By David H. Martin

We’ve read how computer word processing would result in “the paperless office.” But, instead, quite the opposite has happened. While the mountain of printed documents generated by computers continues to grow, the problems involved in printing more sophisticated, printed marketing desktop materials are also increasing due to the incompatibility of different computers, printers and copiers.

And while e-mail electronic messaging is a fast and cost-efficient way to reach out to customers, it hasn’t replaced the dealers’ marketing need to supplement and integrate these messages with high-quality custom-printed literature and direct mail pieces.

Digital revolution
Four-color commercial printing is in the midst of a digital revolution. The “magic of bits and bytes” is making traditional print preparation and expense dwindle dramatically. That’s good for commercial digital printers and dealers since the costs of traditional (not digital) print preparation account for 20-40 percent of the total print price. How can water improvement dealers take advantage of this trend, without leaving the office?

Not long ago, it was predicted manufacturers would electronically send high-quality literature and direct mail pieces to dealers to be printed out at their desktops, ready to mail, at substantial savings in preparation time and expense. That’s great in theory. But the reality is, inside staffers have been frustrated by how much time they spend coding an electronic document so that their in-house printing software can understand and process it. What’s the alternative? Many small companies have turned to web-based mediators, innovative service providers who understand the digital craft.

Web-based suppliers
In the last three years, dozens of web firms have appeared with innovative business models, where a print order is placed by pressing the “enter” key. Unlike many of the “high hopers” of the New Economy that have collapsed or struggled, web-based printing has become a flourishing Internet business. Recently, I conducted a web search to identify some of the key players in web-based custom printing and imprinting of a variety of dealer marketing tools—from stationery to T-shirts to umbrellas to yard signs and large vinyl promotional banners. One source ( offers a “golf tournament promotional package” that contains everything from custom tee signs to awards and giveaways, at attractive “package” pricing. Delivery from date of orders averages from seven to 10 working days.
In early 1996, IPrint Inc. was the first online company to make the whole print preparation process disappear into the hard drive of its server computer in Mountain View, CA. Recently, Interactive Week placed the web print shop on its list of 500 most profitable Internet companies. Competitors are now turning up everywhere with niche concepts that are making waves in the vast commercial printing market.

IPrint doesn’t actually print marketing materials. As a “virtual printing shop,” has none of the brick-and-mortar overhead born by your local printer. The company claims to negotiate “low” prices, based on their volumes, not on the individual customer’s buying power. Since customers buy online from their desktops, they save valuable time driving to printers to place and pick up printing orders. Orders are processed on the same day received and are “100 percent satisfaction guaranteed.” is electronically connected to commercial printing companies who handle the actual printing and imprinting of materials, including business stationery, full-color postcards, promotional banners, T-shirts, magnetic business vehicle signs and even custom refrigerator magnets. Here are some samples of their very competitive pricing:

Item IPrint price

  • 1,000 4-color business cards $114.99
  • 1,000 single-color business cards 45.99
  • 1,000 business letterhead 104.99
  • 1,000 #10 business envelopes 129.99
  • (4” × 6”) 4-color custom postcards 349.99
  • (42” × 14”) 2-color poly banner 33.99
  • (120” × 34”) vinyl banner w/grommets 179.89
  • Screen printed 50/50 cotton blend T-shirt 6.59 each (4-35 shirts)
  • 1,000 “house shape” refrigerator magnets 339.99
  • Set of 2 (8” × 12”) magnetic vehicle signs 41.99, (includes company logo and message)

Sir Speedy, with 1,100 copy centers in 23 countries, is one of the first brick-and-mortar printing chains to allow itself to be carried along by the digital revolution. This well-established neighborhood printer believes its website is their future by serving small businesses. Online business has been at the heart of the company’s business since the company presented itself on the Internet with a new service-oriented website last summer. At, the customer creates his own folder in which he/she designs and organizes printed business materials—such as business cards, letterhead and even company stamps, all online.

With letterhead, for example, the website presents a selection of a dozen layout proposals, with the customer entering the specific data from his/her desktop computer. All other printed materials (envelopes, business cards, etc.) then appear with the same design!

That isn’t all. In its website’s “My Design Center,” even large custom-designed documents can be sent with photos and graphics (for brochures or catalogs) directly to the Sir Speedy server by the customer, in electronic form. The website serves as a “digital reception point” and is an archive in which the layouts of all documents are standardized. For example, the customer places product information in his/her catalog by simply calling up the electronic version and updating the document. Another click of the mouse and the catalog is printed and mailed. (Yes, it’s not only an instant online printer, it’s also a mailing service.) And, of course, “hands on” design help is always available at most of their stores. Here are their hard-to-beat prices on selected web-ordered business stationery:

Item price

  • 1,000 4-color business cards $ 99.99
  • 1,000 business letterhead 100.00
  • 1,000 #10 business envelope 114.00
Pitney Bowes Inc. is a $4 billion global provider of integrated mail, messaging and document management solutions headquartered in Stamford, Conn. The company is best known for its postal meters and now offers online, Internet postage service. is a direct marketing service that enables small business owners to design a “professional-looking” direct mail piece that PitneyWorks will print, collate, meter and mail. In addition, a free “tracking tool” allows anyone to look up zip codes, track packages and compare shipping rates, providing the most cost-effective way to send a package.

The website also offers a variety of custom-imprinted marketing tools to help small businesses connect with customers. One example are ¼” thick corrugated plastic signs that are easily secured to windows, doors or walls, indoors or out. Optional wire, step-stake sign holders are $5 extra. Sturdier, black metal “A” frame sign holders are also available for the “coroplast” panels that measure 24” x 36” or 30” x 36”. Here’s pricing on these and other promotion items that can ordered on

Item price

  • Coroplast signs (various sizes, colors) $ 30-90
  • (36” × 96”) vinyl banner (no logo) 125.00
  • (36” × 96”) vinyl banner (with logo) 145.00
  • (12” × 18” to 18” × 24”) magnetic vehicle signs 75-135 each
  • (18” × 24”) golf tournament “tee” signs
  • (1-5) 24.95 each
  • (6+) 19.95 each

The tournament “tee” signs are part of complete promotion package that help dealers plan their annual customer golf tournaments. Dealers can promote specific contests and prizes at selected holes. Prizes that can be purchased in an online package include imprinted umbrellas, gold towels, shoe bags and even gold bags with dealer logos.

While many web-based businesses have failed, web-centric custom printing services for small businesses are flourishing, offering excellent quality, pricing and turnaround times for small businesses such as water improvement dealers and the distributors that supply them. Check some of them out, when you plan next year’s marketing budget. It could save you time and money.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: http://[email protected] or website:


Comments are closed.