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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Cultivate Your Suppliers: Networking for the Print Buyer

In addition to writing about printing, I also broker printing, and I have a new client I want to impress at a meeting on Thursday. She is the marketing manager for a famous, well-circulated, local magazine, responsible for events (large-format), and marketing collateral. Her request, when we first spoke, was for sample invitations (postcards, rack and door hangers). Her magazine had produced numerous invitations in the past, mostly short-run digital work, but she wanted something different.

This is what I did to prepare for the meeting.

I approached a friend who is a sales representative for a high-end printer. She said her shop wouldn’t be competitive because most aspects of invitation printing (the foil stamping, faux textures, specialty coatings, die-cutting, embossing, etc.) would need to be jobbed out (subcontracted) to other vendors. Hence, her shop would have to mark up the job and either make no profit or decline to bid. She was honest. That was good.

Even better, she gave me the name of an embosser/diecutter (a person high up the food chain at the company). When I called, not only did he offer to send me samples, but he gave me a contact high up the food chain at a letterpress shop. When I called the letterpress shop, my contact also offered to send me samples.

I thought hard, and I remembered another high-end printer, a local shop. When I called my contact, he said this job was perfect for his company, and he offered to send samples.

I also called a paper rep that serviced the printers in question. I knew he would want me to send work to his printers and specify paper from his sources. I knew he would personally benefit from this job. So he stepped up and sent me samples. He was very interested in the potential work.

After four packages arrived at the door, I had eighty samples, including an invitation that felt like suede, another invitation that had the texture of a football, intricate die-cuts that could only have been done with a laser, folds that reminded me of Japanese paper-folding art, coatings of all types, shapes of all types—enough ideas to give birth to a hundred more invitations.

And I now have reliable contacts at a letterpress, paper merchant, diecutter/embosser, and high-end printer whom I hadn’t met prior to this effort. All of them are enthusiastic about potentially working together, on invitations for this magazine and successive jobs as well.

I think I’m ready for the meeting.

So how does this relate to you? If you’re a designer or print buyer, consider the following:

  1. Network: Make friends in many industries related to printing, not just offset printers. You can get a wealth of knowledge from a paper merchant, a diecutter/embosser, a high-end printer (catalogs, magazines, brochures), and a letterpress. Consider finding a reputable large-format printer (large-format) as well, and/or maybe a digital printer (digital printing, VDP) with an HP Indigo, or some other such high-end digital press. You may even find ways to mix and match their services, and they can teach you how to produce dramatic work in a cost-effective manner. Better yet, they can give you samples, so you can see for yourself. Get to know people who are high up enough in the various companies to have experience, contacts, and authority.
  2. Develop a swipe file of all the printed samples that you like. Update it periodically (add and subtract). Make notes about the paper stock used, the printing and finishing techniques employed, and perhaps even the cost. Consider the audience and goal of each printed piece and how each achieves that goal: that is, how the design, type treatment, color, paper stock, and finishing all work together to achieve the goal and astound the target audience.

6 Responses to “Cultivate Your Suppliers: Networking for the Print Buyer”

  1. Nita Congress says:

    your very smart, very savvy, and very detailed information is an inspiration to us all (and a quiet nudge to make us as prepared and professional as you)!

    the blog is great.

    • admin says:

      Thank you. I learned the hard way: by making mistakes. One reason I write these blogs and articles is to help others not make the same mistakes.

  2. Jody Brady says:

    Being able to walk into a meeting with selected samples you think will be of interest to a client is a good idea. Better yet, what you’re suggesting means that you could walk into a meeting with carefully culled suggestions as well as a myriad of back-up alternatives to pull out if the client doesn’t go for your initial ideas. Your blog does a great job laying out how to be this prepared. Enjoyed it!

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your encouragement. I am glad you enjoyed the blog post.

      Walking into the meeting with carefully culled suggestions (and back-up alternatives) was the goal. My big question was whether the marketing manager knew what she wanted. Was she looking to me as a potential print vendor, or was she looking for new creative ideas–or both?

      As a printing broker with samples (and with experience in both writing and design), I made it my business to offer not only access to printing vendors, finishing vendors, distribution channels, etc., but also access to new design, paper, and marketing approaches. She seemed pleased.

      If I can help her–over the next several months and beyond–to define her marketing goals and determine the best vehicles for their expression (and the proper vendors to produce these promotions economically and on time), I think I will have a new client.

  3. Bobbie Troy says:

    Great info, Steve. Thanks for sharing your expertise.


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