I talked with a potential customer today. He was about to open a new restaurant in DC, and was debating whether to print menus and other materials in-house or to outsource that aspect of his start-up to a commercial printer. I’m biased (of course) but it did force me to think about the issue of outsourcing vs. printing in-house from the other side of the table.
Whether or not to print in-house is an important decision for a lot of small businesses. The main issues they consider when making this decision are 1) how important is the final printed product to the business, and 2) what will be the “true cost” of printing in-house.
If you are in a business where all your documents are printed black & white on plain paper and your clients don’t expect attractive looking materials, this article won’t be of much interest to you. High quality printing isn’t important to you and, provided you have the means to purchase or lease suitable equipment and keep it in serviceable condition, printing in-house is the obvious choice. However, if your business can be affected by how you “look” on paper, then keep reading because you need to figure out whether you can efficiently and effectively print in-house. This is the “true cost” analysis.
The “true cost” of printing is the actual dollars spent plus the value of the time and energy expended by you and your staff to print in-house. Yes, printers are fairly cheap these days, but that really is just the tip of the iceberg. Despite the efforts of printer manufacturers to convince businesses that printing in-house is fast, convenient and economical, the reality (in many cases) is that it is neither convenient nor economical. Printer manufacturers make their money using the “razor blade” business model, named after the marketing strategy of Gillette which sold disposable razors for a low price but made big money because they needed to be purchased again and again and again. The same concept applies here, but with a twist. After you make that initial investment in the printer, you are going to need to pay for everything else that it needs to keep running properly. Trust me, it is not only ink and paper! There are many other expenses that will surprise you, often at the wrong time! In addition to ink or toner and paper, you’ll be facing costs for other consumables (including drums, fusers, belts, waste toner containers), supplies, periodic maintenance, repairs, power, etc. Then there is graphic design to consider. If you want to give your materials a professional look, it’s highly unlikely any of your existing employees can handle this in a professional manner. Imagine the lead chef at our potential client’s new restaurant sitting down at the computer to do the menu design with the wait staff looking over his shoulder. It’s quite possible that efforts to save money like this will actually reduce revenue by wasting time as well as presenting a poor image to customers.
If you’ll be printing your menus, brochures, marketing materials, etc. on anything other than standard paper, you will also have to deal with additional expenses. This is also the case if you require heavy card stock or paper larger than legal size, or if you have folding, cutting or finishing requirements. These will be up-front costs for print and finishing equipment, and your consumable costs will also increase as they put more wear and tear on your equipment. For example, if you need to print on heavy card stock, fuser heat settings will be higher, which means shorter lifespan as well as higher electric bills. And just because a manufacturer claims its machine can handle thicker stocks doesn’t mean you’ll have great success printing on them. Our advice is don’t run maximum weight papers regularly. You’ll kill your equipment.
With more advanced equipment you will want to invest in a service contract, pushing the cost of printing in-house even higher. And last but certainly not least, add the time and energy required of you and staff to manage the equipment and troubleshoot problems that are always going to be part of keeping it running properly.
So, are you really prepared to take on your printing in-house? If you’re on the fence, it’s time to talk with a professional about your printing needs to see which way to go with it. Most printers will give you honest advice and help you make the right decision for your business.