5 Guidelines That Every Print Buyer Should Follow

Written by Geoffrey Eisenberg, Vice President of Operations at Tidewater Direct

A novice to corporate purchasing may be uninformed as to how difficult a job a “purchasing agent” can be. After all, everyone already possesses the inherent skill to buy the best product at the lowest price. So print buying must be simple; get a few prices, cut a few PO’s, and get taken to lunch, right? Well, not exactly.

The task of a purchasing agent is significantly more difficult than it sounds. Buying print properly requires an organized, well-educated student of the print industry. Ignorance and laziness can quickly get a print buyer into a lot of trouble. Mismatching a print job to an inappropriate vendor can cause an inflated price, missed mail dates, or a lost client. The critical nature of managing the campaign solely rides on today’s procurement professionals.

But all hope is not lost. To ease the procurement process and avoid potential sourcing issues, consider the following guidelines below to ensure successful print campaign and a happy client.

1. Know what kind printing equipment most efficiently produces your job

Would you give a job to haul 20 tons of gravel with a 2 hour time limit to a guy with a pickup truck and a shovel? How about giving a job to haul 300 lbs of mulch to an 18 wheeler? In the first scenario, the prospective vendor is underequipped to perform the job which will likely lead to poor or inadequate service. In the second circumstance, the vendor is over-equipped and will likely charge more than is necessary. To the point, understanding what types of equipment your vendors use is critical to proper print procurement.

If you don’t know what kind of printing press your last job ran on, including the repeat length and its general capabilities, it’s time to start paying attention. As a print buyer, knowing different makes and models of presses, as well as basic print equipment and lingo like variable repeat cylinders, turret rewinders, perfecting presses, heatset and uv cured inks, line screen, and types of quality control equipment enables the buyer to make competent job placement decisions.

Consider getting to know your vendors better. Don’t place any work with a vendor until you visit the shop, and ask for a tour. Soak it all in; take notes on the equipment, what its capabilities are, and ask questions to determine what work is best placed on it. Ask for print samples if you’re unable to determine an expectation of quality. Note plant conditions such as perceived productivity, air conditioning and cleanliness. Any vendor that isn’t eager to show you their production floor probably shouldn’t be on your vendor list.

2. Bid only to companies you know well and limit yourself to 3 or 4

On the back of rule # 1, successful print buyers know their vendors intimately. They know what kind of equipment each of their vendors use and what it produces well. They have a good understanding of the true capacity of each vendor and have met with, or at least know how to contact members of management. And because excellent print buyers know their vendors well, they don’t have a list of 20 potential bidders to blast on every job. They have 3-4 depending on the job specifications.

Sending a blanket bid request to all printers is a good way to alienate potential partners. Printers that bid often and don’t get a win feel rejected and stop bidding. In a similar direction, only bidding to 1 vendor opens the door to pricing inflation and missed opportunities. Managing a core vendor list and employing it properly is critical to improving overall vendor pricing, competition, and performance.

3. Bid job with clear specifications in a well-formatted rfq (request for quote)

A good print bid request includes, at a minimum:

  • Total Quantity
  • Total Versions
  • # of Colors
  • Paper Stock
  • Finished Format (Continuous Forms as rolls or fan-fold, flat sheets, folded sheets)
  • Flat Size and Finished size
  • Dates (Art, Approval, Delivery if available)
  • Delivery Location

Other critical information can be included such as:

  • Declaring any colors as metallic or fluorescent
  • Varnishes or Coatings
  • Perforations, Die Cuts, Hole Punches or Pin Feeds
  • On folded product, if scoring, gluing, gate folding, and banding is required
  • Special packaging instructions (ie, pack in cartons or power pack, poker chip rolls, etc)

Creating a format that your bidders can get used behooves the print buyer by ensuring nothing is missed in the bidding process, and all components of the bid are clearly understood. Incorrect specs can open the door to unfavorable “after-the-fact” pricing increases which can kill margins.

4. Create and keep a schedule

Consider your entire production window before sending an rfq. It’s best to try to include the exact dates, or at the very least a production window and approximate dates on an rfq so that vendors that cannot complete within the timeframe don’t offer pricing. By communicating schedule early and often, it gives vendors fewer excuses to miss those dates. Encourage regular updates for larger jobs and stress schedule importance when it truly is critical.

Larger projects naturally require more organization. By setting capacity expectations before the job commences, both the buyer and the vendor have a clear understanding of the anticipated timeline. Employ the use of spreadsheets and ask your account manager to update the spreadsheet daily with print, cut and fold quantities where applicable. This ensures that regardless of their performance, you’ll be able to react at the letter shop before it’s too late.

Lastly, consider using e-mail as opposed to the telephone. E-mail leaves a traceable history of conversations that include scheduling and pricing. With a written history, it’s difficult for a vendor to deviate from what has been previously agreed upon. In 2010, a vendor that doesn’t react well to e-mail is antiquated and should be replaced.

5. Work with your vendors to solve problems

Murphy’s Law applies to printing just like anything else – even when you’ve followed the 4 previous guidelines and have done everything right, problems can occur. It’s important to remember that printing is a custom product, and mistakes can happen. A good print buyer uses these “bumps in the road” to build better relationships, not destroy them.

When a mistake occurs, it can be advantageous to calmly address the problem via e-mail first. Include the nature of the problem, and how much product has been affected. Include any information from the product label that can help your vendor trace the root of the problem and identify it. When the scope of the issue has been identified, articulate how you expect the issue to be resolved.

A good vendor will respond quickly to a request like this, and is more interested to in maintaining a strong working relationship. If your vendor gives you the cold shoulder when these issues arise, consider other vendors that may handle these situations as you would expect.