What are dealers seeing in the production print world, and what advice do they have? We asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts:

Clint Dorgan, Production Systems Sales Manager, Marco

Jim Fortier, Production Print Sales Manager, Applied Innovation

John Hastings, EVP, Imaging Division, Loffler

Tom Kucharski, Director of Production Print, Pacific Office Automation

Ted McLeod, Production Solutions Manager, Gordon Flesch

Doug Pitassi, CEO, Pacific Office Automation

Josh Santos, Director, Graphic Communications, RJ Young

How has a changing hybrid environment affected the needs and use cases for production print?

Jim Fortier: We don’t believe the hybrid environment has affected production print as much as it has the office/walk-up device. We do believe consumers doing more online has had a larger effect, especially in our market — e.g., automotive brochures, insurance, benefits packages.

Tom Kucharski: Technology has improved the flexibility of media and this advancement has led to more companies taking production solutions in-house.

Ted McLeod: As the way people work has evolved in recent years, companies have also experienced many print challenges. The need for MFDs has decreased. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s less printing, just that the printing might now be done at an alternative location. Some companies have chosen to outsource more print while others have brought more print in-house. Also, job submission software has made it easier for remote workers to submit complex work, which opens another opportunity for solutions providers. 

Doug Pitassi: We have seen an increase in cut sheet, high-end and specialty printing. The enhancement in digital technology has outweighed the change in the hybrid environment; some organizations have even increased printing in this new environment to extend their reach to remote employees and even customers.

Josh Santos: At first, this was a concerning aspect of the changing office environments and what challenges we would face. However, what we’ve seen is that with a hybrid workforce, the pieces we are printing matter more. In other words, the workplace has changed, so therefore the type of print has changed. At RJY, we are seeing more of a focus on specialty print, such as higher quality substrates and different types of embellishments.

What technologies excite you the most in the production print sector?

Fortier: The growth/interest in flatbed UV printing, embellishment, and inkjet.

John Hastings: Embellishment and other “beyond CMYK” technologies. It completely changes the commercial print landscape and makes the print for pay sector of our industry a bit more attractive. And inkjet. Inkjet is here to stay, and the upstream opportunities are there for those willing to jump in. The Kyocera machine makes for a nice introductory product for those dealers wishing to dip their toe in that water.

Kucharski: Reduction in presses, and digital will continue to take over. 10 years ago, our production print market struggled with just 12pt paper and now it has evolved to 24pt with ease! What used to be 4ppm is now 66-150! Fifth color stations allowing embellishments is a game changer.

McLeod: At GFC, we are excited for the new Canon V-Series, the Colorado M-Series and the expanding family of PRISMA solutions. We’re also looking forward to Ricoh’s refresh of two of their color toner-based engines and the impact in the B2 space that the new Z75 Inkjet Press is sure to make. Print is alive and kicking with new technologies and finishing solutions to reduce customer pain points. 

Pitassi: The production print technology continues to advance. We continue to see applications and job runs transforming from presses to digital print, and many of these are cost effective and convenient. Label printing, roll-fed and high-end inkjet equipment is extremely exciting in the industrial printing space and the ability to use all types of media on the newest models.

Santos: What excites us the most is the renewed focus on print in general. For years, we have been hearing that print is dying; we’ve seen quite the opposite. In fact, our production print team has had between 130%-150% consistent YOY growth since 2020. These numbers are specific to true production, not fast plastic. We have tasked our production print specialists and account representatives to go after accounts that were typically supported by OEMs in the past. These are the kinds of opportunities that bring much higher monthly volumes, which, in turn, drives the demand for higher-end equipment. From a technology perspective, we have aligned with industry leaders to provide cutting edge equipment, both inline and offline, as well as industry leading production software to drive such installs. We are currently working on adding high-end production inkjet to add to our already robust line of product offerings.

Will automation help alleviate some of the labor shortages in production print operations? What other roles does automation have?

Clint Dorgan: We have seen an increased demand for both online finishing options and workflow software due primarily to labor shortages. Giving the customer the ability to finish jobs with fewer touch points means less labor required to fulfill orders. Adding workflow software that eliminates steps and making jobs print ready and easily repeatable helps greatly in an environment where staff shortages may be a reality. Automation also can increase per-job profit due to the elimination of touch points.

Fortier: We see many small print shops struggling with labor shortages, so any automation not only improves quality of work but lowers the level of skill set necessary for repeatable, quality jobs. For example, auto registration, calibration and profile creation. 

Pitassi: Technology and specific applications depending on the vertical markets are always alleviating cost. This has been happening for years and is now even more important as talent is harder to source in printing operations. Automation continues to improve the workflow from creation of a document, where it goes, what’s its purpose, who gets it and where does it get archived. Whether it’s traditional print or digital, workflow and efficiencies can always improve. 

What are some of the biggest challenges when adding production print to your lineup?

Dorgan: Dealers who wish to enter the production print sales space need to invest in a support infrastructure for both pre- and post-sales. The pre-sales support specialist needs to assist sales in ensuring the systems delivered can accurately produce the work required by the customer. Post-sales support includes specialized individuals who can set up, train and ensure systems are working accurately and producing the work as expected by the customer. Support staff need to be easily accessible by end users as issues and questions commonly arise and are most likely time sensitive. 

Fortier: Customer expectations are much different than office products. Every hour the unit isn’t printing is lost revenue. Also, having a qualified dedicated production team (sales, analyst, technicians) and cost of showroom equipment [must be considered]. 

Hastings: The startup investment is one of the biggest hurdles. This is a complex and competitive space. To do it right you will need to invest in sales, pre- and post-sales analysts, production print technicians, demo equipment, trainers, etc. And you will be swimming in the deeper waters. Fewer competitors, but they are much more savvy. Also, the margins tend to be lower. If you get to a place where a significant percentage of your revenue is in the production print arena, it can throw off your typical office equipment financial model. 

Pitassi: Speaking for all dealers, investment in production print is challenging because of the cost of investment. Buying the equipment and having it readily available for demos, investing in expertise such as production print engineers, and technical support [are all required]. [There is also] the challenge of ensuring our technicians are trained and efficient to offset the cost of parts and labor.

Santos: A couple things: a) Service. It’s a must to have a top-notch service team committed to excellence and dedicated to specific products. As we all know, the industry is always changing and production capabilities are constantly changing. Service has to stay committed to continuing education and really becoming experts in production print. As a matter of fact, our production technicians just returned from a week-long DCT Certification training at Ricoh. 2) Specialists and analysts. This team approach allows dealers to provide the expertise needed to offer a true end-to-end solution that your clients expect. Our team of production analysts and production specialists work in tandem, offering our clients the best support in the industry. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a new production print equipment salesperson?

Dorgan: Rule number one: Be transparent about what your systems can and cannot produce. If in doubt, test and retest the system to ensure it can meet the customer’s requirements. The biggest frustration I still see with end users is that the system purchased is not able to do something that it simply was not designed to do. The most successful salespeople in this sector of our industry have gained the trust of their customers through honesty and working as a valued business partner versus a salesperson. Repeat business is sure to follow if your customers know you have their back and are doing everything possible to ensure their success and profitability. Invest in a functional showroom with as many of the systems and accessories as possible. Sales will increase but so will customer satisfaction as testing can be done in-house, ensuring accurate statements of work.

Fortier: Printers need to see your face! The trust factor is king. Be a problem solver, not a salesperson. And don’t sell what your team can’t support. Not every sale is a good sale (in the print production world there will be more accounts that are price-driven only, and the $250K deal could end up costing the company money). Look for a partner, not a customer. 

Kucharski: Prospect with the purpose of understanding their business versus selling. This approach will build trust and position you to propose the right solutions.

McLeod: I’d say, “Do what you say you are going to do, because building creditability is not easy, but it is necessary.” That’s why if you want to succeed in the print production vertical, you need to know what you are selling. Product knowledge is vital and faking your way through is not an option. I’d also suggest doing some research on your competition – especially their strengths and weaknesses. Research takes time, but it can reap great rewards in the long run. 

Pitassi: Learn how to prospect and link the right product to the customer’s applications or potential applications. Educate yourself on product knowledge in the industry. “You’re the expert!”

Santos: Find your “why.” If print excites you, figure out how to be of service to your prospective clients, coworkers, current clients and others. Now, go solve every problem they have around print. That’s what we do, solve problems. Sometimes they know they have them, sometimes they don’t. It’s our place to educate them on workflows and solutions to help mitigate those problems. If you can minimize their problems regarding print, you win and they win.

What are a few niches in production print where you are seeing a lot of growth?

Fortier: Flatbed UV printing has exploded since COVID, opening many new opportunities in different markets. Non-printer start-ups, like T-shirt apparel companies and hardware stores. Embellishment, from fifth color and foil to higher-cost spot UV coater. Print and fulfillment operations.

Kucharski: Embellishments are becoming popular, along with labels.

Pitassi: Fifth color clear has been a plus and entry-level production is something many companies can invest in because of the price point.

Santos: Specialty inks and toner, which provides a fifth color offering, as well as embellishments. We offer clear, white, gold and silver – along with others. This expanded gamut allows us to print cool effects on different substrates, such as labels, foils, packaging, etc. The other thing we are seeing is more and more customers are wanting a software solution to drive their print. Our clients are now interested in solutions to help minimize errors, whether it be job submissions or image quality, and our storefronts help with that, as well as improving their efficiencies.

What is security’s role in production print sales? 

Fortier: In print for pay, little to none. In data centers and corporate print centers, huge. Integration with existing workflow is critical. Security is very important depending on what is being printed —for example, medical – HIPPA and investment and consulting – PII. Companies can have access to sensitive information that must be safeguarded throughout the process.

Kucharski: Production print specialists are also becoming fluent in IT because we need to understand firewalls, networks and antivirus solutions to keep our customers in business.

Pitassi: Security is enormously important in every part of our business. In production, we’re concerned with the confidentiality of our customers’ data and beyond that, their customers’ information. Depending on the type of customer, print jobs can often be extremely sensitive. Secure portals and workflows are critical.