Offering Value-Added Products and Services Is No Longer Just an Option for Print Providers Today
You’ve probably heard the term so many times by now, you’re tempted to just let your eyes jump right over it: value-added services. While there are no guarantees they will be profitable and instantly create new revenue streams, in today’s market, it’s almost mandatory to branch out and find complementary offerings if you want your printing business to keep the lights on and the doors open.
The good news is that “value-added services” has expanded to encompass a truly wide range of things. In fact, anything that isn’t strictly ink on substrate can be classified as a value-add, which means you aren’t limited when it comes to finding the right mix of what is most useful to the widest number of your customers and prospects.
For DNI Corp., based in Nashville, Tennessee, the service it has focused on is providing additional insight into the direct mail campaigns its customers are running, helping them get the most out of every single piece they print. “We offer a marketing-based solution designed to seamlessly track the effectiveness of our client’s direct mail campaigns, while enhancing the results through the integration of digital platforms,” Robert Cook, president and CEO, explains.
“Our marketing platform is designed as an omnichannel marketing approach — we turn a single mail piece impression into multiple repetitive impressions to the same audience across multiple platforms.”
For Sam Campitella, president of Louisville, Kentucky-based Vivid Impact, the value comes from moving customers away from thinking in terms of transactional purchasing, and moving into a more programmatic approach. “Transactional work creates a lot of overhead, while programmatic is more consistent with less overhead,” he notes. His business focuses mainly on healthcare, retail, and spirits, and Vivid Impact has 15 designers on staff to help those customers create not just a single printed piece, but entire platforms to launch products, connect with consumers, and build their brands. In addition, the second big value-added service the company has invested in is offering fulfillment and warehousing, with a secure inventory management system, and pick-and-pack offerings to allow customers to order what they need, when they need it, to go to the locations — especially for retail and spirits — that need it.
Data is the path that Bolger Inc., based in Minneapolis, has taken — and it’s not a new one for the company, according to CEO dik Bolger. Creating complex systems to manage data for customers at Bolger Inc. goes all the way back to when his father ran the company, and had a customer tracking inventory and prices by hand. “He developed a system using punch cards — this was before computers,” Bolger explains. “It was managing data, but like a player piano. And that morphed into more sophisticated systems.”
Today, the company has 11 developers on staff building and maintaining proprietary applications for customers, allowing them to automate systems and solve problems.
AngstromGroup, based in Cleveland, has embraced numerous value-added services. According to President and CEO David Angstom, “We focus on a true partnership environment for all of our clients. Our value add focuses include creative, photography, video, design, branding, website and app development, virtual catalogs, a 24/7 client response center for technical assistance, brandable client storefronts with true on-demand integration, IP targeting, workflow automation, mailing, and national logistics solutions.” He stresses that by taking a digital focus to many of the services, they are able to offer a strong portfolio of solutions to customers to meet any need.
Different Services, But Same Positive Results
None of these four print providers has taken the same approach to value-added services. Although there is some overlap in the products and services being offered, each one has a unique approach, dictated by the strengths they bring to the table. So what made these particular services stand out? Why choose one over another?
At AngstromGroup, it has been an evolution driven by customer demands. Bruce MacDonald, managing director for the company notes, “We pride ourselves on early adoption of technology to support our core capabilities. We recognized a demand in the market and our client’s needs for a solutions partner, which is why our company tagline is ‘One Partner, Many Solutions’. We’ve built programs of ancillary services specifically for a customer’s needs, and as technology develops, we do so along with it.”
In fact, customer requests and needs are big reasons why DNI Corp. took the path it did. “We have had e-services on our transactional side for quite some time, because it is important to have options for our clients to connect with their clients beyond just print and mail,” Cook says. “As more companies are looking to adopt paperless options, we need to be able to support that for our clients or risk losing that share of the business as it migrates.”
That common thread runs through most successful commercial printers who have made value-added services an important part of the business — taking the time to really listen to the customers, and then developing programs around what they actually need and want. Just because a service sounds innovative, exciting, or something you are personally interested in, doesn’t mean it will be something in which customers will invest.
Even the best marketing campaigns can’t build a thriving value-added service out of something that doesn’t ultimately benefit customers. It’s an important thing to keep in mind as you evaluate your business opportunities.
But it goes beyond choosing ancillary offerings that will solve your customers’ actual problems. It also has to be a product or service you can execute well. Bolger stresses, “you want to be really good at whatever you decide to do.”
He gives the example of wide-format output, which his company offered for a time. While it could have been a profitable business for them, he realized that while they were good at it, it was going to take too much time, resources, and floor space to be as great at it as they are at some of the other things they offer. So he decided to refocus on the things Bolger Inc. is good at, like application development, and not spend human or monetary capital chasing wide-format.
That is the same philosophy Campitella takes when evaluating new product or service offerings. “It’s hard to break into some of those areas, but [we identified] those niches, and where we consider ourselves experts in those areas.” And it has paid off.
“We don’t sell printing or pricing,” he says. “That is the last thing we talk about. We’re selling value to our clients — something they don’t have that will save them time or money. We’re removing their pain points.” It is a perfect example of identifying the services that will serve customers the most, and then becoming the best at them, and the growth and success will follow.
Building a Business Requires Marketing Effort
Value-added services can’t be an afterthought to the printing side of the business. They have to be an integral part of the experience. “If you’re only a job shop, you’re in trouble as a printer,” Bolger points out. Just bidding on jobs, or just having a service or application on your list of offerings isn’t enough. To thrive today, commercial printers can’t just be great at what they do — they also have to be great at telling people about it.
David Hartwell, senior VP, retail solutions, at AngstromGroup, agrees marketing is a big part of how they have grown the business. “We market through in-depth discovery and relationships with current customers, with supporting white papers, website updates, email campaigns, and virtual books,” he points out.
Angstrom continues, “Our sales, business development, and customer services are fully integrated. We have single sales sheets for many value-add services and note each on our websites, but we create personalized presentations for prospects and clients to better explain the benefits and how each service can directly relate to their needs and support their bottom line.”
Campitella notes Vivid Impact takes a “very targeted” approach to marketing. He references healthcare, for example. “I will get on the phone and set up a meeting in person or on Teams. [If virtual,]we can share our screen and build a presentation around the services we provide. There’s a video with an overview of all the services, and then we walk them through our business, what we do, and our mission. Printing is super important, don’t get me wrong — it’s our core business — but we’re more attractive because we have all these other front-end services we provide.”
And making sure that every customer understands the full depth and breadth of their offerings has been a key driver of growth for Vivid Impact.
It doesn’t have to be perfect either. Even successful companies, like DNI Corp. still have to work to find the right balance. Cook notes, “We are working to do a better job at [marketing] and focus on it every day through our website, mailings (practice what you preach), social media, and direct client contacts.”
In fact, by taking a look at some of the biggest mistakes these four print services providers made early on, fellow printers can get a head start on growing their own successful value-added service offerings.
The largest mistake DNI Corp. made early on centered around education about the products, and how to effectively sell them — something Cook notes they still work on improving today. He advises others to “do your homework, and train your team on how to sell and share information. It is important to get the word out to be successful.”
For Bolger, the biggest early mistake was jumping in too fast, and saying “yes” to things he had no idea if he could even provide. “When we first got into the fulfillment business, we were sitting with a client and they told me [what they needed] and I replied of course we do it — we didn’t do fulfillment and had no idea.
“All of a sudden 30 skids showed up on our dock, and everyone was asking what do with them. I said we’re in the fulfillment business now, so we had to figure it out pretty quickly,” he says.
Bolger adds that while fulfillment did become a very successful and profitable part of the business, there was a lot of stress and mistakes made initially. In fact, he reveals it was ultimately hiring a consultant to come in and help get it going that really made a difference.
At AngstromGroup, MacDonald points out that the biggest early mistakes came from trying to force a specific service, regardless of actual customer requirements. “We’ve had bumpy starts when we’ve been too focused on pushing a select service instead of the overall business need, and possibly missing opportunities by trying to have the client fit the service, rather than building a service that fits the client’s needs. We found that focusing on our ideal customer profiles and the industries they serve allows us to provide proven, successful programs to new clients in each of those verticals.”
That is something Angstrom himself echoes. “Listen to your customers and engage your team. Watch the margins and lean into those services that provide additional profit and stronger footing with your client base. Don’t sell a product just as a product; explain it in a consulting fashion as part of the overall program for a client. Solve problems. Bring solutions.”
Campitella says Vivid Impact also moved too fast and made assumptions. “For example, we’re going to acquire this service, or invest in this team member, without taking the time to identify which clients to target. We jumped in too early in some cases, not doing enough research.”
On the flip side, he says printers can’t be afraid to take a few risks, either. “Don’t be afraid to branch out. You have to get out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to start big — start with something small. Ask your customers what other areas they’re struggling with, and how you can help.”
Value-added services beyond print aren’t just afterthoughts for the most successful print providers. They are integral offerings that contribute to the bottom line and, more importantly, create meaningful relationships with clients that go beyond transactional interactions. It’s no longer optional to add complementary services to your product mix — rather, the question should be identifying which ones offer the most compelling packages, and weeding out everything else that doesn’t add to that story.