The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the world’s economy to contract significantly, and print shops have not been immune. Though print shop performance has improved since the depths of the pandemic in March, business is still down by nearly one third.
The economic depression caused by COVID-19 represents a real threat for print shops – especially given the tight margins found across the industry. But savvy print shops will use this time to their advantage, to contemplate recovery strategies that position shops for growth beyond their historical performance at the pandemic’s onset. How your shop reacts to the slowdown — and the plans you put into place now — will greatly influence the speed and strength of your business recovery.
There are three things that you can do now, while your print shop is in the midst of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, to position your business for a robust return.

Action 1: Audit your operations

When your print shop is running at full capacity, it’s hard to take the time to document your operations. All too often, when print providers take the time to complete a workflow audit, the findings reveal that how things actually work is markedly different from what was expected.
A good starting point for a workflow audit is the tasks that most print shops target for automation, ranging from order entry and web-to-print, all the way through the print process to finishing, shipping and invoicing. Creating a “day in the life” snapshot of your workflows will quickly uncover any disconnects or breakpoints within your print shop, and will give you a good sense of where your shop can gain efficiencies — and improve job profitability — by simply re-configuring your systems to work together as they should.
If completing a workflow audit sounds daunting, it doesn’t need to be, we’re here to help!  Put our years of experience to work for you.

Action 2: Evaluate your technology

It’s one thing to uncover the breakpoints within your workflows – fixing those disconnects is another matter entirely. Our client, Sull Graphics, learned this first-hand when they completed their own workflow audit: “Our customers have always gotten our very best work, but producing it was much more costly and time-consuming than it needed to be” said Keith Sullivan, co-founder and owner of Sull Graphics. “We were in danger of becoming mired in a process that couldn’t adapt to our growing and changing business.”
After identifying various disconnected processes through a workflow audit, Sull Graphics recognized that they needed to unify their disparate platforms with a Print MIS, however, the installed MIS was outdated and couldn’t support the shop’s existing software and equipment. Even though Sull Graphics had everything they needed on paper, in reality, their Print MIS wasn’t equipped to achieve the goal of interoperability and streamlined, automated workflows.
Before you dive headfirst into evaluating your technology, take some time to learn about Job Definition Format (JDF), and how JDF certification can help your print shop equipment and software talk to each other. If your Print MIS has JDF certification, you can likely solve any breakpoints with your existing solutions; if it doesn’t, it might be worthwhile to consider a Print MIS upgrade.
Remember: every manual hand-off you eliminate saves valuable time for your staff and reduces the opportunity for errors to be introduced into each print job. As business picks up, your shop can produce more orders in less time and simultaneously improve the profitability of each job, which means a healthier bottom line. This was exactly what happened for Sull Graphics: they increased business by more than 25 percent – without adding new staff or equipment – thanks to streamlined workflows unified by Ricoh’s Avanti Slingshot Print MIS.

Action 3: Plan to differentiate

new research report authored by NAPCO Research and sponsored by Ricoh identifies ten key trends that will influence profitability for print shops in 2020. One of the trends the report identifies is the need for print shops to take a proactive approach to educating customers.
Print shop customers have access to more information than ever before and many are well-versed when it comes to pricing, features and capabilities. In other words, your team has to do more than just explain what your print shop offers and how much it costs – customers are looking to print professionals to demonstrate how to derive greater value from the print that’s purchased. They don’t want you to tell them what they already know – they want you to show them what they didn’t even know was possible.
For some print professionals, transitioning to consultative sales and delivering business advisory support isn’t too much of a stretch. For others, though, this approach represents a seismic shift in how they think about and engage with their customers. While sales volumes are down, your business has a window to train (and re-train) your staff to dive deeper into your customer accounts to find and deliver greater value. As the demand for print emerges from its slump, your team will be well-equipped to exceed customer expectations and deliver new value that was previously undiscovered before the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you look at these three actions designed to help your business make a strong COVID-19 recovery, the theme is clear – though economically challenging for all businesses, this period of slowdown is providing a unique opportunity for print shops to examine operations, technologies and staff practises. Now is the time to implement new processes and tools, while your print shop has the time to work out any bugs with minimal disruption for your customers.
Watch how Ricoh’s Avanti Slingshot has helped AIIM Marketing and Communications in Aurora, ON regain control, work smarter and improve customer experience for more profitable days ahead.