October 1, 2021

Tips for Navigating Today’s Allocated Paper Market

Tips for Navigating Today’s Allocated Paper Market

By PIASC Board Member Damien Bradley, Sr Vice President – Spicers | Print and Wide Format 

As I discussed in my last column (see “What’s Up with Paper Supply?”), current inventories of all paper products remain low…and the supply imbalance is expected to persist well into, if not throughout all of 2022. 

Which means that just as demand for print has picked up, printers nationwide (and the paper vendors that serve them!) are scrambling to get the paper they need to fill their print orders. 

What can you do to keep your customers happy and successfully navigate through this challenge? Here are some tips: 

Set appropriate expectations 

It’s vitally important that you communicate with your customers. Be sure they’re aware of what’s happening in the paper market and the challenges that all printers are facing. Now is not the time to be promising them the moon. Instead, explain that paper is in such short supply that some varieties and grades are simply not available in the time frame required or in the sizes, basis weights and quantities that they need. 

Plus, let your customers know that paper prices continue to rise. If you give a customer a quote now for a job that will run in the future, there’s a good chance that the paper price will increase by the time the order comes in. Keep this in mind as you’re setting expectations as well as when you’re estimating the job. 

Communicate with your vendors 

More than ever, you need to stay close to your key paper vendors. Update them about your future needs for any key jobs that you are expecting to receive in the future. 

Let your vendors continue to add value in the relationship! As part of this communication process, use your paper vendors as a resource for information on these unprecedented market conditions that you can share with your customers and ask them to help you find alternatives to the products you’re looking for. 

Give your customers options 

If a particular paper is unavailable, don’t just present your customers with this bad news—offer solutions. 

Offering solutions requires you to be flexible (and convince your customers to be flexible, too). A key here is to work closely with your customers to understand the use and purpose of the printed pieces. 

If the first choice of paper isn’t available, would it make more sense to consider either a premium or more economical grade? How will changing the paper affect your customer’s overall budget for the project? Are there changes you can recommend that they can make to the design based on the available substrates, to ensure the job will run well on your equipment? 

For example… 

Consider alternative paper grades. If commodity offset paper isn’t available, can you move up to a higher quality opaque grade? If the customer asked for an unavailable commodity coated sheet, would it make sense to try to offer a premium coated sheet? If 70 pound paper is out of stock, would it be better for this job to move up to 80 pounds or to a lighter 60 pound basis weight? For a coated board job, if you can’t get SBS board, would a laminated board work for the project? 

Consider running the job differently. Based on the paper products that are available, you may need to be flexible in your approach to how you print the job. For example, based on the available sheet size can something that is usually run four up be done two up? Depending on your equipment, can you switch the job from offset to digital, or vice versa? 

This advice applies to finishes, too. If a job calls for a gloss stock but there is no gloss stock to be had, can you buy a dull stock and apply a gloss varnish on it instead? 

Consider custom converting. Some paper merchants have custom converting capabilities. If the standard size sheets you’ve always used are not available, check to see if they have rolls that can be converted to the size you need. Keep in mind, you may need to meet minimum order quantities. 

There’s always a solution 

Times like these are when your distributor’s sales reps prove their value to you…and you prove your value to your customers. Solutions exist if we all remain flexible and patient. It’s up to you and your vendor partners to identify these solutions. We’re all in this together. 

About the Author

Printing Industries Association, Inc. is devoted to helping our members succeed…and there are many ways that we do so. Need group medical insurance? We’ve got dozens of plans to choose from, and a designated local customer service rep to handle your account. Have questions about human resources issues, sales tax or compliance? We’ve got the answers.

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