Why the 1-2-3-4 method prevents wasted time in choosing the right print supplier

Do you like rock music?

Do you remember the Ramones?

The Ramones were known for their short songs, their lightening pace and the fact that they counted in every song with a “1-2-3-4”.

And it’s the 1-2-3-4 that print buyers need to remember

Make sure your supplier evaluation rocks with the 1-2-3-4 method

Because this is the best way to carry swift but effective supplier evaluation.

Print buyers who use the 1-2-3-4 supplier evaluation method will retain better control over their time.  And that means they will be able to achieve more.  And they’ll be able to create great partnerships with their print suppliers.

Print buyers who do not use the 1-2-3-4 method won’t have the same time to concentrate on great partnerships.  And that’s because they’ll spending far more time than they need to on the wrong bits of supplier evaluation.  They won’t be in control of their time management.  And they won’t achieve as much from their job roles.

If you want to choose suppliers quickly and easily, you’ll need to use the 1-2-3-4 method.

So what is the 1-2-3-4 method?

It is a four stage method for choosing suppliers.  The problem with traditional methods is that they involve the print buyer in long meetings with suppliers.  And these meetings frequently turn out to be pointless.  So far too long is spent engaging with suppliers who are not suitable.  The 1-2-3-4 method makes sure that you spend your time wisely when you are looking at new print suppliers.

Let’s look at each of the four sections used in this process.  Many supplier evaluation programmes start with talking to a print company.  The 1-2-3-4 method starts with a form.

Evaluation form

The first part of the supplier evaluation process starts with an evaluation form.  This means that a print buyer swiftly gains all the details that they need to know about a printer.  And that means that any unsuitable suppliers can be quickly rejected before any lengthy conversations start.

A good supplier evaluation form will highlight all the things that you need a printer to prove.  And it will highlight any instant rejection issues as well.  I’ll be talking more about evaluation forms in my next piece.

But, of course, the form only reflects what a printer says or thinks.  Once they have worked with a print company, the print buyer may see things differently.  And that’s why references are important.


The next stage of the 1-2-3-4 method is to take references on the supplier.  Again, this can be an effective way to make sure that any unsuitable suppliers are rejected quickly.  After all, you wouldn’t want to sit through a long meeting with a printer for no reason.  And the meeting would have been pointless if you were warned off them afterwards.  So take references first.

Some references are worth much more than others.  And I will cover more about references in a future article.  But, right now, assuming that the references look good, you can take the next step.  And that is to actually meet with the supplier.


It is only at the third stage that you want to sit down with the supplier.  After all, meetings can take a great deal of time.  So there’s no point in sitting down with a print company until you are sure that the meeting is likely to be worthwhile.

The meeting is the point at which you find out if you are likely to have a worthwhile relationship.  The evaluation form and the references will usually only show the working practices of a printer.  Now you’ll find out more about the cultural fit.  How will you actually get on together?  Are your companies likely to create a good fit?

As part of this process, you’ll find out more about the print sales person.  Do they know enough about the company?  And about you?  Do they come over professionally?  These are things which can make a great difference in a relationship.

If the meeting goes well, you can move on to the final stage.  You can go and see the company for yourself.

Factory visit

No matter how good the sales person, you will need to visit the factory to really see how a printer works.  Occasionally it is only at this point that I have found out that quality control systems are not practised.  Or that the company doesn’t actually have the equipment that it claims to.

Normally, a factory visit should go smoothly.  You find out that the printer really can achieve what it claims.  You’ll see actual work in progress.  And you can check the quality of this.

But you’ll also meet the staff.  And that can be a really important advantage when you create a working relationship.

The factory visit is the final stage of the 1-2-3-4 supplier evaluation method.  But some people may feel that something is missing.

Where does price fit into all this?

Price is an important factor.  After all, you don’t want to spend lots of time approving a supplier only to find out they are too expensive.  But equally, you don’t want to budget a low price and then find out that the printer is not up to the job.

So I tend to check a company’s pricing after the supplier evaluation form.  But if it is a complicated job that requires a lot of discussion, it may be appropriate to wait until stage three.  I would certainly never visit a factory until I was sure that the pricing was going to work.

The pricing element can be moved around in the process.  However, it is important not to change things for the rest of the process.

Make sure that you keep to the right order of the four stages

If you change the order you will start having wasted meetings.  And you will start to spend too much time with the wrong suppliers.

Let’s see how this worked on an actual project

I was running a tender for a client who had some very specific requirements for their suppliers.  So it was important that the right print companies were shortlisted.  To make sure that I had appropriate printers I added extra questions on my supplier evaluation form.  This ensured that I knew exactly that potential suppliers would meet the client’s exacting standards.

Because I used the evaluation form, I was able to exclude a number of suppliers straight away.  This saved me time.  But it also saved the suppliers’ time.  This was because they were not asked to bid for a project.  They would have had no chance of delivering the project to the right standards.  So their bid would have been discounted.  And their time and effort wasted.

So the evaluation form was to everyone’s advantage.  I then moved to the second stage and spoke to the printers’ customers.  So I had a very good idea as to which suppliers really could deliver.

We then asked suppliers to present their solutions and capabilities.  After this, we had a very focussed shortlist.  So every company that tendered had a good chance of winning the project.

After the tender, the client and I visited the factories of the two suppliers who were most likely to win the project.

Of course your projects may not be so complicated

But you will still find that the 1-2-3-4 system works very well for simple requirements.  Here are three tips to get you started:

  1. think about what you really need to know from your suppliers
  2. plan a supplier evaluation form around these requirements
  3. look out for the next articles which will focus on the different stages of this process in more detail

Make sure your suppliers rock!

By using the 1-2-3-4 method, you can carry out your supplier evaluation with a song and a dance in your step.

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