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3 Ways Print Buyers Can Beat the Supply Chain Crisis

Posted on: September 27th, 2022 by Ira Jackson

Most marketing, communications and creative professionals know the printing industry is not immune to the impacts of the global supply chain crisis. But what is the full and direct impact on the printing industry – and you? To be honest, it’s big. At least for now. Providers industrywide, including their vendors, suppliers, partners and especially their customers are experiencing substantial disruptions.

If you are a print buyer or designer, you’re no doubt feeling the pain of not being able to have printed materials produced and delivered based on pre-pandemic budgets and delivery timelines. On top of that, there is palpable discomfort due to limited paper options, availability and pricing. We feel your pain, too. Things dramatically changed during the pandemic and the crippled supply chain has triggered longer production lead times and erratic pricing. Experts expect supply will remain tight into 2023.

Fortunately, this is not a permanent crisis. Right now, we want to share insights and game-changing steps you can take to minimize issues until supply can meet demand and pricing becomes stable again. 

Most important, we strongly encourage print buyers to embrace the current reality and pursue work-arounds with your print partners to ensure successful planning and execution of your print projects. 

What exactly is the current reality?

pallet-supply-challenges.jpgA recent survey among hundreds of printing industry companies reveals that the supply chain crisis has become worse in recent months, with 69.3% of respondents saying overall conditions are deteriorating. Only 12.4% reported they are seeing improvements and just over 18% said conditions aren’t changing. 

Global labor and supply shortages are still causing price increases, reduced availability and shipping delays for paper, inks, toners, plates, coatings, envelopes and more. These factors, as well as shipping costs, including fuel surcharges, are increasing total costs across the supply network, from producers to paper mills, merchants and down the chain to commercial printers, graphic and sign producers, package printers and converters, and other industry participants. 

All of it is impacting print buyers. The survey report notes the randomness and unpredictability of not knowing from week to week what will be available, when and at what price – a reality that has been felt during and post-pandemic. 

“Like printers everywhere, we started receiving notifications from vendors last spring about price increases that would take effect in April, and also that availability was becoming limited on sheet sizes, weights and other specifications,” says Bruce Crouch, Perfect Image estimator and client service representative. “We’ve received increase notices from other suppliers as well, such as bindery service providers. These changes are affecting what clients pay for printing and their budgets and they’re pushing back on prices, wanting to know how to produce their projects at a lower cost.” 

Crouch adds that, “Paper is our biggest outside purchase, followed by inks, plates, and cartons we pack products in. All have gone up in price. For example, we used to buy 300 metal plates for $1,500, and now 300 plates are $1,990, a 33% increase – plus new fuel charges. It all adds up and we must adjust our prices.”

When is the crisis expected to end?

calculator.jpgWhen asked this question, the majority of respondents in the above-linked survey (59.8%) expect improvements in 2023 (nearly evenly split between the first half of the year and the second half). A smaller percentage (18%) expects improvements by the end of 2022 and 3% said conditions are already improving this year.

Although Perfect Image was not a survey participant, we do not expect the situation to worsen from the uncertain and volatile nature of availability and higher pricing currently in place. We’re also in the camp of those forecasting improvements by the second half of 2023. It’s worth mentioning what a major relief it was to learn the recent threat of a national rail strike was averted (at least for the time being).

What solutions do print buyers have right now?

moving-forward.jpgOrganizations with critical reliance on printed materials to connect with customers, prospects and other constituents need answers and solutions today. Our priority is to deliver in the face of mounting external factors. 

The bottom line? We work together with clients in navigating the crisis to help you better manage your printing needs and associated costs.

While there are no silver bullet solutions, we’re making every effort to meet demand and control client costs through our strong supplier relationships, efficient operations and helping clients plan projects farther in advance so we can secure needed paper and supplies or offer alternate substrate options.

3 ways you can help us help you succeed

plan-ahead.jpg1. Plan ahead – it’s critical!

It is strongly advised that print buyers and their creative teams begin planning projects several weeks in advance of normal timelines to allow time for your printer to secure paper and materials needed to produce your job. Across the industry, printers are seeing unprecedented lead times, some as high as 12 weeks! It’s also important to recognize that printers do not have the same flexibility right now as we had pre-pandemic to accommodate quick-turn projects. 

When we receive an order and the paper stock is unavailable, we try to find something similar, but more lead time increases the odds we will find requested stock in time. Planning ahead also means communicating with your printer to let them know your project is coming. If we know to expect it and when, we can shop stock and take the vital step of getting your job on the production schedule. “The farther out you can plan something, the better off you will be,” says Crouch.

flexibility.jpg2. Be flexible!

“In today’s climate, you have to work with your print provider to get what you need,” says Crouch. “Be prepared to discuss and consider an alternative stock option that is more accessible or more affordable than what you requested or that is quoted, or that your printer may already have in-house. Also, in certain situations, it can lead to a more successful outcome if you can adjust what your creative people want based on what your printer can buy – one big reason to plan ahead.”  

alter-better.jpgOne client recently had a project with specs that were 36” x 9” flat and folded into a 6” x 9” piece. “I was tasked with finding paper that was 38” or larger to accommodate the print file,” Crouch said. “What I found was 35” paper, close, but her file would not fit on it. Fortunately, she was so responsive and willing to make it work that she had the print file reworked and gave me immediate approval to buy the paper. That timely response was also good because if we don’t buy it when we find it, it’s gone the next day, if not the same day. Everything, including availability and pricing, is wildly fluid right now.”

The same goes for being flexible and willing to consider uncoated versus coated stocks, or different stock weights, textures, colors or other features. Your printer can guide you to the best available and most affordable alternate choices that are closest to what you originally envisioned.

leverage-strong-providers.jpg3. Leverage strengths of stable partners  

Due to global supply shortages, today’s paper mills, merchants and suppliers are enforcing allocation of their products. What this means is that they are imposing limits on how much stock one company can purchase. Printers in the most advantageous spot to accommodate their clients’ needs are those with the resources to maintain a surplus of stock.

At Perfect Image, it is a top priority to provide clients the best available solutions in this difficult climate. Prior to and during the pandemic, we proactively made investments to ensure both our cash position and manufacturing infrastructure were solid. Those moves have enabled us to negotiate effectively and purchase additional amounts of stock early, in situations where we can. 

Lean on us for support and ongoing insights

I hope the above information and recommendations are helpful to you in fully understanding how the supply chain crisis is impacting the printing industry and print buyers everywhere – and how you can work around the challenges to achieve successful outcomes for your print projects and marketing campaigns.

Contact us at any time, for any reason big or small. Our knowledgeable representatives are ready to assist.

As we have done for the past 40 years, we are keeping a solid pulse on all aspects of the printing industry, forever focused on advancing our capabilities and helping clients navigate any disruptions that arise and achieve their full marketing and communications potential. 


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