finding that quotes were a bottleneck for the firm, which led him to switch to a new MIS. He opted for PrintLogic from Irish developer WildCard, which is a cloud-based subscription service costing €99 per month. 

“With our previous MIS, and with other systems I’ve used before they are very thorough but very time consuming,” says Gladstone-Smith. “With PrintLogic the route to a quote is much quicker. A lot of the specifications are set automatically, or are defaults. Now I can create a quote in 30 seconds that would previously have taken five minutes.”

He often finds that his clients have to wait one or two days for other printers to come back to them with prices before they make a decision on who to give the job to. 

It’s not just the customer’s time that is a precious commodity, the printer’s time is equally precious.

Carly Press typically produces 50 quotes per day and its example shows just how much time that can take up. Producing 50 quotes at 5 minutes each would take 250 minutes, which is just over four hours, or half of someone’s working day. If the person producing those quotes is a senior member of the team then that takes them away from being able to manage the business for half their time. 

Time well spent

Many owners and managers talk of the importance of being able to work ‘on the business rather than in the business’ to be able to ensure its success. Anyone spending half their time working out estimates is at a serious disadvantage to those who can devote more time to strategy. 

Of course, in a small business it’s equally likely that owners and managers are doing more than a typical eight hour day, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to reclaim some time for oneself and one’s family to enjoy the spoils of running the firm rather than being enslaved by it?

Assuming a quote takes five minutes, and anecdotally, that is pretty quick, it would be good going for someone to get through a hundred quotes in a normal working day. If at the end of the day that only works out at 20 jobs won, that’s not going to be enough to keep the presses running at their budgeted capacity. Even a firm running old equipment with a low maximum running speed and a long makeready time could find they were waiting around for work. For a firm with a more modern machine capable of running at teens of thousands of sheets per hour and with makeready times in the order of a few minutes the situation is even more stark. That press may be spending long periods idle all the while the interest on its finance continues to accrue.

It’s hard to find figures on what difference speed makes to winning work but a couple of anecdotes suggest it’s a factor.

“Our success rate on converting those estimates to orders is 80%,” says Gladstone-Smith. That in itself is an impressive conversion rate, anecdotally conversion rates are more likely to be the inverse of that, at around 20% at best. So out of 100 jobs quoted you’d be doing well to get 20. When that lower conversion rate is factored in the time and cost taken to keep the presses running becomes even more stark. 

According to Haybrooke managing director John Roche one of his customers saw conversion rates rise from 20% to 70% using PDQ, which suggests that time is a factor. But if all other things are equal, being the quickest to provide a quote is not going to make you less likely to win a job.

While Gladstone-Smith opted for a new system when he wanted to accelerate his estimating process, he does concede that he could have achieved a speed increase by doing more in his existing system using templates. For anyone looking for a quick and low-cost way to improve their quoting, making the most of what you’ve already got could be the best way to go.

In fact, he adds, that because his is a small company producing predominantly digital print, it maybe something of a special case and that route may be a better option for others.

“If we were a bigger firm – say, a £6m-£7m turnover litho firm – it would probably be worth producing a more accurate quote,” he says. “But for 500 4/4 leaflets or A4 letterheads then getting a price is not rocket science.”

Some would argue that there needs to be a more radical shake-up, and whether you choose to invest in the latest API-driven systems with an up-to-date MIS delivering live prices to clients, a simple spreadsheet based system or even something as basic as a price list it’s high time for a change both for business owners and customers.

“A high proportion of quotes have to go,” says Vpress sales director Kelvin Bell. “I’ve been going into printers for 20 years and I’m still hearing proprietors saying ‘I’ve been up to my neck in getting estimates out all morning’, and most of those quotes are for a banner stand or 500 business cards!”

A lot has changed in the last 20 years, but If Bell is right an awful lot has also stayed the same, when it really should have moved on. Back in 1999 (sorry, but it really is 20 years ago and not a moment in the future as Prince proposed as the time for the forthcoming mother of all parties), the internet was in its infancy, mobile phones were still pretty dumb and e-commerce was a pipe dream. Today all three of those technologies have, in the form of smartphones, come of age and come together in the palm of our hands. If your estimating and ordering systems are more suited to how we worked back then than how someone born then works, it’s time for a refresh. 


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