High standards are a necessity in the printing industry. Standardization is meanwhile a whole different animal… one that’s arguably just as critical to the survival of the fittest.
The Need to Standardize
If there’s a delicate ecosystem at play here, it’s not necessarily the free market. Instead it would be that of a given company as it attempts to balance multiple suppliers. Take for example the following situation: An especially large order of one specific SKU has been made. It requires more bandwidth than your go-to supplier has available. What do you do?
The easy answer is to spread the order out over multiple suppliers. That way a single supplier’s capacity limitations aren’t an issue. You would run into several other problems though, namely the resulting inability to control the appearance of your product’s packaging on store shelves.
Going with multiple suppliers, printers as an example, means going with multiple sets of hardware, multiple brands of paper and ink, different levels of expertise, etc. In essence, even if the printers are each given the same digital file off of which to work, there are no guarantees that what will result will end up being the same packaging. In fact, just the opposite: You can practically guarantee the packaging will be different in each case, even if subtly so.
Hence the need to standardize.
Steps in Place
Standardizing is theoretically simple. Consider a single company, perhaps your own. One way of standardizing involves using the same computers (PC or Mac) and software, down to the version number, in every department. It’s the simplest way to eliminate conversion errors in your files when sending them from co-worker to co-worker.
Now imagine the benefits of expanding that level of standardization beyond your doors to the offices of your suppliers. For example, any work done on a digital file would appear 100% as intended regardless of whose system it’s on. That would reduce mistakes, back and forth, and the amount of revision cycles up to and including the point at which the proof is received back from the printer for approval. Of course, it will all be for naught, unless you’re able to standardize on a single printer, but at least half the battle will be won.
Companies reserve the right to go with several printers right from the get-go. It affords them the overall flexibility to go to a different one on a dime if your usual go-to simply cannot take on a job when you need it, not to mention the financial flexibility to go where the cost makes the most sense. You will nonetheless run into the same types of issues and be unable to guarantee the product will meet not just your high standards, but the standards set by each other unit beside it before it makes its way into the hands of the end user.
The Standardization Dream: One Supplier
Dismissing the need to standardize outright is the same as saying it’s okay that your product does not look the same from unit to unit on the store shelf, which is a fundamentally absurd notion. Taking it to one extreme, if your product doesn’t look the same from unit to unit, how will customers know what to buy?
Granted, it’s unlikely that packaging would be so different that customers wouldn’t recognize two products on the same shelf as being the same, but what if we’re talking about differences like the texture of the packaging or the shade of the background color? It literally looks bad and it reflects badly on your brand in turn, that is if the label even stays on the darn thing. It’s an actual risk, if the same adhesive isn’t being used throughout the production process.
So, even though, at face value, you may need multiple printers to deliver an especially large job, it’s a bit of a trick question. What do you do? You stack the deck. You actually find one printer who’s large enough with the capacity to pull off the job in question and all others down the road. The right printer will accept your demands to standardize on everything from software to hardware and use the same materials job-in, job-out. There are printing plants specifically built for just that purpose, to cater to single clients.
Even if retaining the services of a specific printer costs money, you’re ensuring a high quality of service, a high quality of product, and high degree of consistency. It just makes more financial sense in the long run, without risking your brand equity in the process.
Standardization does pay off. You just have to do it wherever possible. If not, you may quickly find yourself at the bottom of the food chain.