Building your label enterprise means shaping it for the current, anticipated, future, and, of course, unforeseen needs of the client. You can have a superior product, more expensive equipment, and better hair gel than all your neighbours, but at the end of the day, a company’s livelihood hinges on how well it responds to the customer. Differentiation is all good, and cutting-edge is wonderful, but you must have an offering that inspires customers to action.
This is sometimes a hard concept to grasp. Label entrepreneurs and print companies in general have enormous pride in their businesses. Their image of the value of the company can often be tied to the assets they have put in place. They have put together pieces in a fashion no one else can match. Indeed, our industry affords every owner to create their own unique company – in process, practice, people, technologies, and more. While we all might be producing a similar end product, every company does so in its own distinct way. It only goes to figure that label owners have a greater emotional attachment to their business, and stronger belief in their company’s ultimate value. But sometimes what you build, no matter how great in theory, simply does not resonate with the client.
The fact remains; you can have a market-superior offering and die painfully. It could be a quick demise, or you could phase out. Think Beta tapes, WebTV, or stochastic screening. It does not matter how great your offering is if your customers do not embrace it, now – and be willing to exchange their mighty dollar for it.
You attend Labelexpo to find the latest and greatest in technologies, equipment, workflows, and the like. You participate in its sessions to hear stories from the trenches and get tips from the experts. As you meander the aisles or find a seat at a roundtable, consider how these new products and advice will be received by your specific market. It’s a demanding climate out there. Forego the new add-on with the coolness factor. Make your decisions only on what will drive customer sales. And make sure you can back your investments with the solid marketing required for their introduction and pull-through.
Here are the top customer trends I see in the industry:
Getting more for less
Customers continue to negotiate hard. Some nitpick every estimate to ensure absolute bottom-line pricing. Jobs that once required just two bids now parade through the RFP circuits and online (or reverse) auctions. Not only does this make it tough to maintain the client relationship, but also it spells disaster for your livelihood. Your Labelexpo investments must streamline processes, cut manufacturing overhead, and help you reduce pricing without reducing profit. Focus on the solutions that help you respond to this pressure. Think bundled offerings, distribution efficiencies, or solutions to fix areas where you have high costs. And make sure you can integrate these quickly.
Buying more from fewer suppliers
As buying moves from print procurement specialists to purchasing departments, customers are seeking to maximize their buying power, while minimizing their time in supplier management. Your Labelexpo investments should help support more of a one-stop value proposition. Look at your top 10–20 customers and consider two or three additions to your lineup that would be most convincing to them to select you as a preferred partner.
Innovations that build business
While customers may not be concerned with your profits, they are indeed concerned about theirs. There is a distinct trend in purchasing to seek out suppliers that not only produce the labels and packaging required, but also deliver features or benefits that create real value. Considering your specific customer base, what resources should you adopt that will help your customers reduce costs, improve marketing response, drive new sales, etc. What are the pain points in your customers’ vertical markets? What can you offer that tangibly improves their business?
In the pulse of innovation, there is an emerging call for product convergence. The customer of tomorrow wants vendors who can supply products that can carry the brand and be the package. In the next few years, the label will not only protect contents and extend shelf life but also make the container more stable, improve shipment durability, or become all-in-one with the package. We’ve seen a huge change in shrink-sleeves since their original unveiling. We are seeing pressure sensitive labels with over laminates being replaced by waterproof swatches. We are seeing outer decorative labels grow to include postage and/or bills of lading. We can expect to see more novel solutions in this vein. What can your enterprise do to lead this charge? Can your presses accommodate thicker substrates that could help your customers bypass a component in their product manufacturing? Can a project you currently produce be combined with something else they purchase and help them skip a step (assuming YOU can handle both)? If you can collaborate with your client on a specific solution, you can solidify your position as a partner.
For many companies, their greatest cost is getting their product to market. Reducing distribution costs is a huge driver. Products need to be lighter, transport cartons need to be more efficient, and shipping in general needs to capitalize on any possible freight advantage. Amidst the glitz and glamour of new presses, substrates, and technologies, head down the end aisles and look out for software, containers, and other solutions that can help reduce your customers’ distribution costs. Then make sure you let them know about it.
Despite rising costs in just about every element of labeling, customers are looking for stability in their expenses. Pre-negotiated pricing matrices are a growing part of the business. Then, if they have a change, they know its impact ahead of time. You can no longer expect to improve margins with alterations. Make sure your workflow can accommodate on-the-fly adjustments and changes at little to no cost.
Sustainability and environmental considerations
Customers want to look like they are saving the world while saving money. Using trees is bad, plastics are worse, and adhesives better somehow harmlessly vaporize at the exact point the labeled product is disposed of. You can respond to their needs by adding recycled stock to your house lineup, integrating biodegradable packaging options, or seeking out corn-based PLAs or adhesives. Yet, these products can add costs to the process. If your eco-friendly option is novel enough to give customers greater visibility or appeal in their markets, they’ll be more likely to flip for the added expense.
To be successful, every company must be able to position their product as the preferred resource in the marketplace. Shelf image is critical. But this could mean looking like it is high priced, low priced, safe, healthy, eco-friendly, or a host of other things. In our market, the driver of the most important and meaningful component of image is the label. How can you better approach your customers’ products to communicate the image that sells? Could you make a manufacturing change that could yield advantage? Too often, we simply process the job without giving it another thought. What you can do for your customers related to image can result in measurable value.
Certainly, no discussion of label trends is complete without the topic of security. Trackable, tamper-proof, shoplift-resistant, integrity-assuring products will be a veritable requirement in coming years. Yet, each vertical has its own dynamics. While RFID has not taken off in retail as expected, it has become huge in healthcare. Electronics, wireless devices, and groceries also have their own unique drivers. Labelexpo will offer a showcase of the latest and greatest in the security category. Think through the arising, relevant security pressures in your customers’ industries before allocating your investments. Perhaps a combination of such items can give you a competitive edge.
It’s a tough climate out there. Going forward, every label company must be astutely aware of the dynamics of the customer and be actively growing, changing, and improving to accommodate their needs. We know the customer is valuable to our businesses. Let’s show them how valuable we are to theirs.