When it comes to print and paper, the options are endless. You can choose from coated or uncoated, smooth or vellum, text or cover…the list goes on and on. When you really think about it, that’s the beauty of print – each project is a custom made to the specifications given. But custom doesn’t require breaking the bank either.

When it comes to print and paper, the secret to getting a good price is all about relationships.

I know, you were expecting something like print in massive quantities or buy truckloads of paper from one source. While it’s true those things will get you a lower price than normal, in my experience the secret to consistently getting a good price always came down to the relationships I had. That means open, honest communication from both the print producer and supplier. As a former spec rep for a paper merchant, my job performance was evaluated based on the profit I generated; this is true for most sales reps in the industry regardless of their role in the supply chain. With that being said, I never based my level of service on the potential profitability of the customer. That’s the one mistake I see so many reps today make. Rather at the onset of working with a customer, I made sure that they knew my expectations and vice-versa.

As a spec rep, the job differed slightly from a paper rep that sells directly to printers in that I never actually walked out of a customer’s office with a purchase order. I relied on my customers (designers/production managers/end-users) to specify my company to their printer for the paper purchase. There’s a lot of trust involved in that process. I trust my customer will communicate that info, I trust that their print rep will make sure their paper buyer will honor the spec and actually purchase the paper from my company. I can’t say the process was successful every time, but I can say that about 90% of the time it was. And the reason for this was the relationships I had with my customers and their print reps. We all want the same outcome: for the project to be successful. To that end, I made sure the designer and print reps had what they needed in terms of paper to do that.

For me, the process of any print and paper project begins with a clear understanding of the designer’s vision. From there I can guide them to appropriate paper options based on their concept, the size of the job, production techniques and budget.

3 Things to Consider Before Starting Your Next Print Job:

  1. Part of getting the best price is knowing the quantity of the run. If the quantity is smaller (1,500 or less) and the budget is tight, I would suggest papers that I know were in stock by my company. Typically these are jobs requiring less than a full carton of paper, so if it’s in stock, many independent merchants will break cartons. So if part of the job only requires 100 sheets, the printer could easily source and order that from us for next day delivery. A mill item requires a day or two longer lead time, not a big deal, but depending upon the item, a full carton could mean 1500 sheets – kind of a waste if your job only requires 100 sheets.
  2. Insuring the success of the job usually comes down to the level of service provided. For me a successful job requires meeting client expectations, which means taking the guesswork out of the process. That’s where sample services really help. Once the paper options are narrowed down, I’ll provide dummies based on the project’s specs so the designer, printer and client can see and feel what the final product will look on different the different papers being considered. If a special print technique will be used (ex. foil stamp), I’ll provide a print sample showing that technique on the paper being considered – or a similar stock.
  3. Work closely with your suppliers (paper mills) to insure you get the best price/availability on paper. While a lot of this is based on paper tonnage, again relationships play a big part. At this point I have put in time, effort and expense in the process – I am invested in this print and paper project and want to see it succeed. For me, I never want price to be the reason a project doesn’t meet its full potential, so I’m more inclined to do what I can to help the project stay within budget. I’m a big proponent in involving my mill reps early on in the process. It’s difficult for them to know what’s happening in all of their markets – I know I liked a heads up when I was spec’d on a project, so why wouldn’t my supplier want the same thing? Plus, they may have a need for print samples and if the project is a fit for the mill’s marketing efforts, my mill rep will know that. By involving the mill rep in the process, not only are they invested as well, it helps strengthen their presence in the market and may foster a new relationship for them with the designer/printer.

With that being said, if I got a call out of the blue from a print rep or designer asking if I could sharpen my pencil, my antenna go up. As I explained, I know what’s involved in this print and paper process.  If I get a call at this point with a plea for help on pricing, my gut says another paper rep or company was probably involved in the project. My instincts say they’re shopping the paper for a better price. As a rep, I’ve been on the receiving end of this scenario and it’s not something I’m inclined to participate in.

Let’s face it, the industry has changed a ton and not all designers get the same level of service from their reps (that’s why I started Parse & Parcel). I could go on about the reasons for this, but suffice it to say it has a lot to do with profitability and ROI. However, I believe that if you are honest about your expectations and transparent about the process, you’ve not only found the secret to getting a good price but the secret to success.

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