Print-Plus: Why Printer Lead Times DO Matter
When deciding on a printer, most retailers focus on print manufacturing, paper and distribution (i.e., co-mail, freight and postage) costs. However, there's more to obtaining print bids than price. Printer lead times (i.e., the schedule) are also an important consideration. For example, the dates mail tapes and creative files are due to a printer shouldn't be assumed or taken for granted because they vary greatly. While this may not be a direct cost, long lead times from your printer can affect your sales and bottom line.
Schedules from a printer that allow for the shortest lead times from the tape due date to mail date should be part of the bid process. The number of days between these two timelines can be as much as 15 days or more from one printer to another. The shortest (and best) schedule I've seen is 14 days prior to the initial mail date for submitting mail tapes. The longest is 23 days to 33 days prior. This difference of nine days to 19 days can result in lost sales because it shortens the cutoff date for including recent or "hotline" buyers in the mailing. Longer lead times cause mailers to exclude names that generate the highest return — your most recent buyers.
A printer who allows for the least number of days to submit mail tapes prior to the mail date should be considered. I'm not suggesting schedules from a printer should have priority over print manufacturing, paper and distribution costs; what I am suggesting is if everything else were equal in terms of cost, I'd give the business to the printer with the shortest lead times (or I'd negotiate shorter lead times).
Here's an example of the impact lead times can have on a typical consumer gift catalog company. In my example, a 19-day shorter lead time would enable this mailer to include an additional 2,500 hotline buyers, on average, in every catalog drop. Based on the response rate and average order size to its hotline buyers, this cataloger is giving up more than $10,000 in a single mailing — or $127,700 of lost sales annually. The math is shown in the graph.