by Jim Lyons
The Hard Copy Observer, May 2007
Most people know that small businesses account for a surprisingly large proportion of jobs and play an important role in the U.S. and worldwide economies. So it should come as no surprise that there is a printing and imaging opportunity in this market. Even in the early days of the desktop printer market, the first generation of products such as the HP (NYSE HPQ) LaserJet provided the professional image quality and ease of use that helped small businesses "look big."
And the focus on small businesses has intensified today. One of the most dramatic moves in this area was Xerox’s (NYSE XRX) recent announcement that it will acquire Global Imaging Systems for $1.5 billion. At the end of April, HP announced it would acquire Logoworks, a company that provides design services to small businesses. HP’s acquisition is much smaller than Xerox’s in terms of dollars, but it signals HP’s continuing effort to serve small businesses with products and services that allow them to print materials in-house.
Two years ago, HP announced a strategic relationship with Logoworks (Observer, 6/05) and a handful of other Web-oriented services that target small businesses, and the goal of targeting small businesses was definitely on the mind of Vince Ferraro, vice president of HP’s LaserJet business, when I interviewed him for my column on in-house marketing (Observer, 12/06). The subject of that column was solutions that enable small businesses to print in-house on desktop color machines instead of outsourcing print jobs to copy shops and commercial printers.
But what about the printing needs of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are not best served in-house? That conundrum led to my interest in learning more about the business guided by one of the speakers at AIIM/On Demand: Andrew Field, president and CEO of PrintingForLess.com.
PrintingForLess.com, the self-proclaimed "#1 Online Commercial Printing Company," employs a bevy of Heidelberg presses but is extremely focused on printing work for SMBs. Although the firm is located in Livingston, MT, it is equipped for completely virtual communications via telephone and Internet access. This remote headquarters location certainly validates the print industry’s participation in the e-commerce equation, even when the net product is printed material that has to be shipped to its final destination.
Field's business approach is a sensible one: PrintingForLess.com;s goal is to assist customers with the design, ordering, production, and delivery of printed materials, so customers can focus on the more essential tasks of operating and growing their businesses. All too often, companies forget that most small-business users are not early adopters—small businesses typically lack the time, interest, and resources necessary to deploy the latest high-tech, cutting-edge digital imaging solutions.
Field describes his company’s typical customers as including "doctors, dentists, hair stylists, concrete contractors, landscape companies, and myriad nonprofit organizations," to name a few. In a dramatic example of the breadth of his firm’s existing customer base, Fields reads a list of recent customers from my personal zip code, demonstrating that my friends and neighbors in Boise are doing quite a business with PrintingForLess.com.
Interestingly, the company does not shy away from the question of when to print in-house or at a local copy shop but uses its Web page to directly address the issue. According to the firm, print jobs for which image quality is not critical and only small quantities are needed are perfect for in-house desktop ink jet printers. When better image quality is required and the print job is larger, local copy shops may be the best solution. PrintingForLess.com says that the typical sweet spot for its services is a job that costs roughly $500 to produce. I've created a table that contains a brief overview of the factors that influence where to produce a print job. My intent is to offer this as a starting point, but by no means do I intend for it to be a be-all, end-all. Customer and industry input is welcome!
[Note and correction: earlier versions of this blog post and the hard copy version in the May 2007 The Hard Copy Observer misspelled Andrew Field's name. We apologize!]