Out of Print: What to Do When You’re Losing Customers as a Print Shop

Now I rarely do a blog post that is so tunnel-visioned to one type of person. But this one is for the Print Shop Managers out there! I’ve had the pleasure of working with so many publishers and print shops since 2009. One thing I’ve seen in many towns is the decline of the local print shop. It’s sad to see them go after decades in business or have to be bought out by a bigger chain. But why did it happen and how can you stop it from happening to your company?

What’s Happening to the Customer-Base?

Not Pushing Your Customers to Modernize

Across many areas in the U.S. I see time and time again. Print shops dwindle with clients and only rely on their returning customers instead of attracting new ones. This is a recipe for the end of days. As some types of print clients are also on their way out. As a print shop, it can be very enticing to brag that you have had the same _____ (customer) since 1971 and each year like clockwork they order the same business cards… The same. business cards… since 1971… Stop bragging about that! No one. Let me repeat this. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE THE SAME BUSINESS CARDS SINCE 1971.

As a print shop, you used to be a small town’s only resource for not only print but design. Now you are competing with a ton of online pros. Pros that know more and seem to do more. It’s not only an up-sell to you to chat with clients about the benefits of modernizing their _____ design for the next wave of target customers. But it’s downright mean or lazy to charge a customer for something that will do nothing for their business. In the long run, you’ll get the reputation of doing so and when an old client of yours is told that their business card is bad – guess who they will blame first?

Not Having a Designer on Staff

Now if you read that last paragraph and thought, Well duh, but it’s expensive to have a designer on staff for my… print products… It might be a bumpy ride from here on out. Your “print” should start out with the design. Always.

A good portion of the print shops I work with hire me kind of in secret (or at least hidden away from their “on-staff” person who did the majority of the… we’ll call it customization work). They don’t want to offend anyone who has been working there for a long time, knows the design programs, but doesn’t necessarily create anything new. Because of this your sales reps, customer service, or maybe even you the Print Manager have never pushed for creative projects, unique designs, or cutting-edge work to be flexible around a staff member who may be…out-of-date, but loyal. Thus, you are not attracting new clientele who are looking for creative solutions, and not their grandfather’s business card.

What Can You Do Moving Forward?

Modernize Yourself

Is your website a dinosaur? Update it!

Is your logo laughable? Re-brand.

Are you known in town for only doing printing (not graphic design)? Start marketing that you’ve hired a fresh, creative graphic designer.

And oh, yeah… Actually, hire a Graphic Designer (Freelancer, Employee, or Agency)

Plan for what type of graphics your shop specializes in before you start searching for a graphic designer: Not all designers are the same. Some have never worked for print. Find the ones who have, but also hone in on what you want to sell more of. If you want to add digital services to your print shop (wise idea) – hire someone who is great with both graphics, video, and GIF-making. If you want to gain more packaging clients, hire a packaging designer or graphic designer with that skill set.

Conduct a Behavioral Interview First: You may find the expert designer you’re looking for, but they may lack the interpersonal skills your team needs. If you find an artist that is too attached to their personal work, can’t take criticism, doesn’t meet deadlines, or isn’t a team player…you are in for a very challenging experience! You want your graphic designer to communicate with customers, take and process feedback, and seek continuous self-improvement.

Make Sure Your Team Knows the Lingo: Once you’ve found a great designer, you can now have your team search for more clients and projects and relay them to the designer. But if your team isn’t great at communicating or struggles with the print shop and design lingo it can waste both party’s time.

Once Your Comfy, Have Your Graphic Designer Communicate Directly w/ Customers: This can be scary at first – but will save you so much time once you have found a designer you want to keep around. The best person to get your customer amped about creative work is…the creative. And often if too many cooks are in the kitchen on a project there is always a game of telephone. Things get lost in translation from client to sales rep to designer. Save time. Skip the middlemen when applicable.

On Quora, someone asked Will a job as a graphic designer in a print shop be valuable experience I can use to advance my career as a designer?

Here’s the thing… Often that answer is no. Print shops get a bad reputation from designers as many print shops refuse to live in 2022.

Rochelle Parry, Graphic designer since 1985 comments: “As a designer, it depends what kind of print shop it is and how much designing you get to do. Most customers bring in their ugly ideas created in Powerpoint/Paint/Word/Publisher and have you flesh them out exactly as they want. As a print shop graphic designer, you’ll be handling production more than ‘design’. You might get lucky and have a customer that just has a rough concept and allows you to design, but I would venture to guess that most print shop clients already have their design done before they shop it around to printers…”

As you can see, from a graphic designer’s POV, most print shops are out-of-date. Are you tired of being one of them?

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