My last post, Your OEM Wants You to Find the Right Paper, continued our coverage an ongoing series looking at the impact of paper scarcity on production inkjet print providers. In this post, we will discuss strategies for print providers and their print buying customers to work together to reduce the disruptive impact of paper scarcity.
Print Providers and In-Plant Operations
For those print providers who have inkjet presses, working closely with your merchant and mill representatives to predict demand and secure your allocation will be important until supply loosens up. Print providers who specialize in specific applications such as bills, direct mail or books, work with a narrow range of substrates and can more easily forecast how many truckloads of paper they will need each month. Even these more homogenous shops may require contingency plans for contracts that specify a tested grade. Now may be the time to modify those contracts to permit additional papers in case of disruptions in supply.
Commercial print shops, in contrast, often don’t know the requirements for the next job coming into the shop (let alone the ink coverage). We recommend that those types of operations test and standardize their house stocks, have tested backups and invest in inventory. The latter may be difficult since many mills are shipping under allocation to prevent hording of inventory that can further drive up costs. But, smart inventory management could buttress dips in supply. Consider a line of credit and/or financing options to help manage additional inventory before interest rates go up.
For print providers who are looking at purchasing a press, consider how an inkjet press can help you gain a paper advantage compared to existing analog equipment. This may include working with print buyers to reduce total print output while increasing relevancy and performance. These are concepts broadly discussed over many years and it may be time to accelerate adoption.
Print providers should carefully consider the printability and availability of substrates. This requires an expanded conversation beyond the printing equipment vendor and encompasses your paper merchant and the mills. We also strongly recommend running trials of the most common papers expected for the operation and ensure that multiple mills are included. Having a robust paper testing strategy, balancing services from equipment manufacturer labs, consultants such as Inkjet Insight’s paper testing services, and the development of in-house capabilities are all opportunities to mitigate risk.
While it may not be a popular recommendation, print providers might also consider educating their customers on reducing the size of their print runs and harnessing the power of data analytics, personalization, and customization. It may result in less pages, but higher value, more profitable pages and a more sticky relationship with the customer. The cost for not setting expectations may be jobs that miss deadlines and strategic decisions by print buyers to redirect their budgets to channels that are more reliable.
Print buyers need to understand the dynamics of the current market and work with providers to adapt designs to stocks that are readily available. Advance consultation with the print provider will be critical to ensure the creative vision is fulfilled while also meeting scheduling requirements. A print buyer who waits too long to engage with the print provider may not get the paper they need, or they may have to wait 4-plus months to print their job on the selected paper. That is the reality of paper shortages and ordering lead times in the current market.
Print buyers should include contingency plans and specify alternative substrates even if their preferred stocks are forecasted to be available. Print providers must set expectations with their print buying customers, discuss available stocks, lead times, paper pricing trends and contingency plans for shortages. A partnership with print providers can help add predictability to demand predictions and assist them in securing inventory.
The good news is the mills are hungry to sell paper to the production inkjet market. This is especially true as they run forecast projections that show continuing decline in demand in their traditional markets. The balance of supply and demand will hopefully settle down after this tumultuous period. In the meantime, the inkjet printing market does not have to be a prisoner to this situation and can mitigate the changes by working with their equipment vendors and the supply chain.
We have looked at the impact of pulp production, presented key trends at the Inkjet Summit, discussed mitigating risks in the paper supply chain, talked about supply chain strategies and possible impact to the structure of the market, looked at how mills and merchants can communicate effectively, and what we think paper suppliers and equipment manufactures can do to help make the situation easier for print providers and their customers. Stay tuned for more data as we gather it.