My printer recently became part of a consolidation. Should I be worried?

Answered by Gretchen Kirby

Gretchen A. Kirby is a freelance writer and editorial consultant to book, magazine and corporate publishers. She can be reached at

One of my printers -- that I depend on heavily -- was just consolidated within a larger printing group. Both my sales rep and the owner of the printing company keep telling me how beneficial this will be for my company -- more resources, lower paper prices, etc. But I'm not sure; I'm concerned that we won't be as important to the larger company. Should I be concerned about this? What questions should I ask?

The question you raise is certainly valid, and your organization is blessed to have someone as conscientious as you at the helm of its print buying group. It's important to stay one step ahead of the next curveball coming your way, and it's no secret that consolidations -- which ran rampant in the print industry in the past decade -- can add new practices and personnel to the mix. Not to mention the potential for an operational pause if the newly formed supplier plans on integrating systems and centralizing customer relations.

Still, it's important to maintain a cool head as you explore the new relationship with your supplier, especially if you've had a strong and trustful partnership from the start.

A matter of trust
"You have already been assured by your sales rep and owner of the benefits," suggests Michael Arpino, director of manufacturing and distribution, Condé Nast Publications. "The only unknown here is what is going to happen to the customer service side of the relationship. The fact that your sales rep and the owner have already tried to reassure you that you're a valuable customer, is a good sign."

John Dunn, production director, Wizards of the Coast, agrees that honesty and trust are the cornerstones to the print buyer/supplier relationship. "I would be candid with my rep, let my thoughts be known, and more importantly, state my service level expectations. A large company is not always equal to less-personalized service."

Evaluation time
If the print buyer is not bound by a contractual relationship with the supplier, Arpino suggests, "Monitor the customer service aspect very closely for a while, until you are sure that you are not being short-changed due to the consolidation."

If you're being told by your CSR that the newly formed company will take advantage of discounts on consumables such as paper because of their growing size or clout, it's your job to find out how it will benefit you. "Ask for a pro forma invoice based on a job done by the 'old' company," offers Dunn. "Compare pricing to ensure that you are, indeed, saving money."

Then, "wait to see if the proof is truly in the pudding," Dunn adds. If service goes down, or things slip, express your concern to the printer and give them the opportunity to correct the wrong. If the printer cannot deliver, call me. I have some great plants and reps who would love the work and bend over backwards for you - especially in this economy!"

More fish in the sea
"Being less important to the printing company may very well be a legitimate concern. It may depend on the relationship you have with your sales rep, and on the volume of printing you buy," confides Jane Chero, vice president of production, North American Publishing Company. "If you are considered a 'heavy hitter', then it's probably safe to assume you'll be treated as 'VIC,' or very important client. If not, there is a good chance, somewhere down the line, that you'll be lost in shuffle of the 'big boys.'"

All hope is not lost, however, Chero says. A good tactic when you're feeling lost in the mix, just make yourself known, and send the message to your CSR that you -- and your company -- deserve better. After all, she adds, "He who screams the loudest and longest is heard best."

"Unfortunately," Arpino cautions, "with the current market conditions, we all can expect to see more consolidation in the commercial print arena. The good news is that there are a lot of commercial printers, so if you are not satisfied with the new larger company, you can find someone else who meets your needs. I would make that very clear to your sales rep and the owner up front."
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