How buyers can get the best from visiting a print factory visit – three ways to make the most of your time at a printer

I’m just back from a trek through the High Pyrenees Mountains.  No matter how many pictures you look at before a trip like this, nothing prepares you for the reality.  The size of the mountain peaks can never be pictured from photographs.  And the colours are always a little less vivid in books.

And looking at pictures never prepares you for the hard slog of trekking several hours a day.  It never prepares you for the high mountain passes.

You can have a similar experience when choosing a print supplier

Mountains always look different in real life compared to seeing pictures. So do print factories

In my series on choosing a printer  we started with the evaluation form.  But, no matter how detailed the evaluation form is, you can never quite picture the supplier.  To see how things really are you need to visit the print factory.

Buyers who visit print factories will meet more of the company staff face to face.  So they’ll form great relationships with them.  And that means that they have a much better chance of controlling the work that they put through.  And that they’ll achieve what they want from their print jobs.

Print buyers who don’t visit print factories won’t form the same relationships.  And they won’t have a good overview of the capabilities and processes of the factories.  They’ll struggle to work with their suppliers to achieve what they want.  And they won’t have the same level of control over their work.

If you want the best level of control, here are three things that you should do on a visit to a print factory.  And the first of these is all to do with the people.

Ask to speak to the staff who’ll work on your job

You should be asking to speak to the production person who will manage your account.  And you should also try and speak to people in pre-press, to schedulers, to minders and to the despatch department.  This will give you a good sense of whether you would trust them with your job.  And if you’ll be able to get on with them.  You’ll know if you can create a good working relationship.

But there’s another advantage to speaking with factory staff as well.  They will remember you.  And they are more likely to realise that you are someone who cares about your work.  So they are more likely to take extra care over it too.

But it’s not just the people you should be focussing on when you visit a print factory.

Look at the work on the floor

You will have probably already seen some samples of work from the printer.  But these will have been specially selected samples.  They should have been carefully examined by the sales staff before you see them.  After all, the printer will be keen to make sure that you don’t see any sub-standard work.

But now you have a chance to see the everyday work that the printer produces.  You have a chance to examine what is on the presses.  And, just as importantly, the work that is on the factory floor.  You can see if the printer really does regularly match the quality levels of the samples that you were sent.

And you can also ask to see the quality control documentation for live jobs.  You can see whether the printer actually keeps to their systems.  It’s a very effective way of making sure that a printer will be able to deliver what you need.

And talking of delivery, there’s something else that you should give special attention to.

Ask to speak to the despatch department

This is a key element of any printer.  A print company can put lots of care into its work.  But a simple despatch error can mean that a job ends in disaster.  You want to be sure that the despatch department:

  • Is given the right information
  • Checks job quantities
  • Communicates with the factory well and
  • Has the right systems to track deliveries

These three areas will start to give you a real feel for a supplier. But some print buyers may not feel that this is enough.

Shouldn’t you focus on more areas than this?

A visit to a print factory is a chance to investigate lots of areas.  And buyers should ask as much as possible.  I wanted to focus on three key areas.  They may seem basic, but I have often seen some of these areas missed by print buyers.

And some buyers are not convinced about factory visits.

Isn’t everything put on red alert when a buyer visits a factory?

You would be surprised how rarely this happens.  Most printers are confident in letting potential customers see how things really are.  And that can be very revealing for a buyer.

I recently visited a print factory where they did not practice the quality control systems that they said they did.  On the evaluation form the printer had outlined thorough checking procedures.  But on the factory floor there was little evidence of any quality control.  This was a supplier that was not for me.

When I returned to report to my client they were surprised.  And there was a certain amount of disbelief that a printer could really be like this.  So I was glad that I had remembered one important point.

Make sure you write down your findings

It’s always important to record what you see at a printer.  Then you have written evidence of your visit.  And if your judgement of a printer is ever called into question you have something to back up your decision.

Here are three action points to make sure you get the most out of a factory visit

  1. Warn the printer that you will want to speak to staff
  2. Use the evaluation form (from the 1-2-3-4 process) to make sure that you have a series of areas to examine at the printer
  3. Know exactly what you require from the despatch department before you visit it

A good factory visit will be a bit like my trip to the mountains.  You’ll be even more impressed when you see the printer in real life.  And it won’t be so tiring on your legs as my mountain trek!
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